Kipling, Calcutta and The City of Dreadful Night


Today is the birthday of Rudyard Kipling (30 December 1865- 18 January 1936). Born in Bombay, now called Mumbai, he died in London.

Calcutta, now called Kolkata, has come to be called the “city of the dreadful night”. Even newspapers in Calcutta use that phrase as a synonym for the city. However, Kipling’s short story, The City of Dreadful Night, is set in Lahore, and not in Calcutta. It describes people sleeping in the street, inert as corpses, and ends with a description of a woman’s body being taken to the burning ghat. “So the city was of Death as well as of Night, after all,” Kipling writes in the last sentence.

Calcutta is described in newspaper sketches like A Real Live City, On the Banks of the Hughli, With the Calcutta. They were compiled in the book, The City of Dreadful Night and Other Places, first published in 1891. Maybe that’s how Calcutta came to be called the City of Dreadful Night. The book was published without Kipling’s permission and so he had suppressed, according to a bibliography of Kipling’s works I found on Google.

Kipling compares Calcutta with London in A Real Live City but is then revolted by the stench and corruption.  Calcutta was the capital of India at the time and this is how Kipling begins his piece: