Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: India (02/12/09)
TITLE: What Kipling Didn't Say
By Margaret Gass
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No, I am not an owl! Owls get good press all the time, and are fondly remembered in children’s books like Winnie the Pooh. No one in my family has ever been remembered fondly in a children’s book, although some distant cousins portrayed the villains in that somewhat politicized book about Babar, the elephant. (Even elephants get better storylines: in America, Horton is praised for being faithful and noted for having excellent hearing--he even heard a Who!)
I, too, have excellent hearing and a keen sense of smell. I can run up to twenty-five miles an hour, which surprises many, and I am a superb swimmer as well. I do have poor eyesight, but I hardly think that’s reason enough to be left out of literature! I am a rhinoceros, or, more specifically, an Indian Rhinoceros. My family and I live in the forests and tall grasslands around Assam, India. True, we tend to be relatively solitary creatures, but we do gather around the bathing hole now and then. We are not typically aggressive, but we do take exception when other males horn in on us at courting’ time…that usually results in a fight, and someone will feel the bite of such a poor decision.
Is that any reason for the American writer Ogden Nash to say that a rhinoceros “is a homely beast” or that he’d rather look “at something less prepoceros”? Is that any reason for the British writer, Rudyard Kipling, to leave us out of The Jungle Book? Grandpa Vijay told of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’s bravery long before Kipling ever wrote about it. Grandpa heard the story from an egret who had joined in the singing when Rikki emerged victorious from Nagaina’s hole. Rikki deserved to have his story told. But why had Kipling not seen fit to include a rhino in any of Mowgli’s adventures? After all, Kaa the python, Bagheera the panther, and Baloo the bear all got a nod; even Shere Khan, the dreaded Bengal tiger was mentioned. If the rhino’s only natural predator (aside from man) had his story told, why not the rhino?
Maybe it’s because men must do the telling. Perhaps they are intimidated by our great size--we are between five to seven feet tall and weigh an average of 4,800 to 6,700 pounds. Maybe it’s our nasal horns, which can be over nine inches long (although men hunt us for the horns). Maybe it’s because our lack of hair fails to cover the wart-like bumps on our shoulders and legs. I don’t know. Perhaps Nash was right--we aren’t exactly cute and cuddly. Still, Albrecht Dürer must have seen something in Vijara, way back in 1515. Vijara was sent by King Manuel I of Portugal to Pope Leo X, but died in a shipwreck before seeing the Pope. An unknown artist made sketches of Vijara.
It was from these sketches that the German-born Dürer made his famous woodcut known as Dürer's Rhinoceros. Too bad he didn’t know Vijara’s name. Of course, Dürer's own story isn’t very well-known, either. How many people today know whose hands are depicted in the widely-recognized Praying Hands? They are the hands of Dürer's brother, also an artist, who sacrificed so that Dürer could attend art school. Years of toil so gnarled his hands that he could no longer hold a paintbrush when it was his turn to attend school. Dürer’s painting pays tribute to sacrificial love.
Now, I don’t know of a rhinoceros who has made that kind of gesture, but I do think people would benefit by taking a closer look at us. We are, after all, made by the same Creator who made all the other animals and who fashioned man in His own image. It’s not what we look like that matters, it’s Who we look like. I think a Jesus-loving rhino might be a lovable subject for kids of all ages…a perfect read after wallowing in the mud every day.
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