The Story of Muhammad Din
by Rudyard Kipling
Who is the happy man? He that sees in his own house at
home, little children crowned with dust, leaping and falling and
—Munichandra, translated by Professor
The polo-ball was an old one, scarred, chipped, and dinted. It stood on
the mantelpiece among the pipe-stems which Imam Din, khitmatgar,
was cleaning for me.
"Does the Heaven-born want this ball?" said Imam Din,
The Heaven-born set no particular store by it; but of what use was a
polo-ball to a khitmatgar?
"By your Honor's favor, I have a little son. He has seen this ball, and
desires it to play with. I do not want it for myself."
No one would for an instant accuse portly old Imam Din of wanting to
play with polo-balls. He carried out the battered thing into the veranda;
and there followed a hurricane of joyful squeaks, a patter of small feet,
and the thud-thud-thud of the ball rolling along the ground.
Evidently the little son had been waiting outside the door to secure his
treasure. But how had he managed to see that polo-ball?
Next day, coming back from office half an hour earlier than usual, I
was aware of a small figure in the dining-room—a tiny, plump figure
in a ridiculously inadequate shirt which came, perhaps, half-way down the
tubby stomach. It wandered round the room, thumb in mouth, crooning to
itself as it took stock of the pictures. Undoubtedly this was the "little
He had no business in my room, of course; but was so deeply absorbed in
his discoveries that he never noticed me in the doorway. I stepped into
the room and startled him nearly into a fit. He sat down on the ground
with a gasp. His eyes opened, and his mouth followed suit. I knew what was
coming, and fled, followed by a long, dry howl which reached the servants'
quarters far more quickly than any command of mine had ever done. In ten
seconds Imam Din was in the dining-room. Then despairing sobs arose, and I
returned to find Imam Din admonishing the small sinner who was using most
of his shirt as a handkerchief.
"This boy," said Imam Din, judicially, "is a budmash—a big
budmash. He will, without doubt, go to the jail-khana for
his behavior." Renewed yells from the penitent, and an elaborate apology
to myself from Imam Din.
"Tell the baby," said I, "that the Sahib is not angry, and take
him away." Imam Din conveyed my forgiveness to the offender, who had now
gathered all his shirt round his neck, stringwise, and the yell subsided
into a sob. The two set off for the door. "His name," said Imam Din, as
though the name were part of the crime, "is Muhammad Din, and he is a
budmash." Freed from present danger, Muhammad Din turned round in
his father's arms, and said gravely, "It is true that my name is Muhammad
Din, Tahib, but I am not a budmash. I am a man!"
From that day dated my acquaintance with Muhammad Din. Never again did
he come into my dining-room, but on the neutral ground of the garden, we
greeted each other with much state, though our conversation was confined
to "Talaam, Tahib" from his side, and "Salaam, Muhammad Din"
from mine. Daily on my return from office, the little white shirt, and the
fat little body used to rise from the shade of the creeper-covered trellis
where they had been hid; and daily I checked my horse here, that my
salutation might not be slurred over or given unseemly.
Muhammad Din never had any companions. He used to trot about the
compound, in and out of the castor-oil bushes, on mysterious errands of
his own. One day I stumbled upon some of his handiwork far down the
grounds. He had half buried the polo-ball in dust, and stuck six shriveled
old marigold flowers in a circle round it.
Outside that circle again was a rude square, traced out in bits of red
brick alternating with fragments of broken china; the whole bounded by a
little bank of dust. The water-man from the well-curb put in a plea for
the small architect, saying that it was only the play of a baby and did
not much disfigure my garden.
Heaven knows that I had no intention of touching the child's work then
or later; but, that evening, a stroll through the garden brought me
unawares full on it; so that I trampled, before I knew, marigold-heads,
dust-bank, and fragments of broken soap-dish into confusion past all hope
of mending. Next morning, I came upon Muhammad Din crying softly to
himself over the ruin I had wrought. Some one had cruelly told him that
the Sahib was very angry with him for spoiling the garden, and had
scattered his rubbish, using bad language the while. Muhammad Din labored
for an hour at effacing every trace of the dust-bank and pottery
fragments, and it was with a tearful and apologetic face that he said
"Talaam, Tahib," when I came home from office. A hasty inquiry
resulted in Imam Din informing Muhammad Din that, by my singular favor, he
was permitted to disport himself as he pleased. Whereat the child took
heart and fell to tracing the ground-plan of an edifice which was to
eclipse the marigold-polo-ball creation.
For some months, the chubby little eccentricity revolved in his humble
orbit among the castor-oil bushes and in the dust; always fashioning
magnificent palaces from stale flowers thrown away by the bearer, smooth
water-worn pebbles, bits of broken glass, and feathers pulled, I fancy,
from my fowls—always alone, and always crooning to himself.
A gaily-spotted sea-shell was dropped one day close to the last of his
little buildings; and I looked that Muhammad Din should build something
more than ordinarily splendid on the strength of it. Nor was I
disappointed. He meditated for the better part of an hour, and his
crooning rose to a jubilant song. Then he began tracing in the dust. It
would certainly be a wondrous palace, this one, for it was two yards long
and a yard broad in ground-plan. But the palace was never completed.
Next day there was no Muhammad Din at the head of the carriage-drive,
and no "Talaam, Tahib" to welcome my return. I had grown accustomed
to the greeting, and its omission troubled me. Next day Imam Din told me
that the child was suffering slightly from fever and needed quinine. He
got the medicine, and an English Doctor.
"They have no stamina, these brats," said the Doctor, as he left Imam
A week later, though I would have given much to have avoided it, I met
on the road to the Mussulman burying-ground Imam Din, accompanied by one
other friend, carrying in his arms, wrapped in a white cloth, all that was
left of little Muhammad Din.