Kipling’s Kim and the Wonder House

Kim begins – almost – at the Wonder House, Lahore Museum.

Entry is free.

‘Ah! The Wonder House! Can any enter?’

‘It is written above the door—all can enter.’

‘Without payment?’

‘I go in and out. I am no banker,’ laughed Kim.

Kim and the lama go into the Museum together.

Kim clicked round the self-registering turnstile; the old man followed and halted amazed. In the entrance-hall stood the larger figures of the Greco-Buddhist sculptures done, savants know how long since, by forgotten workmen whose hands were feeling, and not unskilfully, for the mysteriously transmitted Grecian touch. 

The Curator invites the lama into his office. 

‘Welcome, then, O lama from Tibet. Here be the images, and I am here’—he glanced at the lama’s face—’to gather knowledge. Come to my office awhile.’ The old man was trembling with excitement.

The office was but a little wooden cubicle partitioned off from the sculpture-lined gallery.

They talk. Together they look at the collection in the main hall. They recognise each other as craftsmen of looking.

In a few minutes the Curator saw that his guest was no mere bead-telling mendicant, but a scholar of parts. And they went at it all over again, the lama taking snuff, wiping his spectacles, and talking at railway speed in a bewildering mixture of Urdu and Tibetan. 

The Curator gives the Lama his spectacles. 

‘Now lend me thy spectacles.’

The Curator looked through them. They were heavily scratched, but the power was almost exactly that of his own pair, which he slid into the lama’s hand, saying: ‘Try these.’

‘A feather! A very feather upon the face.’ The old man turned his head delightedly and wrinkled up his nose. ‘How scarcely do I feel them! How clearly do I see!

The Lama gives the Curator his pencase.

‘That is for a memory between thee and me—my pencase. It is something old—even as I am.’

It was a piece of ancient design, Chinese, of an iron that is not smelted these days; and the collector’s heart in the Curator’s bosom had gone out to it from the first. 

And so, marginalised people – Kim, the Lama, the Curator, all outsiders – are involved in a restorative experience of art and culture. 

A virtual tour, including a strange wheelchair welcome 

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