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“Sahib”—the old man’s eyes were full of tender reproof—“if he does not wish to be seen, why does he go abroad in the moonlight? We know he is awake, but we do not know what he desires. Is it a sign for all the Bhils, or one that concerns the Satpura folk alone? Say one little word, Sahib, that I may carry it to the lines, and send on to our villages. Why does Jan Chinn ride out? Who has done wrong? Is it pestilence? Is it murrain? Will our children die? Is it a sword? Remember, Sahib, we are thy people and thy servants, and in this life I bore thee in my arms—not knowing.” “Bukta has evidently looked on the cup this evening,” Chinn thought; “but if I can do anything to soothe the old chap I must. It’s like the Mutiny rumours on a small scale.”

This is from "The Tomb of His Ancestors" by Rudyard Kipling.

I can't understand the meaning of:

looked on the cup

Does it mean he was depressed?

I am glad if someone would kindly teach me.

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    Could it mean that Bukta has been drinking alcohol?
    – JavaLatte
    Oct 16, 2021 at 1:14
  • 1
    The phrase escapes me at the moment but I think of it the way you gaze upon the liquid rippling in your drink and you start to contemplate deeply about things, which would explain Bukta's thought out list of doubts.
    – vsundae
    Oct 16, 2021 at 4:30

1 Answer 1

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The phrase "X has looked on the cup" is simply a euphemism for "X has been drinking [alcohol]." A related phrase with the same meaning is "X has looked on the wine when it was red". This is derived from Proverbs 23:31

This was a somewhat old-fashioned phrase when the story was written, but Kipling was somewhat fond of old-fashioned language. He was one of the last, perhaps the last, popular writer to use "thee", "thou", and "ye" with some regularity in stories with contemporary settings, not historical fiction.

Consider the rather ironic use of the related phrase in Flanders & Swann's "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear"

Then there flashed through her mind what her mother had said
With her ante-penultimate breath:
"Oh my child, should you look on the wine when 'tis red,
Be prepared for a fate worse than death!"
(i.e drinking leads to sex)

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    I thought it was her antepenultimate breath. Oct 16, 2021 at 6:57
  • Kipling (and other writers) have used 'thee and thou' to indicate that the speaker is actually using their own language, one which has a singular form of 'you'. Oct 16, 2021 at 8:22
  • @AntonSherwood: That was not the only mistake! I have fixed the lyrics, and my edit waits only on the approval of the community.
    – TonyK
    Oct 16, 2021 at 13:17
  • @Tonyk Thanks. I was quoting from memory, and should have confirmed. Oct 16, 2021 at 14:31
  • @KateBunting Kipling also uses "thee" or "thou" in "Recessional", "The Peace Of Dives", "Seal Lullaby", The Children's Song", "McAndrew's Hymn", "Cavaliere Servente", "His Apologies", "‘Hail, Liberty!’", "The Greek National Anthem", "The Prayer of Miriam Cohen", " The Gods of the Copybook Headings", "The White Man's Burdan" and many others where there is no representation of Urdu, Hindi, or any non-English language. But it is true that many of these use it in echo of Biblical language, mostly of the KJV. Oct 16, 2021 at 15:04

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