‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!’

By | November 29, 2018

[November 29, 2018]  Like many of my generation, I grew up hearing the phrase, ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!’  It comes from the 1890 poem by Rudyard Kipling; written from the point of view of an English soldier in India.  Understanding the poem means the reader has learned that the character of a person is not determine by his status in life.

You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

The poem is about an Indian water-bearer (a low-status Bhishti) who saves the soldier’s life but is soon shot and killed.  In the final three lines of the poem, the British soldier regrets the abuse he dealt to Din and admits that Din is the better man of the two.1

“Gunga Din” is named after the Indian, portraying him as a heroic character that is not afraid to face danger on the battlefield as he tends to wounded men. The English soldiers who order Din around and beat him for not bringing them water fast enough are presented as being callous and shallow, and ultimately inferior to him.

Of course, many have seen the 1939 movie, Gunga Din starring Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks.  Darn good movie.  It reminded me of Kipling’s poem, which I occasionally go back and read; mostly for nostalgia but also to again experience his brilliant poem.  You can find Rudyard Kipling’s poem at this link and it only takes a minute to read.

Whenever I tell someone ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!’ it’s a compliment.  It will always be a compliment because it is referring to Din, an Indian Bhishti of unexpected character and bravery.  So, the next time someone refers to you using this phrase, thank them for the compliment and their insight.



Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!’

  1. Bryan Lee

    Saw the movie when I was a kid with my whole family. We watched it on an old black & white tv set in our living room. Wow, those were the days. Reading this article today brings back those fond memories.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Same with me. The movie was one my brother and I acted out for days after seeing it. Our parents didn’t know if we were going crazy or just being kids. We were, of course, just being kids. Both my brother and I did well in life and I hope we developed good character from our parents.

  2. Lady Hawk

    Great movie and poem because they all point to the importance of character. And it is done with a great backdrop.

  3. Jerome Smith

    The idea that “character” matters a great deal in a person and is a part of why the are successful and do the right thing, is a fundamental part of Western civilization. This means to work hard, do the right thing, get an education, stay out of trouble especially with the law, and don’t have children before marriage. Sounds simple but many young people find that too difficult today.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Yes, and I don’t think they are teaching this much any more in our education system.

    2. Scotty Bush

      Perhaps the failure of the US edcuation system from K-12 and then in college is why we see so many young individuals who believe themselves privileged (but deny it emphatically) and why their suicide rate is so high. We no longer teach those things or insist we have experiences that make us resilient. No surprise says the modern day socialist, just move along.

  4. Greg Heyman

    I went back and read again the poem by Kipling. I have a much better appreciation of it now that many years have passed since I first was introduced to it by my wife.

  5. Fred Weber

    Thank you for taking me back to my younger days when I saw the movie Gunga Din in an old theater in downtown Chicago. Love it then and was fascinated by the British Army and their battles. Maybe that is why I later joined the US military.

  6. Max Foster

    One of Gen. Satterfield’s main points is that our rank in society – that is where were are socio-economically – does not determine whether we are a good person (one of character as he calls it) or a bad person. “Din” (pronounced to rhyme with green) is an example we could all follow. Note the similarities to Jesus from the Bible. Din and Jesus were brave in the face of death and humble.

    1. Doc Blackshear

      Hey, really good observation. I might add that both also were very young (relatively) and intent on doing what was right regardless of what others did around them that was not so good.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      🙂 I agree with you Max as typical. You are spot on with your comments.

  7. Drew Dill

    I’m older than most people reading this leadership blog so I can safely say that I used to hear this phrase fairly often but not anymore. Perhaps it’s the lack of education our kids now get or simply we’ve moved on. Either way, I find it sad that the poem by Kipling is rarely read any longer.

  8. Dale Paul Fox

    Thanks for a really good article to go with my coffee this morning.

  9. Army Captain

    I agree, great poem and one that I first read in my High School English class. Mrs. Zimmerman was a wonderful teacher.

    1. Georgie M.

      Same here, Army Captain. I was first introduced to poems in early HS years and then took more coursework in college. I always appreciated it.

    2. Fred Weber

      Yes! I had the same experience with my English teacher Ms Pauline O’Conner. She was great and I remember many good times in class as well as actuallly learning something. My college English teachers were another story. They were a bit nutty and liberal dingbats. I learned little in college to appreciate the classics and am disappointed today because of it.

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