The food from the human table is presented as a reward for Rikki-tikki, along with being petted by Teddy and his parents and being allowed to sleep in Teddy’s bed at night. As such, it symbolizes the benefits (in Kipling’s understanding) of British colonization: a luxuriant lifestyle that provides comforts and delights that wouldn’t be possible without the occupation of India. Rikki-tikki couldn’t hope to enjoy food from the table as a wild mongoose, and his life would likely be considerably less comfortable. Yet the same rewards he enjoys for accepting the authority of Teddy’s family can make him soft. Rikki-tikki refrains from eating the food at the human table while the cobras Nag and Nagaina are on the loose, for instance. Kipling thus seems to be saying that the very luxuries “civilization” provides can blunt the instincts needed to defend it. Rikki-tikki therefore needs to be sparing in his enjoyment of these luxuries, at least until the threat of the cobras—that is, of Indian “savagery”—is removed.
Human Food Quotes in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
“I suppose he’s so tame because we’ve been kind to him.”
“All mongooses are like that,” said her husband. “If Teddy doesn’t pick him up by the tail, or try to put him in a cage, he’ll run in and out of the house all day long. Let’s give him something to eat.”
That night at dinner, walking to and fro among the wine-glasses on the table, he might have stuffed himself three times over with nice things. But he remembered Nag and Nagaina, and though it was very pleasant to be patted and petted by Teddy’s mother, and to sit on Teddy’s shoulder, his eyes would get red from time to time, and he would go off into his long war cry of “Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchk!”
“Ding-dong-tock! Nag is dead—dong! Nagaina is dead! Ding-dong-tock!” That set all the birds in the garden singing, and the frogs croaking, for Nag and Nagaina used to eat frogs as well as little birds.
When Rikki got to the house, Teddy and Teddy’s mother (she looked very white still, for she had been fainting) and Teddy’s father came out and almost cried over him; and that night he ate all that was given him till he could eat no more, and went to bed on Teddy’s shoulder, where Teddy’s mother saw him when she came to look late at night.