International Journal of English
Literature and Culture
Vol. 2(6), pp. 67, June, 2014
Book: A Passage to India
Reviewed by: Ahmad Aqeel Sarwar
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Publishing Year: 2005
First Published: 1924
Accepted 4 June 2014
Edward Morgan Forster_ essayist, short story writer and novelist _is
considered a writer of first rank among the English literary figures. He
travelled to India during 1912-1913 at the invitation of his friend Syed
Ross Masood. During his visit he experienced interaction with the
Indians and he felt the difficulty in having relationship with the
natives. His experiences in India hatched the basic idea of a novel.
A Passage to India (1924) is a novel set against the backdrop of the
British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. It was
selected as one of the 100 great works of English literature by the
Modern Library and won the 1924 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for
fiction. Written as a precise mixture between a realistic and
recognizable setting and a mystical tone, shows its author as both an
excellent stylist, as well as a perceptive and acute judge of human
character. When it was published, the people in England took it as a
guide book for those who wanted to visit Sub-continent. It was
considered to be helpful for the British to understand the mind and
culture of the Indians.
The locale of the story is Chandrapore, an Indian state. The story is
about the difficulties of friendly relationship between the colonizer
and the colonized. It also examines the difficulty that outsiders face
in understanding India and her people. The Sahebs – the ones who have
just arrived and those who have been living in India for a long time all
desperately try to create ‘home’ in an alien land. The frustration they
feel is in large part due to cultural differences.
The two communities meet symbolically in the relationship between Dr.
Aziz and Fielding which ultimately fails as a result of a
misunderstanding. Dr. Aziz is an educated Muslim who has adopted the
British ways in order to come up to their standard. His inability to be
accepted by the ruling community as one of their own draws the attention
towards the fact that the colonizer never takes the natives as their
Mrs. Moor and Adela Quested come to India to have a glimpse of a foreign
culture. They want to see the ‘real’ India. Their visit to Caves, which
is the climax of the novel, comes to an end with an unpleasant incident.
Their host, Dr. Aziz, is arrested on charge of attempted sexual assault
on Adela Quested which leads to a reaction from the natives against the
English community. During the trial Fielding takes sides with Dr. Aziz
but he faces a very harsh reaction from his community.
So what really happened in those caves? Is Aziz really innocent? And how
will this accusation affect him and the people of Chandrapore? How do
friendships get affected by this incident? Forster deftly navigates the
politics and friendships in this difficult situation. The religious
festivals, the weather and the landscape of Chandrapore has been
depicted to give a glimpse of the lives of the people of Sub-continent
and how they interact with the people belonging to other religion.
The novel is however not a very clear and realistic picture of India. It
is written from the perspective of the British, the India seen through
the lens of colonizer. Dr. Aziz is created by the colonizer as the best
possible type of the Indians. He is shown as having adopted the British
ways but is unable to come up to the standard of the rulers. There is no
doubt a difference between the two cultures but the English culture has
been portrayed as better than the Indian culture.
It also reveals the stereotypes with which Orientals are depicted and
the constant process of 'formatting' or brainwashing to which newcomers
are subjected, in order to generate colonizers who are all the same.
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