Monday, July 29, 2019

A Passage to India

A Passage to India (1924) by E. M. Forster is very much rooted in its time and place. Set in colonial India, the reader is exposed to the viewpoints of both the British who rule in India and the Indians who must live their lives as subjects to a foreign government. Forster comes through as solidly anti-imperialist and his characters appear most passionate when they speak of the situation of those who must endure the imposition of British power or those who are part of the system but feel it unjust. 

Forster also highlights how the British believe that their way and their people are always right. Ronny Heaslop, the young British city magistrate of Chandrapore and intended of Adela Quested, exemplifies this point of view. His treatment of Indians is deplorable and his condescending treatment of Adela's interest in understanding the people she might come to live among (should she decide to marry Ronny) underlines his belief that Indians don't matter enough to try and understand. This attitude is underlined again when the accusation of sexual assault is made against Dr. Aziz and Ronny's rapid move to break his engagement when Adela realizes she has been mistaken. Rather than seeing the wrong that has been done to the doctor, Ronny believes that Adela has betrayed her countrymen. She has "let the side down."

Of course the Indian point of view is also well-represented. In the first half of the book Dr. Aziz has made some headway in friendship with Cyril Fielding, a headmaster at a local school, as well as intellectually profitable interactions with Adela as she tries to understand the Indian way of life. But all that falls apart with her accusation--even though he is ultimately exonerated. Aziz loses his faith in any good will from the British contingent and tells Fielding at the end of the book that they can never really be friends until India is free from British rule. This is very true--no matter the good intentions; no matter how equal any British subject may try to treat the Indians, there is still that difference. There is still the position of the ruling class and the ruled. ★★and 1/2.

Finished 7/21/19

...Life never gives us what we want at the moment we that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually.  (p. 23)

...Ronny was dignified. 
Mrs. Moore was surprised to learn this, dignity not being a quality with which any mother credits her son. Miss Quested learnt it with anxiety, for she had not decided whether she liked dignified men. (p. 24)

MC: I really do know the truth about Indians. A most unsuitable position for any Englishwoman--I was a nurse in a Native State. One's only hope was to hold sternly aloof.
AQ: Even from one's patients.
MC: Why, the kindest thing one can do to a native is let him die. 
(Mrs. Callendar; Adela Quested, p. 25)

But Ronny was ruffled. From his mother's description he had thought the doctor might be young Muggins from over the Ganges, and had brought out all the comradely emotions. What a mix-up! Why hadn't she indicated by her tone of voice that she was talking about an Indian? (p. 30)

AQ: Now look here, wouldn't you expect a Mohammedan to answer you if you asked him to take of his hat in church?
RH: It's different, it's different; you don't understand.
AQ: I know I don't, and I want to. What is the difference, please? 
(Adela Quested; Ronny Heaslop, p. 30)

I'm just a servant of the Government; it's the profession you wanted me to choose myself, and that's that. We're not pleasant in India, and we don't intend to be pleasant. We've something more important to do. (Ronny Heaslop; p.52)

How he did rub it in that he was not in India to behave pleasantly, and derived positive satisfaction therefrom!...His words without his voice might have  impressed her, but when she heard the self-satisfied lilt of them, when she saw the mouth moving so complacently and competently beneath the little red nose, she felt, quite illogically, that this was not the last word on India. One touch of regret--not the canny substitute but the true regret from the heart--would have made him a different man, and the British Empire a different institution. (pp. 52-3)

The feeling grew that Mr. Fielding was a disruptive force, and rightly, for ideas are fatal to caste, and he used ideas by that most potent method--interchange. Neither missionary nor a student, he was happiest in the give-and-take of a private conversation. The world, he believed, is a globe of men who are trying to reach one another and can best do so by the help of good will plust culture and intelligence-- (pp. 64-5)

AQ: I do so hate mysteries.
MM: We english do.
AQ: I dislike them not because I'm English, but from my own personal point of view.
MM:I like mysteries, but I rather dislike a muddle.
CF: A mystery is a muddle.
MM: Oh, do you think so, Mr. Fielding?
CF: A myster is only a high-sounding term for a muddle. No advantage in stirring it up, in either case. Aziz and I know well that India's a muddle.
(Adela Quested, Mrs. Moore, Cyril Fielding; p. 73)

Mr. Fielding, no one  can ever realize how much kindness we Indians need, we do not even realize it ourselves. But we know when it has been given. We do not forget, though we may seem to. Kindness, more kindness, and even after that more kindness. I assure you it is the only hope. (Dr. Aziz, p. 126)


Brona said...

I read this in my twenties and found it fascinating. I'd love to reread it to see if it holds up in my memory.

Brona said...

PS I've been inundated with spam comments lately too - it's very annoying isn't it. I don't understand the purpose of it. Most of them don't link to anything. They're just weird praising comments.
I still allow anon comments but moderate everything to keep them off my posts. I have a few blogger friends who avoid google like the plague, so I like to keep this open so they can still comment.

Bev Hankins said...

I don't get as many spam comments since I started moderating--but still more than I'd like.