A Passage To India - E.M.Foster
I read this book several times and always had the intention of writing a review. Now after reading it for the 4th time I have decided to write a little about the esteemed author, the story of this novel in brief and my own views about this astounding novel which I feel is a record of the historical and political events that in fact forewarned the readers of those days on what was to come..
A little about the author ( 1897 – 1970)
Edward Morgan Foster is considered to be a very great writer of his times and Passage to India is one of Foster's finest novels . Foster was born in London in 1879 and after attending Tonbridge school as a day boy , went on to King's College, Cambridge. He had a life long connection with King’s and was elected to an honorary fellowship in 1946. Forest was always unfailingly modest about his achievements. In one of the many interviews that Foster gave for BBC, he is supposed to have said “ I have not written as much as I’d like to and I write for two reasons : partly to make money and partly to win the respect of people whom I respect. I had better add that I am quite sure that I am not a great novelist “.
However when he died in 1970 in his obituary, The Times called him one of the most esteemed novelists of his time. Foster wrote six novels only and four of them were written before the First World war – Where angels fear to tread (1905), The longest Journey ( 1907), A room with a view ( 1908) and Howard’s end (1910). After an interval of 14 years he published A Passage to India. It won many awards and prizes at that time. The other novel Maurice that he wrote in 1914 dealt on gay issues, and was published posthumously in 1971.He has also written short stories and also accounts of the two visits that he made to India and biographies.
Coming to A Passage to India, it has the distinction of having been selected as one of the 100 best English language novels of all times.The novel is the sum total of Fosters experiences of India which fascinated him as he travelled through its length and width.
The funniest description that I came across this classical novel was to call it a thriller by someone who could only identify with suspense thrillers and romantic novels. No doubt that there is an element of suspense and mystery in this novel as well.However , the novel is essentially about India as the title itself suggest, which at the time was a colonial possession of Britain, The Jewel in the crown of their empire. India was very fashionable those days, with the British rulers and even the ordinary folks who visited and spent time in India adopting and improvising the Indian ways to suit their own needs.many of these practices continue to this day - a nice harmonious blend of west and the east.
The story also deals with the relations between British and Indian people. Forster's narrative centers on Dr. Aziz, a young Indian physician, a widower with three children, who is the leading man of this novel. Aziz is a friendly and helpful soul, likes people especially the British and whenever possible he attempted to establish friendships with British men and women ( although he did try and give the impression that he never had any consideration for them other than ignoring them and their presence in his country when he interacted with his own people ). In the course of the novel, Dr. Aziz gets to meet Mrs Moore an elderly English Lady ( a widow herself with three children, come to visit her son Ronny Heaslap, a bureaucrat) in a mosque in the moon light and they strike up a friendship meeting often in the mosque and discussing various aspects of Indian culture and other every day issues. Dr Aziz agrees to show Mrs Moore ,the interesting places around the town of Chandrapur. Since the place was famous for its Marabar caves which is the focal point of the story, situated twenty miles off the city of Chandrapore, they decide to visit it along with a friend of Mrs Moore, a young and naive Englishwoman called Adela Quested , who has come to marry Mrs Moore's son Ronny Heaslap.
When they reach the Marabar caves some mysterious incidents take place and Dr Aziz is accused of assaulting and trying to rape Adela Quested which of course creates a lot of animosity with the British against the natives in general. Dr aziz is brought to trial and as it draws on all the hidden feelings of divide surfaces. The fragile structure of the Anglo-Indian relations begin to collapse and the racism that is inherent in British colonialism gets exposed. Although Mrs Moore is present while the incident happens, due to her ill health and frail frame she does not accompany the two - Dr Aziz and Adela when they go up to visit the caves. She unwittingly gets caught in between the cross cultural battle that rages India.
The city of Chadrapore itself being an average Indian city with nothing extraordinary about it. Like most cities of its time it is a city of gardens and forest and few huts and houses scattered all over the place.The rise , as it is called, is where the British inhabited, sensibly planned with red brick buildings, a club, bungalows where the gora sahibs lived and left their mark.Apparently Foster based his story around the Barabar caves located 35 kms north of Gaya which he had visited during the time he spent in India.
The trial of DR Aziz also brings out his own hidden characteristics especially after the assault and rape charges against him are dismissed.Whereas , earlier he used be a generous and friendly person, he now becomes vindicative, bitter hating all British people even the one's that try to help him and stand by him during his difficult days. Adela, who comes to India with the purpose of marrying a British official changes her mind after the incident with Dr Aziz at the caves which even to her was confusing , and, until the end we are never sure what exactly happened in the Marabar caves.
There are many other characters that come and go like Godbole a clam and collected person, a professor who is able to absorb and act according to the requirement of the political environment, Ronny Heaslop , son of Mrs Moore who is the typical cut and dry British Bureaucrat who believes that he had come to India to rule. There are also the many Muslim characters like Mohummad Ali who is a friend of Dr Aziz and who is totally anti-British and Hamidullah who is British educated but has no love lost for the Britishers but at the same time feels that one can be friendly with an English man outside India.
The novel is also in foster's words about something wider than politics, it is about the universe as embodied in the Indian earth and the Indian sky or under the Indian sky. Forster shows his concern about the right and wrong of human interactions here of course pertaining to India and its politics as it prevailed at that time under the British rule. The novel is also about friendship and also the effect it has on one's own perception of the immediate surroundings , be it from the British view point or the native view point . The friendship between Aziz and his elderly English friend, Mrs. Moore, begins in almost mystical circumstances and they form a common bond for a while that is. Even friendship needs favorable circumstances to thrive and prosper which is a fact here not to be missed.
We have had many novels written about India under the British rule written by British authors from the British point of view and also some from the native point of view, and in each case the sympathy for the other side, however the sympathy has always been intended. In this novel there is not the slightest suggestion of anything but a personal impression as gathered by Foster during his stay in India and the many upheavals that took place while he was there. A Passage to India according to many critics is a searing portrayal of the English mismanagement of India, as well as a portrayal of and against many of the racist attitudes the English colonial administration held as seen through Foster’s eyes. Although Foster admired the British discipline and the way they were able to manage India with all its many cultural differences and difficulties ,was himself a typical Englishman, in A Passage to India , his criticism of Anglo-Indian prejudice, snobbery and narrow-mindedness is remorseless and hard hitting. A Passage to India is a marvelously written novel that is sad because of many things including human emotions.
It is interesting to note that the main characters in this novel are Christians and Muslims in a predominantly Hindu India. Hindus do get involved in the conflict which engulfs all the three major communities. A small incident that causes turmoil and brings to the surface all the simmering emotions of religious bias and racism . The novel has a realistic story line that one can easily identify with especially for Indian readers. Foster took his own time almost ten years to write and complete this epic novel and one has to admire his sensitivity and thoroughness where even monor details are concerned. It is a perfect novel in all respects.
Personally I loved reading this book and without any hesitation one can call it a masterpiece, a true twentieth century classic ! When A Passage to India was published In 1924, E M Forster was already a well-known and highly respected novelist . However, since he had not published a novel for fourteen years since Howard's End published in 1910,there was a great expectancy and a certain amount of skepticism as well because of the subject he had chosen. Upon its publication, A Passage to India was reviewed widely In British newspapers and literary journals, as well as in American magazines, and almost all of the early reviews were very favorable and helped to ensure the book's success and popularity.
The theme of racism and colonialism is still a very powerful and can have dangerous realities even today.There is a reference to forgetful Indians made by the British officers in general and the muslims scornfully speaking of Hindus as a source of infection shows the underlying hatred and mistrust for each other that became open and evident during the last years of British rule and with it, the division of the country based on religion.I suppose Foster did study the political climate prevailing in India those days rather well and had already sensed the great divide that was happening between Hindus and Muslims and to top it all British rule began to crumble within two decades after writing this novel.
A passage to India was filmed in 1984 by David lean with the screenplay based on Fosters novel. It was an astounding film, extremely well made and received eleven nominations at the Academy awards, winning two award , with Peggy Ashcroft the British actress winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as Mrs. Moore, making her, at 77, the oldest actress ever to win this prestigious award.Like the novel the movie too can be called as a classic film not to be missed.
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