A Passage to India
E M Forster
‘A Passage to India’ deals with the difficulties men face in their effort to understand each other and the world they live in. Edward Morgan Forster sees the British rule as a corruption influence on both the rulers and the ruled. In this novel, Forster's criticism of imperialism is based on ethical rather than political convictions.
E. M. Forster was born on the first January, 1879 at Marylebone, London. In 1890 Forster enters a preparatory school named Kent House. In 1893 he attends Tonbridge School, and in 1897, King's College, Cambridge, where he studies Classics and History. Forster's first novel is 'Where Angels Fear to Tread', which was published on October 5, 1905. But his masterpiece writing is 'A Passage to India', which was published on June 4, 1924. In 1912 Forster visited India for the first time with Lowes Dickinson and R. C. Trevelyan and became friendly with the Maharaja of Dewas State Senior. Later, he came to India for the second time in 1921 and was appointed the Private Secretary of the Maharaja Dewas State Senior and remained there until January 1922. Forster started writing 'A Passage to India' in 1922.
The novel has three different parts- part one: Mosque, part two: Caves, and part three: Temple. Again these three parts has been divided into thirty-seven chapters. Forster takes the title of this novel from Walt Whitman's famous poem 'Passage to India', written to celebrate the founding of the Suez Canal. The settings of Forster's novel 'A Passage to India' is the imaginary city of Chandrapore, a few miles north of the Marabar hills. It is situated on the bank of the Ganges. Three distinct communities live in the city of Chandrapore- the Europeans, the Indians, and the Euro-Asians. The story revolves around four characters: Dr. Aziz, his British friend Mr. Cyril Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Miss Adela Quested.
We see very first chapter of the novel that Chandrapore is two towns, the English civil station and the native section, the one having nothing to do with the other. According to writer, the civil station "shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky". This division in the landscape is symptomatic of the wide gulf that separates the rules from the ruled. Forster thinks that it is not possible for an Indian to be a friend of an Englishman as long as the English remain unfeeling, proud and autocratic towards the Indians. In their dealings with the Indians, the British as a class operate only at the level of politician and social duty.
Thus the ruling Anglo-Indians think of their rule as a burden nobly borne by them in order to civilize the native barbarians. This imperialistic prejudice produces a rigid system in which humanity has been harshly divided into the whites and the coloured. The Anglo-Indians act as a herd, united in their vicious contempt and hatred for the native Indians, whom they despise as belonging to an inferior race. They have built round themselves a rigid barrier of conventions, rank, and position, and feeling. Safe and superior behind this fence of conventions, they look down upon the Indians outside with contempt and disdain.
When Mrs. Moore and Miss Adela Quested arrive in Chandrapore, they express their desire to meet the Indians socially and get to know them personally. The British Collector Mr. Turton agrees to fulfil their desire and accordingly offers a 'Bridge Party' in the garden of the British club. All the prominent local Indians are invited. The purpose of this 'Bridge Party' is to bridge the gap between the peoples of two races, the English and the Indians. On the arrival at the club, Mrs. Moore and Miss Adela, find that the Indians guested have arrived even earlier and are standing in a group timidly at a corner of the lawn, doing nothing. The Britishers, on their part, show themselves as a self-contained group, keeping their distance from the Indians whom they refuse to take note of. As a result, the Indians who attend the party on goodwill fell extremely humiliated.
This mass-hysteria of the Anglo-Indians may also be seen in the Dr. Aziz's trail scene. The trial, and its run-up and aftermath, bring to a boil the common racial tensions and prejudices between Indians and the British who rule India. Their collective concern in the trail scene is not justice for Miss Adela, but to achieve the utmost humiliation of the Indians. Forster shows how their mass-hysteria can, on critical situations, lead them towards uncontrollable evil.
In 1960 'A Passage to India' was adapted for the stage by Santha Rama Rau. After playing in London for a year, the play opened on Broadway on January 31, 1962, and ran for 110 performances! Novelist, short-story writer and the Emerita John E. Burchard Professor Anita Desai praised the book and said, "His great book ... masterly in its prescience and its lucidity". E. M. Forster was awarded the Famina vie Heureuse and James Tait Black Memorial Prizes for this fiction in 1925. Before died of a stroke in Coventry on June 7, 1970, Forster visited India in 1945 for the third and last time.
'A Passage to India', the masterpiece of E. M. Forster is a compelling portrait of a society in the grip of imperialism; depicts the fate of individuals caught in the great political and cultural conflicts of their age. His view is that the British do not care to understand the true nature of India and the Indians here and that is why their rule is unsuccessful. Forster depicts nicely how the imperialistic rulers in India are expert in building up the racial tension and speeding its poison everywhere so quickly.
Nazrul Islam is an ex academic, freelance writer and MPhil researcher in the School of Education at Bangladesh Open University.