|E. M. Forster, A PASSAGE TO INDIA
Forster began to develop the novel in 1913, after visiting India. His central concern was the issue of "connection", as well as the desire to overcome social and racial differences. This is why he called the novel as Walt Whitman's poem A Passage to India (1871) which celebrated the opening of the Suez Canal as a bridge between Europe and India.
PART I: MOSQUE
From CHAPTER I
Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off —the city of Chandrapore presents
nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple
of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There
are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed
there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The
streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden
away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was
never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India,
then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration
stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely
any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving.
So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes
down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people
are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking
there, like some low but indestructible form of life.
Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging
to Furasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which
runs parallel to the river— the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is
laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different
place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical
pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul
that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars.
They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifiing purlieus
and unconsidered temples. Seeking light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or
his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning
leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes
below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafiess, they glorify the city to the English people
who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described,
and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it
provokes no emotion. It charms not; neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a redbrick
club on its brow, and farther back a grocer's and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed
along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view
is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.
The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the
river. Clouds map it tip at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint
blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after
sunset it has a new circumference— orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core
of blue persists, and so it is by night. Then the stars hang like lamps from the immense vault.
The distance between the vault and them is as nothing to the distance behind them, and that
farther distance, though beyond colour, last freed itself from blue.
The sky settles everything— not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful.
By herself she can do little— only feeble outbursts of fiowers. But when the sky chooses,
glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The
sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused
in it daily; size from the prostrate earth. No mountains infringe on the curve. League after
league the earth lies fiat, heaves a little, is fiat again. Only in the south, where a group of fists
and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the endless expanse interrupted. These fists and
fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the extraordinary caves.
1. What places and buildings are described in the passage?
2. How do you interpret the meaning of the negative words and details used in the first paragraph?
3. How is nature presented?
4. What impression do you get of the English part if the town?
5. What is the role of "the overarching sky"?
6. In what sense does the Indian landscape challenge the values of western civilization?
MAKE NOTES ABOUT THE SETTING
the natural landscape
the feelings it arises in Aziz
From Ch. II
He was an athletic little man, daintily put together, but really very strong. Nevertheless
walking fatigued him, as it fatigues everyone in India except the new-corner. There is something
hostile in that soil. It either yields, and the foot sinks into a depression, or else it is unexpectedly
rigid and sharp, pressing stones or crystals against the tread. A series of these little surprises
exhausts; and he was wearing pumps, a poor preparation for any country. At the edge of
the civil station he turned into a mosque to rest.
He had always liked this mosque. It was gracious, and the arrangement pleased him. The
courtyard— entered through a ruined gate— contained an ablution tank of fresh clear water.
which was always in motion, being indeed part of a conduit that supplied the city. The courtyard
was paved with broken slabs. The covered part of the mosque was deeper than is usual; its effect
was that of an English parish church whose side has been taken out. Where he sat, he
looked into three arcades whose darkness was illuminated by a small hanging lamp and by the
moon. The front—in full moonlight—had the appearance of marble, and the ninety-nine names
of God on the frieze stood out black, as the frieze stood out white against the sky. The contest
between this dualism and the contention of shadows within pleased Aziz, and he tried to symbolize
the whole into some truth of religion or love. A mosque by winning his approval let loose
his imagination. The temple of another creed, Hindu, Christian, or Greek, would have bored him
and failed to awaken his sense of beauty. Here was Islam, his own country, more than a Faith,
more than a battle-cry, more, much more . . . Islam, an attitude towards life both exquisite and
durable, where his body and his thoughts found their home.
His seat was the low wall that bounded the courtyard on the left. The ground fell away beneath
him towards the city, visible as a blur of trees, and in the stillness he heard many small
sounds. On the right, over in the club, the English community contributed an amateur orchestra.
Elsewhere some Hindus were drumming— he knew they were Hindus, because the rhythm
was uncongenial to him,— and others were bewailing a corpse— he knew whose, having certified
it in the afternoon. There were owls, the Punjab mail . . . and flowers smelt deliciously in the
station-master's garden. But the mosque— that alone signified, and he returned to it from the
complex appeal of the night, and decked it with meanings the builder had never intended.
Some day he too would build a mosque, smaller than this but in perfect taste, so that all who
passed by should experience the happiness he felt now. And near it, under a low dome, should
be his tomb, with a Persian inscription:
Alas, without me for thousands of years
The Rose will blossom and the Spring will bloom.
But those who have secretly understood my heart—
They will approach and visit the grave where I lie.
He had seen the quatrain on the tomb of a Deccan king, and regarded it as profound
philosophy— he always held pathos to be profound. The secret understanding of the heart! He
repeated the phrase with tears in his eyes, and as he did so one of the pillars of the mosque
seemed to quiver. It swayed in the gloom and detached itself Belief in ghosts ran in his blood,
but he sat firm. Another pillar moved, a third, and then an Englishwoman stepped out into the
moonlight. Suddenly he was furiously angry and shouted: "Madam! Madam! Madam!"
"Oh! Oh!" the woman gasped.
"Madam, this is a mosque, you have no right here at all; you should have taken off your
shoes; this is a holy place for Moslems."
"I have taken them off"
"I left them at the entrance."
"Then I ask your pardon."
Still startled, the woman moved out, keeping the ablution-tank between them. He called
after her, "I am truly sorry for speaking."
"Yes, I was right, was I not? If I remove my shoes, I am allowed?"
"Of course, but so few ladies take the trouble, especially if thinking no one is there to see."
"That makes no difference. God is here."
"Please let me go."
"Oh, can I do you some service now or at any time?"
"No, thank you, really none— good night. "
"May I know your name?"
She was now in the shadow of the gateway, so that he could not see her face, but she saw
his, and she said with a change of voice, "Mrs. Moore."
"Mrs. ~" Advancing, he found that she was old. A fabric bigger than the mosque fell to
pieces, and he did not know whether he was glad or sorry. She was older than Hamidullah Begum,
with a red face and white hair. Her voice had deceived him.
"Mrs. Moore, I am afraid I startled you. I shall tell my community—our friends—about you.
That God is here-very good, very fine indeed. I think you are newly arrived in India."
"Yes— how did you know?"
"By the way you address me. No, but can I call you a carriage?"
"I have only come from the club. They are doing a play that I have seen in London, and it
was so hot. "
"What was the name of the play?"
"I think you ought not to walk at night alone, Mrs. Moore. There are bad characters about
and leopards may come across from the Marabar Hills. Snakes also."
She exclaimed; she had forgotten the snakes.
ANSWER THE QUESTIONS
How does Aziz react when Mrs Moore suddenly arrives?
What makes him change his attitude?
what is the subject of their conversation?
Do the characters have anything in common? (age, nationality, family, religion, their community)
How do Aziz's feelings change throughout the passage?
Are Aziz and Mrs Moore different from other people belonging to their cultural background?
What kind of narrative technique is used? (narrator and point of view)
Focus on the Persian inscription. Aziz would like on his own tomb. Besides clearly suggesting that the Muslim doctor overvalues pathos, it introduces a theme Forster will develop in the novel. Identify it.
The passage gives some insight into the relationship between the British and the Indians: discuss it. Does the narrator suggest there are more divisions in India than the Empire can be held responsible for?
"For example, a six-spot beetle," he continued. "You pick it up, it bites, you die."
What is Forster's attitude to colonialism?
"But you walk about yourself"
"Oh, I am used to it."
"Used to snakes?"
They both laughed. "I'm a doctor," he said. "Snakes don't dare bite me." They sat down side
by side in the entrance, and slipped on their evening shoes. "Please may I ask you a question
now? Why do you come to India at this time of year, just as the cold weather is ending?"
"I intended to start earlier, but there was an unavoidable delay."
"It will soon be so unhealthy for you! And why ever do you come to Chandrapore?"
"To visit my son. He is the City Magistrate here."
"Oh no, excuse me, that is quite impossible. Our City Magistrate's name is Mr. Heaslop. I
know him intimately."
"He's my son all the same," she said, smiling.
"But, Mrs. Moore, how can he be?"
"I was married twice."
"Yes, now I see, and your first husband died."
"He did, and so did my second husband."
"Then we are in the same box," he said cryptically. "Then is the City Magistrate the entire of
your family now?"
"No, there are the younger ones— Ralph and Stella in England."
"And the gentleman here, is he Ralph and Stella's half-brother?"
"Mrs. Moore, this is all extremely strange, because like yourself I have also two sons and a
daughter. Is not this the same box with a vengeance?"
"What are their names? Not also Ronny, Ralph, and Stella, surely?"
The suggestion delighted him. "No, indeed. How funny it sounds! Their names are quite different
and will surprise you. Listen, please. I am about to tell you my children's names. The first
is called Ahmed, the second is called Karim, the third— she is the eldest— Jamila. Three children
are enough. Do not you agree with me?"
They were both silent for a little, thinking of their respective families. She sighed and rose to
"Would you care to see over the Minto Hospital one morning?" he enquired. "I have nothing
else to offer at Chandrapore."
"Thank you, I have seen it already, or I should have liked to come with you very much."
"I suppose the Civil Surgeon took you."
"Yes, and Mrs. Callendar."
His voice altered. "Ah! Avery charming lady."
"Possibly, when one knows her better."
"What? What? You didn't like her?"
"She was certainly intending to be kind, but I did not find her exactly charming."
He burst out with: "She has just taken my tonga without my permission—do you call that
being charming?- and Major Callendar interrupts me night after night from where I am dining
with my friends and I go at once, breaking tip a most pleasant entertainment, and he is not
there and not even a message. Is this charming, pray? But what does it matter? I can do nothing
and he knows it. I am just a subordinate, my time is of no value, the verandah is good
enough for an Indian, yes, yes, let him stand, and Mrs. Callendar takes my carriage and cuts
me dead ..."
He was excited partly by his wrongs, but much more by the knowledge that someone sympathized
with them. It was this that led him to repeat, exaggerate, contradict. She had proved
her sympathy by criticizing her fellow country-woman to him, but even earlier he had known. The
flame that not even beauty can nourish was springing up, and though his words were querulous
his heart began to glow secretly. Presently it burst into speech.
"You understand me, you know what others feel. Oh, if others resembled you! "
Rather surprised, she replied: "I don't think I understand people very well. I only know
whether I like or dislike them."
"Then you are an Oriental."
She accepted his escort back to the club, and said at the gate that she wished she was a
member, so that she could have asked him in.
"Indians are not allowed into the Chandrapore Club even as guests," he said simply. He did
not expatiate on his wrongs now, being happy. As he strolled downhill beneath the lovely moon,
and again saw the lovely mosque, he seemed to own the land as much as anyone owned it.
What did it matter if a few flabby Hindus had preceded him there, and a few chilly English
Part II: Caves
What does Mrs Moore try to do once she is alone?
How does she feel?
What memory disturbs her most?
Why cannot the Marabar caves be romanticised?
What rational explanation does she try to find for what is happening to her?
What crisis does she undergo?
How is the passage narrated?
What is the symbolical meaning of the caves? What is their effect on the visitor? What view of nature is conveyed in the text?
Explain why the "ou-boum" is so terrifying
What vision does Mrs Moore surrender to? How does it add to the theme of the text?
From Ch. XIV Caves
The first cave was tolerably convenient. They skirted the puddle of water, and then climbed
up over some unattractive stones, the sun crashing on their backs. Bending their heads, they
disappeared one by one into the interior of the hills. The small black hole gaped where their
varied forms and colours had momentarily functioned. They were sucked in like water down a
drain. Bland and bald rose the precipices; bland and glutinous the sky that connected the precipices;
solid and white, a Brahminy kite flapped between the rocks with a clumsiness that
seemed intentional. Before man, with his itch for the seemly, had been bom, the planet must
have looked thus. The kite flapped away. . . . Before birds, perhaps. . . . And then the hole
belched and humanity returned.
A Marabar cave had been horrid as far as Mrs Moore was concerned, for she had nearly
fainted in it, and had some difficulty in preventing herself from saying so as soon as she got
into the air again. It was natural enough: she had always suffered from faintness, and the cave
had become too full, because all their retinue followed them. Crammed with villagers and servants,
the circular chamber began to smell. She lost Aziz and Adela in the dark, didn't know
who touched her, couldn't breathe, and some vile naked thing struck her face and settled on her
mouth like a pad. She tried to regain the entrance tunnel, but an influx of villagers swept her
back. She hit her head. For an instant she went mad, hitting and gasping like a fanatic. For not
only did the crush and stench alarm her; there was also a terrifying echo.
"Quite right. I'm sorry not to come too, but I'm a poor walker."
"Dear Mrs. Moore, what does anything matter so long as you are my guests? I am very glad
you are not coming, which sounds strange, but you are treating me with true frankness, as a
"Yes, I am your friend," she said, laying her hand on his sleeve, and thinking, despite her
fatigue, how very charming, how very good, he was, and how deeply she desired his happiness.
"So may I make another suggestion? Don't let so many people come with you this time. I think
you may find it more convenient."
"Exactly, exactly," he cried, and, rushing to the other extreme, forbade all except one guide
to accompany Miss Quested and him to the Kawa Dol. "Is that all right?" he enquired.
"Quite right, now enjoy yourselves, and when you come back tell me all about it." And she
sank into the deck-chair.
If they reached the big pocket of caves, they would be away nearly an hour. She took out
her writing-pad, and began, "Dear Stella, Dear Ralph," then stopped, and looked at the queer
valley and their feeble invasion of it. Even the elephant had become a nobody. Her eye rose
from it to the entrance tunnel. No, she did not wish to repeat that experience. The more she
thought over it, the more disagreeable and frightening it became. She minded it much more
now than at the time. The crush and the smells she could forget, but the echo began in some
indescribable way to undermine her hold on life. Coming at a moment when she chanced to be
fatigued, it had managed to murmur, "Pathos, piety, courage—they exist, but are identical, and
so is filth. Everything exists, nothing has value." If one had spoken vileness in that place, or
quoted lofty poetry, the comment would have been the same--" ou-bourn." If one had spoken
with the tongues of angels and pleaded for all the unhappiness and misunderstanding in the
world, past, present, and to come, for all the misery men must undergo whatever their opinion
and position, and however much they dodge or bluff—it would amount to the same, the serpent
would descend and return to the ceiling. Devils are of the North, and poems can be written
about them, but no one could romanticize the Marabar because it robbed infinity and eternity of
their vastness, the only quality that accommodates them to mankind.
She tried to go on with her letter, reminding herself that she was only an elderly woman
who had got up too early in the morning and journeyed too far, that the despair creeping over
her was merely her despair, her personal weakness, and that even if she got a sunstroke and
went mad the rest of the world would go on. But suddenly, at the edge of her mind. Religion
appeared, poor little talkative Christianity, and she knew that all its divine words from "Let there
be Light" to "It is finished" only amounted to "bourn." Then she was terrified over an area
larger than usual; the universe, never comprehensible to her intellect, offered no repose to her
soul, the mood of the last two months took definite form at last, and she realized that she didn't
want to write to her children, didn't want to communicate with anyone, not even with God. She
sat motionless with horror, and, when old Mohammed Latif came up to her, thought he would
notice a difference. For a time she thought, "I am going to be ill," to comfort herself, then she
surrendered to the vision. She lost all interest, even in Aziz, and the affectionate and sincere
words that she had spoken to him seemed no longer hers but the air's.
Part III: Temple
From Ch. XXXVII
"Who do you want instead of the English? The Japanese?" jeered Fielding, drawing rein.
"No, the Afghans. My own ancestors."
"Oh, your Hindu friends will like that, won't they?"
"It will be arranged— a conference of Oriental statesmen."
"It will indeed be arranged."
"Old story of 'We will rob every man and rape every woman from Peshawar to Calcutta,' I
suppose, which you get some nobody to repeat and then quote every week in the _Pioneer_ in
order to frighten us into retaining you! We know! " Still he couldn't quite fit in Afghans at Mau,
and, finding he was in a comer, made his horse rear again until he remembered that he had, or
ought to have, a mother-land. Then he shouted: "India shall be a nation! No foreigners of any
sort! Hindu and Moslem and Sikh and all shall be one! Hurrah! Hurrah for India! Hurrah! Hurrah!"
India a nation! What an apotheosis! Last comer to the drab nineteenth-century sisterhood!
Waddling in at this hour of the world to take her seat! She, whose only peer was the Holy Roman
Empire, she shall rank with Guatemala and Belgium perhaps! Fielding mocked again. And
Aziz in an awful rage danced this way and that, not knowing what to do, and cried: "Down with
the English anyhow. That's certain. Clear out, you fellows, double quick, I say. We may hate one
another, but we hate you most. If I don't make you go, Ahmed will, Karim will, if it's fifty-five
hundred years we shall get rid of you, yes, we shall drive every blasted Englishman into the
sea, and then "—he rode against him furiously— "and then," he concluded, half kissing him,
"you and I shall be friends."
"Why can't we be friends now?" said the other, holding him affectionately. "It's what I want.
It's what you want."
But the horses didn't want it— they swerved apart; the earth didn't want it, sending up rocks
through which riders must pass single file; the temples, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds,
the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they issued from the gap and saw Mau
beneath: they didn't want it, they said in their hundred voices, "No, not yet," and the sky said,
"No, not there."