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
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?
What is Forster's attitude to colonialism?
"For example, a six-spot beetle," he continued. "You pick it up, it bites, you die."
"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?"