Friday, July 25, 2014

Social Picture in "A passage to India"

A passage to India is a realistic portrayal of the contemporary Indian society of the colonization period. It gives more or less an accurate picture of life in India in the 1920’s. This novel gives us the fruitful picture of local customs and beliefs, Hindu – Muslim conflict and historically true account of the conflict of the cultures of the East and West which were prevalent in that society.
One of the most important issues in that is portrayed in A Passage to India is the arrogance of the British ruling class in conflict with the native pride of the Indian people. The ruling people always feel superior to themselves and tries to keep themselves aloof from the native and the result is the hatred and bitterness that are generated in the minds of the native people against the ruling class.

The beginning of the novel reveals the wide gulf existing between the white rulers and the brown Indians. The town of Chandrapur is divided into two parts, the English civil station and the native section. The civil station shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky. The railway line divided the European locality from the Indian locality. Thus the city is tensed with antagonism, of class and race. They separate themselves from the population, declaring their own superiority over the masses as they build their walled compounds content to be out of sight and sound of any Indians, with the exception of their servants (of course) (Kurinan 44). They seek to make Britain in India, rather than accepting and glorifying the resident cultures. They remain strangers to it, practically living in a separate country they provided for themselves, yet ruling one that they remained aloof from (Eldridge 170).

Forster depicts that there was no sign of friendship between the English and the Indians. At the very outset of the novel, Dr. Aziz shows his scornful attitude to the English, wishing only to consider them comically or ignore them completely. He shows his distrust by saying to Hamidullah"whether or not it is possible for Indians to be friends with Englishman." Another native contends that it is impossible but Hamidullah believes that this friendship is only possible in England. He remembers how he was treated cordially by the English. But their attitude totally changed when the colonial rule is established. Aime Cesaire states, "it is simply the savage nature of colonization that changes man into their most primal state.

At that time the British people used to treat the Indians with disrespect. It is demonstrated by Major Calleneder's summon to Aziz and his wife's oblivious attitude towards Aziz. This sense of superiority had a tremendous impact on the native people and they remarked bad comments against them.

However, Miss Quested, Mrs. Moore and Fielding are among the minority of Britons who actually appreciated "the real India” We see in what way the Anglo-Indian think about the Indians when Adela expresses a wish to see the real India. One woman in the gathering says that when she was a nurse to Indians, she "remained sternly aloof from them."  Nihal Singh says, "  the British in India despise and ostracize Indians (Ibid)

The English officials and their wives are suspicious of Indians. They are furthermore distant and reserved in their behaviour towards the Indian. Mrs. Turton says "Britons are superior to everyone in India except one or two of the Rani's." The attitudes of the city Magistrate, Ronny Heaslop is typical of the entire white bureaucracy. He holds a low opinion about Indians and can't develop any understanding with them. He fulfills the characteristics of the administrative class. … caring only about his superiority over the Indians (Kurinan 43).

Any attempt of making friendship with ruling class results in disaster as it is seen when Dr. Aziz is  accused for the suspect of following Miss Quested,  none of the ruling class, with the exception of Fielding and Mrs. Moore, has the least doubt that Aziz is guilty. The collector takes the incident as confirming the view that the English and Indians should never try to become intimate socially because there is nothing ‘but disaster result when English people and Indians attempt to be intimate socially.’’ On the incident of Aziz's arrest, the colonized people shows their hatred which they cherished in their mind for many years. The Indian servants make no secret of their dislike for their English Masters.

Another important issue that was seen at that time was the mutual prejudices of Hindus and Moslems against each other. Nor are the relations between Hindus and Muslims very cordial. It is true they get closer to each other as a result of their common stand against the English on the occasion of the trial of Aziz. But otherwise the two communities are poles apart. Godbole reminds Aziz of cow-dung, and the rhythm of Hindu drums is uncongenial to Aziz. Aziz thinks that Hindus in general are slack and have no idea f society or punctuality. All illness proceeds from Hindus, says Haq. Syad Mahmoud describes Hindu religious fairs with biting scorn. The annual riots among Hindus and Muslems on the occasion of Mohurram prove to Ronny “that the British were necessary to India; there would certainly have been bloodshed without them.” Godbole thinks it necessary to have another wash if he has been touched by Moslems at the time of a religious ceremony. In short, Hindus and Moslems represent two different cultures and cannot become one. Then there are the divisions among Hindus themselves. For instance, in the Hindu state of Mau, “the cleavage was between Brahman and non-Brahman; Moslems and English were quite out of the running. In short, the native Indian scene too offers a spectacle of social conflict and lack of understanding.

 By analyzing the above discussion we can say that Forster’s A Passage to India is the portrayal of the mutual prejudices of Hindus and Moslems against each other, The nationalist feelings of both the communities and their antagonism towards the English officials, the arrogance and the sense of racial superiority of the white people which were the prevalent issues of that time in India.


01. Eldrige, C. C (1996). The Imperial Experience: From Carlyle to Forster. New York: St. Martin’s Press

02. Kurinan, V. G. (1969), The Lords of Humankind. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co.

03. Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. Trans. Joan Pinkham. New York: Monthly Review

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