A Passage to India Is Not Open to Englishman
A Paper by Joanna D.
On the surface, A Passage to Indi” is a novel about the social situation during the British occupation of India. It documents the various clashes between three people groups as each struggles to attain dominance, but it’s much deeper than that. As Forster demonstrates by naming the three parts of his book Mosque, Caves, and Temple, the spiritual situation of India is at the heart of the book.
Mosque introduces Aziz, a Mohammadian who is profoundly religious. To him, at the mosque “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.” Yet an Christian Englishwoman, Mrs. Moore finds that “God is here” Is God the same for all religions? Mrs. Moore seems to think so, and yet she finds Him less satisfying. “She found him increasingly difficult to avoid as she grew older, and he had been constantly in her thoughts since she entered India, though oddly enough he satisfied her less. She must needs pronounce his name frequently as the greatest she knew, yet she had never found it less efficacious.” Mrs. Moore embarks on a quest to find God very much similar to her friend Adela’s quest to “See the real India”. Both are looking for something that apparently surrounds them. The “real” India is in Adela’s thoughts more than it probably would be at home, and God is in Mrs. Moore’s mind more than in England. Is the God only to be found in India? This has several implications. Since the Christian God is only efficacious in England, for Mrs. Moore at least, then it is an empty religion since the Christians believe that God is everywhere. If then, the real god is only to be found in India, the Christian God is English, and thus the strength of Christianity is the English empire. If the strength of God’s name is abated in India, from where does He draw his strength? The most obvious answer is that it comes from where his name is strongest: England. It also implies that the god of Islam is also futile, because Mrs. Moore has equated him with Christ. An Englishwoman would only call Christ God. If God is in a mosque, the stronghold of another religion, then she was likely finding Christ equal to Allah. If Christ is futile, then so is Allah. Who then is the real god, the god of India, the novel asks. It has dealt with Islam and in part with Englishmen (since not all Englishmen are Christians.), but what of the Hindus? How do the English relate with them?
Aziz becomes fast friends with Mrs. Moore. “You understand me, you know what others feel. Oh if others resembled you!” he bursts out “I don’t think I understand people very well. I only know whether I like or dislike them.””Then you are an Oriental.”’ Aziz responds, and their two cultures are bridged by their friendship. The English, of course, take credit for any ties that result from Aziz’s and Mrs. Moore’s friendship. Soon afterward, the English arrange a “Bridge Party” to form peace between the East and the West. In spite of the “equality” of the East and the West the English, ladies especially, are barely civil to their guests. (Although they think that the Indians ought to feel grateful to be invited at all.) Not only do the English take credit for arranging this party, but they also claim that municipal peace results from their organization of legal courts. One wonders though, whether the Indians wouldn’t have made peace amongst themselves without the English. Are the English simply part of the problem?” As Mrs. Moore observes to her son, Ronnie “Your sentiments are those of a God.” “India likes gods,” he retorts “and Englishmen like posing as Gods” she replies. There are so many gods in the story, but the English have so little use for them. As Ronnie says whenever religion attempts to interfere with his lifestyle, “I don’t think it does talk about these things, every fellow has to work out his own religion.” Fielding, another of Aziz’s English friends, says it more frankly. “Well, I don’t believe in Providence.” “But then how can you believe in God?” asks a Mohammedian. “I don’t believe in God.” The English, enlightened and without God, feel qualified to act as gods to the masses
Who, then was God to India before the Englishmen? The Hindus claim to have had mastery of India before the English came. As a Muslim, Aziz disagrees in favor of his ancestors. “Do you know what the Deccani Brahmans say? That England conquored India from them—from them, mind, and not from the Moguls.” What difference does it make? Ironically, the least affected by the English invasion appear to be the Hindus, who are at the bottom of the pecking order but who take everything in stride. Perhaps it is because they find refuge in their many gods. Or perhaps it is because they have satisfied themselves to lose hope in their only god. Professor Godbole expresses it best, “I say to Shri Krishna, ‘Come, come to me only.’ The god refuses to come. I grow humble and say: ‘do not come to me only. Multiply yourself into a hundred Krishnas, and let one go to each of my hundred companions, but one, O Lord of the Universe, come to me.’ He refuses to come.” The English take ownership of India, as we have seen, and the Muslims also take ownership of India. Aziz feels that “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 succeeded?” So much for ownership. Who rules India? If Christ and Mohammad are equally ineffective, and Shri Krishna will not come, who will come to the Indians? The ones who already have. So the Indians are left with Englishmen for gods.
The Marabar Caves are a distant landmark, yet on evenings, they seem so close, that one could almost touch them. In an effort to show his hospitality, Aziz organizes an expedition for his friend Mrs. Moore; Adela, who is Ronnie’s fiancée; and a few other friends for a day of exploring the caves and a picnic. Adela will finally see India, and Mrs. Moore will spend an interesting day with a friend, and yet neither cares anymore. Mrs. Moore “accepted her own apathy,” while Adela “resented hers. It was Adela’s faith that the whole stream of events is important and interesting, and if she grew bored she blamed herself severely and compelled her lips to utter enthusiasms” Adela is both engaged and seeing India as she has longed to do for weeks and it brings her no joy. Why? Mrs. Moore’s sentiments shed some light on the question. “She felt increasingly (vision or nightmare?) that, though people are important, the relations between them are not, and that in particular too much fuss has been made over marriage; centuries of carnal embracement, yet man is no nearer to understanding man. And to-day she felt this with such force that it seemed itself a relationship, itself a person who was trying to take hold of her hand.”
The expedition progresses until it reaches the feet of the Marabar hills, where Aziz reaches the height of his friendship with the English, having now an opportunity to demonstrate his hospitality. “Like most Orientals, Aziz overrated hospitality, mistaking it for intimacy, and not seeing that it is tainted with the sense of possession” Each of the characters have reached their peak, a peak from which, no doubt they must all fall. The fall occurs almost immediately.
As Professor Godbole the Hindu kindly explained with much reverence, the caves had neither sculptures, nor ornaments, nor stalactites, and they were certainly not holy. Mrs. Moore is the first of the party to discover what was extraordinary about the caves. “Professor Godbole had never mentioned an echo…There are some exquisite echoes in India…The echo in a Marabar cave is not like these, it is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. “Boum” is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it” Crushed in the darkness as servants and villagers pour into the cave after Aziz, Adela, herself, and the guide, Mrs. Moore hears this echo, or rather a set of howling echos and fights her way out again. The crush, the heat the echo, the weariness. The horror, the horror. “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 “boum” 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,” Mrs. Moore’s search for religion is culminated. Neither Christianity nor Islam, whatever their faults, assert that God is nothing or that nothing means nothing. Than what religion do the caves espouse? Perhaps the religion of the only people group of India who has thus forward ceased to care.
The caves produce a different effect on Adela, although not, perhaps, a dissimilar one. On the advice of Mrs. Moore, who is done spelunking for the day, Aziz takes only Adela and the guide into the next set of caves. So they are alone when Adela begins to wonder whether she really loves her fiancé. In the way of getting advice she asks Aziz about his family and then “Have you one wife or more than one?” Aziz, bewildered and embarrassed, assures her has only one and dashes into a cave to recover himself. His own wife died some years back and he keeps her image in his drawer and only reveals it to his especial friends. But it is also a new convention that and Indian man have only one wife “and new convictions are more sensitive than old.” so it is perhaps with a feeling of affront to his wife as well as himself that he disappears into the caves. Adela, on the other hand, by her own account, “went into this detestable cave,…and I remember scratching the wall with my finger-nail to start the usual echo, and then…there was this shadow, or sort of shadow, down the entrance tunnel, bottling me up. It seemed like an age, but I suppose the whole thing can’t have lasted thirty seconds really. I hit him with the glasses, he pulled me round the cave by the strap, it broke, I escaped, that’s all. He never actually touched me once.”
Aziz on the other hand, emerges from his cave to find that the is guide waiting for him, that Adela has joined some friends of hers that have driven out in a car, and that she left her field glasses with a broken strap in the entrance of a cave. He picks them up and puts them in his pocket. On their return from the caves, Aziz is arrested under suspicion of assault on an accusation from Adela, the field glasses are found in his pocket, and he is imprisoned to be tried. However, in the courtroom, a curious thing takes place. The prosecution accuses Aziz of, among other things, of trying to smother Mrs. Moore in the cave. The defense asserts that she would make a fine character witness had she not departed for England the day before, and the judge, a Hindu, throws out the evidence. The crowd outside takes up the Mrs. Moore’s name and it “became Indianized into Esmiss Esmoor,” a Hindu goddess, whose name the crowd is content to chant. Adela thinks back to the incident and “She saw herself in one, and she was also outside it, watching its entrance for Aziz to pass in. She failed to locate him.” She withdraws the case, much to the humiliation of the English. Ronnie, as the City Magistrate “really could not marry her—it would mean the end of his career.” Fielding tells Adela, that “my belief is that poor McBryde [the prosecuting attorney] exorcised you. As soon as he asked you a straightforward question, you gave a straightforward answer and broke down.”
Adela’s quest to see India is over. She has seen more of it than she wants, and it was not nearly as enchanting as she had thought because she wanted to see the landscape, and not the lifestyle. Likewise, the Englishman’s stint at being a god is ended because though he could dispense justice, he could not sympathize with the Indian and thus in Aziz’s case nearly made an error. As Fielding comments to Adela, “The first time I saw you, you were wanting to see India, not Indians, and it occurred to me: Ah, that won’t take us far. Indians know whether they are liked or not—they cannot be fooled here. Justice never satisfies them, and that is why the British Empire rests on sand.” Adela returns to England, the happier because Fielding persuades Aziz not to sue her for damages for defamation.
Aziz becomes the hero of his people and retires into the jungle to write nationalist poetry, going somewhat against his own religion in that he rejects the purdah and fights for the emancipation of women. “I do want to get away from British India, even to a poor job,” he tells a friend, “I think I could write poetry there…We need a king, Hamidullah; for it would make our lives easier. As it is we must try to appreciate these quaint Hindus.” How completely different attitude this is than that he possessed earlier when he exclaimed, “Do you know what the Deccani Brahmans say? That England conquered India from them—from them, mind, and not from the Moguls. Is it not like their cheek?”
Even Mrs. Moore has gotten closure. Going from apathy to irritability and back to her old apathy she made so much a nuisance of herself that Ronnie sent her back to England. However, on the very day of the trial, when so much fuss was being made over Esmiss Esmoor by the natives, she was discovered dead at sea, and “A legend sprang up that an Englishman had killed his mother for trying to save an Indian’s life—and there was just enough truth in this to cause annoyance to the authorities. Sometimes it was a cow that had been killed—or a crocodile with the tusks of a boar that had crawled out of the Ganges. Nonsense of this type is more difficult to combat than a single lie. It hides in rubbish heaps and moves when no one is looking.” Mrs. Moore achieves Hindu goddesshood and immortality of a sort, even as she continues to live in poor Aziz’s heart.
Perhaps that was why Professor Godbole found so much difficulty in explaining what was so special about the caves. They had polished walls and everlasting echoes and they were all exactly alike, but what is so remarkable about that? They are not religious caves, and yet they cause individuals to come face to face with their own beliefs. Mrs. Moore decided that she would rather not be a Christian and became a sort of Hindu. Adela realized that neither did she love Ronnie, nor did she really want to see India if the caves were all that there was to the landscape. Aziz found that it is dangerous to find the friends in Englishmen and that Hindus really aren’t that bad after all. Perhaps the caves are meant to represent what the truth really is. Mrs. Moore became a Hindu after leaving the caves if she became nothing else. This is clear not only because she clearly rejected both Christianity and Islam, but also because she afterward became a Hindu goddess. We have yet to be introduced however, to what the Hindus really believe.
Two years later and several hundreds of miles away in the village of Mau, Temple begins in the midst of the Hindu birth celebration. “God is not born yet—that will occur at midnight—but he has also been born centuries ago, nor can he ever be born because He is the Lord of the Universe, who transcends human processes. He is, was not, is not, was”. The real God is apparently beyond human reckoning and time because humans have a past and future isolated from each other by events, time, and chronology. The Hindu God can, however, have an event occur in the past and in the future at the same time, but not literally because though he exists, he does not. He is nothingness and nonsense. “Boum, boum, boum”
Yet “He and Professor Godbole stood at opposite ends of the same strip of carpet.” Shri Krishna is here literally at the present time. Every time was God. “God si Love.” reads the inscription on a plate decorating the shrine where the Hindus sit. Yet we heard that not so long ago when Mrs. Moore exhorted Ronnie to be descent to the Indians “God…is…love” Is Christ the same as Shri Krishna then? Forster asserts that while Christ may be part of Shri Krishna, Shri Krishna is infinitely more fun. “There is fun in heaven. God can play practical jokes on himself,…By sacrificing food taste, this worship achieve what Christianity has shirked: the inclusion of merriment. All spirit as well as all matter must participate in salvation, and if practical jokes are banned, the circle is incomplete.” Shri Krishna is in the images and not in the now.
Hinduism does not bear explaining any more, especially because the writer understands it little more than Aziz. “He had no religious curiosity, and had never discovered the meaning of this annual antic,” He has gained the position of state doctor in one of the Hindu states thanks to Professor Godbole and lives comfortably with his new wife and children. “His poems were all one topic—Oriental womanhood. ‘the purdah must go,’ was their burden, ‘otherwise we shall never be free.’” yet he holds a grudge against Fielding. He believed that Fielding was attracted to Adela when he persuaded him not to sue her, and when he wrote to say that he had gotten married, Aziz stopped reading his letters. Thus, he finds it inconvenient when Fielding shows up with his new brother -in-law to pay his respects. In the way of insult, Aziz refers to the brother-in-law as Mr. Quested, Adela’s brother. “Quested? Quested? Don’t you know that my wife was Mrs. Moore’s daughter?” “It had been an uneasy, uncanny moment when Mrs. Moore’s name was mentioned, stirring memories, ‘Esmiss Esmoor…”—as though she was coming to help him. She had always been so good, and that youth whom he had scarcly looked at was her son, Ralph Moore, Stella and Ralph, whom he had promised to be kind to, and Stella had married Cyril.”
When Aziz goes to their house, they are out on the lake, watching the birth celebration, but Ralph is home, and Aziz manages to be nasty to him. Then the festival passes and guns and dancing and chanting fill the house, and they both forget their quarrel. Hinduism is peace then? ‘”Can you always tell whether a stranger is your friend?” Aziz asks when Ralph assures him there are no hard feelings.”Yes.””Then you are an Oriental.” Aziz shudders “Those words—he had said them to Mrs. Moore in the mosque at the beginning of the cycle, from which, after much suffering, he had got free. Never to be friends with the English! Mosque, caves, mosque, caves. And here he was starting again.” To stay and cherish the friendship with Mrs. Moore’s son and let the cycle continue, or to flee from the brother of the monstrous Ronnie and never see his friend again? He will begin the cycle again, but in futile.
Twice Aziz says it: the two nations cannot be friends. Not yet, not now. The Englishmen would like it, as would the Indians, but India does not want it. “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.’” Thus the earth and the sky, and everything else, for everything else is God to the Hindu know the future and all these things that Aziz, Mrs. Moore, Fielding, and Adela thought that they had control over were not really theirs to control. They were swept along by Shir Krishna. Christianity and Islam were only confused parts of God, and all the actions of man are only the confused strokes of man who is caught in a swift river and can do nothing to free himself.