A passage to India

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That seems to be the message behind ‘A Passage to India’. It also exemplifies that first impressions are not always correct impressions.

This book essentially explores the implications of romantic attachment and how relationships become vitiated within a colonial framework or perspective.

Rather than plot evolution, the emphasis is on character game development between characters. Each of the characters relates, but at the same time they do not relate as well to each other.

Apart from that there is a focus on the attitudes between people and how they change over time specifically the attitude of the English towards the Indians and among the Indians through the behavior of the characters is discussed.

While the society described here is no longer with us, some of the themes have a contemporary resonance. In fact, films like ‘Iyobinte Pustakom’ explore these themes in a different way. Speaking of movies, I saw ‘A Passage to India’ in childhood, but managed to get the book only now in middle age, when ideally it should have been the other way around. But I guess there are no perfect solutions in life.

EM Foster’s plot builds are pretty straightforward, in fact, nothing special about them. The highlight of the book is its character development. A doctor, Mr. Aziz organized a trip to the Marabar caves near Chandrapore for a Miss Quested, also known as Adela, who was visiting India for the first time. She accompanies Ms. Moore, mother of Chandrapore City Magistrate Mr. Heaslop, to whom she is engaged. The idea is to foster a marriage between her and Heaslop, but that doesn’t materialize. Ms. Moore expires on his voyage back to England via sea. During the trip to the Marabar Caves, Miss Quested appears to have a hallucinatory attack and accuses the unfortunate Dr. Aziz of trying to abuse her in one of the caves. In the trial that followed, Miss Quested collapses and states that she cannot be sure that Dr. Aziz tried to do so. Consequently, Dr. Aziz is acquitted and is inducted into service in another part of British India under a Hindu ruler. However, Aziz is permanently bitter with the British, as evidenced by his shaky relationship with Fielding. Fielding for reasons known to himself never doubts Aziz’s integrity, but in the end the two men fight and reconcile only in their final encounter.

Aziz is able to find a new job elsewhere in British India only through the intercession of one of his benefactors, Narayan Godbole. See you Brahmin. Godbole is one of the most complex characters in this novel. EM Foster’s idea seems to be to highlight the contradictory tendencies in the Hindu mind, of which he seems to have an unclear opinion.

Overall this is a valuable read for anyone interested in revisiting British India, for me personally it was like revisiting my childhood because, although I saw the movie many years ago, the scenes depicted in the book allowed instantly remember the faces of the characters who had played those roles, perhaps showing that the more we seemingly change, the more intrinsically we remain the same.

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