Published in 1924 A Passage to India is set in the fictional city of Chandrapore during the British Raj. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and is regarded as a classic. Newly arrived in India, Adela Quested is keen to experience ‘the real India’, however on an ill-fated expedition to some local caves Adela becomes confused and it is generally assumed that her host for the day Dr Aziz has assaulted her. His trial and its aftermath bring to the surface inter racial tensions and prejudice.
It is safe to say that all of us found this an uncomfortable and challenging read with some actively hating the book, but it did produce some interesting discussions. It is based on Forster’s experience of spending about 18 months in India and the book brings to the fore issues of sexism, racism and imperialism. It is a study of a society comprising 3 groups: British imperialists, Muslims and Hindus – and the tensions both between and within the groups are the main theme. None of the characters appear in a particularly good light.
There isn’t a lot of plot – the book is more character driven, and but there is great focus on the friendship (or attempts at friendship) between Dr Aziz, a Muslim and Mr Fielding, a teacher who has spent many years in India. What comes over is the way the cultural constructs of both men result in misunderstandings and affronts where none was meant. We discussed how little awareness we have of how our own worldview is coloured by our environment, and importance of cultural awareness. We wondered how objective Forster himself was in his writing from the perspectives of his Indian characters (no answer … just a query!).
2017 was the 70th anniversary of Indian Independence , and we discussed how little we had known about the history and blood shed that came with partition before the recent media coverage.