Before the Beatles traveled to India to tootle with Ravi Shankar, Forster had already been, loving up the subcontinent. Faced with the machinery of the British Empire and the daunting task of Indian nation-building, A Passage to India asks us to consider friendship as the solution to these incredibly complex political issues. ("All you need is love," anyone?) What makes the novel interesting, however, is its candor regarding all of the barriers the characters face in establishing their friendships, particularly with Aziz and Fielding, who are unable to bridge their cultural and political differences despite their affection for one another. Significantly, Aziz only considers Mrs. Moore and Professor Godbole as his true friends, one of whom is dead, and the other is, well, in his own mental universe, a galaxy far, far away from ordinary human interaction.
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.
Because of its idealization of friendships beyond reciprocity – such as that between Aziz and the absent Mrs. Moore – A Passage to India cannot represent the possibility of true friendships in this world, as exemplified in the fraught relationship between Aziz and Fielding.
In A Passage to India, friendships model the possibility of a mutually beneficial cultural exchange between Britain and India that does not entail the exploitative institution of empire.
The Difficulty Of English Indian Friendship In "A Passage To India"
In his "A Passage to India", Forster explores the possibility of English-Indian Friendship. He begins and ends by posing the question of whether it is possible for an Englishman and an Indian to ever be friends, at least within the context of British colonialism.
Thus, as soon as the novel opens, the reader is introduced to an argument, between Mahmoud Ali, Hamidullah, and, Aziz raising this English-Indian-friendship question. The argument is quite significant because it sets the tone of the novel and introduces the different Indian attitudes towards the issue. For instance, Mahmoud Ali, who has known the English only in India, claims that such friendship is impossible. Educated at Cambridge, Hamidullah says that it is possible to have such friendship only in England, because the English change when they live in India: "They all become exactly the same-- not worse, not better. I give any Englishman two years, be he Turton or Burton. It is only a difference of a letter. And I give any Englishwoman six months." Aziz, on the other hand, has an indifferent scornful attitude towards the argument: "Why be either friends with the fellows or not friends? Let us shut them out and be jolly."Forster uses personal relationships between Mrs. Moore and Adela, and the Indians to examine the theme of friendship between Englishwomen and Indians. Adela and Mrs. Moore question the standard behaviors of the English towards the Indians and try to connect with the Indians at the Bridge Party and at Fielding's afternoon tea. However, Mrs. Moore's curiosity to see the 'real India' is, unlike that of Adela's, bolstered by a genuine affection for Indians. Thus, Mrs. Moore breaks the distrust that Forster initially establishes towards all Englishwomen, through her tenderness towards Aziz, who calls her an 'Oriental.' Her genuine kindness maintains her place in Aziz's heart and motivates him to behave with more kindness towards both Adela and Ralph even after her death. Thus, Godbole's vision of Mrs. Moore at the Indian ceremony is not quite surprising, for her successful interaction with the Indian culture makes her part of it: "He had, with increasing vividness, again seen Mrs. Moore He was a Brahman, she Christian, but it made no difference whether she was a trick of his memory or a telepathic appeal."Forster also uses the English-Indian-friendship question as a framework to explore the general issue of Britains political control of India on a more personal level, through the friendship between Aziz and Fielding. At the beginning of the novel, Aziz is scornful of the English, wishing only to consider them comically or ignore them completely. Yet, the intuitive connection Aziz feels with Mrs. Moore in the mosque opens him to the possibility of friendship with Fielding. He is impressed by Fielding's honesty and tolerance that encourage him to open his heart to...
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