Portrayal of Anglo-Indian Life in A Passage To India

Also Read

      The attitude of the Anglo-Indians or Europeans towards the Indians is a two-fold problem. They lived in India temporarily and looked upon Britain as their real home. They were in India to rule and to civilize the Indians. How do the Indians behave towards their white masters? Study of these two aspects will unfold the problem posed.

How do the Indians Behave toward the Anglo-Indians?

      The very beginning of the novel deals with this problem. A few educated Muslims have gathered to discuss whether friendship between Indians and Englishmen was possible. Hamiduilah and Mahmoud thought that it was possible only in England and not in India. Hamiduilah had been to England, and was very intimate with an English family. A scion of the same family whom Hamiduilah fondled in his lap was running a leather business at Kanpur. If Hamiduilah happened to see him, he would behave as other Anglo-Indians would behave. As they were engaged in discussions, Aziz was summoned by the Civil Surgeon, Callendar. Aziz thought that Callendar had called him just to show his authority and not because he really, needed him. As a matter of fact, when Aziz reached, he found that Major Callendar had left for the Club without leaving any message for him. Even Gallendar's servant did not treat him well till he was bribed. Mrs. Callendar did not even care to acknowledge the greetings of Aziz. She also used the tonga on which Aziz came without asking him She did not find it necessary to ask Aziz.

      This little incident made Aziz indignant. His heart was heavy and he proceeded to the mosque to seek relief. There, by chance, he happened to meet Mrs. Moore for the first time and burst out with the story of humiliations heaped on him. The Indians had to pocket such insults daily on one pretext or the other at the hands of their masters.

The Attitude of Anglo-Indians towards Indians

      The Club was the place where the Anglo-Indians met after the duty hour and discussed India and the Indians. A drama, 'Cousin Kate' was being performed. The windows of the Club were closed, although it was hot inside. This was due purposely to prevent the servants from watching the acting of their 'memsahibs'. The orchestra was playing the National Anthem to remind the Anglo-Indians that they were the masters of Hindustan. Forster called the Anthem, "the Anthem of the Army of Occupation". Mrs. Callendar thought that it was real kindness to an Indian to leave him to die alone. Miss Derek, a nurse in a native state before her marriage, took pride in living away from the Indians and insulting them. Mr. Turton, the Collector of Chandrapore, arranged a Bridge Party for Miss Adela and Lady Moore to enable them to meet the Indians. The Bridge Party meant a party that would bridge the gulf between the Britishers and the Indians. Ronny was not happy to know that his mother had met an Indian at the mosque. He thought that it was futile to form even an acquaintance with an Indian because every Indian exploited to the maximum his association with an Englishman. Mrs. Turton felt hesitant in meeting the Indian ladies when she was goaded by her husband to go towards them. She cried out "Oh these Purdah women ! I never thought any would come. Oh dear !" Mrs. Turton believed herself to be superior to all Indians. She did not even know how to address the respectable Indian ladies. Mr. Turton displayed good spirit by mixing with the Indian gentlemen but that was just a condescension. All the other Englishmen were busy arranging tea for their womenfolk and discussing their dogs. Fielding alone moved about freely paying the utmost attention to the guests. He also arranged a tea party at his residence to which he invited Mrs. Moore, Miss Adela, Dr. Aziz and Prof. Godbole to provide another opportunity for the West to meet the East. Both the parties failed. The official party failed because of the haughtiness of the Britishers. The second party failed because of the official Mr. Ronny.

Criticism of Portrayal of Anglo-Indian Life

      EM. Forster was severely criticized for the portrayal of Anglo Indian life in India. He was accused of ignorance, if not of mischief, to giving a picture of the Anglo-Indians at Chandrapore. Most of the officials did not appear in favorable light. Turton was presented as the overlord of Chandrapore. He was very much conscious of his position and all the other officials bowed before him. His behavior towards Fielding did not smack of good manners as Fielding being Principal of a college was no less important. As an educationist, he had liberal ideas on different aspects. He was tolerated by his brethren for his good heart and strong body. He was not liked all by English ladies. He had to sacrifice a lot for the sake of the Indians. The critics who do not see any reality in Turton's behavior to Fielding forget that Turion and Fielding are not types. They are individuals. The racial consciousness and the contradictions of a system based on imperialism made the Turtons and the Callendars behave, so stupidly that they appear to be wildly improbable and unreal. Forster also traces the influence of 'atmosphere' on his characters. The degeneration of the Englishmen in India is due to the peculiar conditions of India.

Forster's Deep Knowledge of the Anglo-Indians

      Despite the difference of opinions as to the real picture of Anglo-Indian life, Forster's knowledge of English life in India is quite deep. They are not interested in literature as the men had no time for it, and neither had the women. They were ignorant of the arts and felt no shame in admitting it. The menu of the Anglo-Indians was interesting. Julienne soup, full of bullety bottled peas, pseudo-cottage bread, fish full of branching bones, pretending to be plaice, more bottled peas with the cutlets and trifle sardines on toast - was the menu of the Anglo-Indians. A dish was added or subtracted as one rose or fell in the official scale. The peas rattled more or less, the sardines and the vermouth were imported by a different firm but the tradition remained. The food was cooked by the servants who did not understand it. Every Englishman had to adjust himself to the new food and new atmosphere. He was snubbed and learned by and by. E.M. Forster shows remarkable skill in delineating the Anglo-Indian life vividly. The novel contains a witty remark: "The English officials in India look upon British officials as cranks and caverns because their every act is examined with distrust." Whatever Forster portrayed, he did it with honesty and cannot be charged with a biased view.


'Ronny Heaslop, represents the typical Anglo-Indian attitude towards the Indians'. Discuss.
Is Forster's portrayal of the Anglo-Indian life in A Passage to India accurate?
What do Hamidullah, Mahmoud Ali and Aziz feel about the attitude of the English towards the Indians?
Describe briefly the interview between Mrs. Moore and Ronny Heaslop. What, according to Ronny, was the work of the Englishman in India?
Describe briefly Mr. Fielding's tea-party and how it ended, commenting specially on Aziz's behavior.
Describe Mr. Fielding's travels through Egypt, Crete and Venice. What barrier did he find between himself and his Indian friends?
Comment on the depiction of Anglo-Indian relationships in A Passage to India.
Has Forster been successful in his depiction of the social life of the English community in India?

Previous Post Next Post