Conflict of Cultures: in A Passage to India

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      Introduction. Unlike many other novels of great importance where a single theme is developed admirably with of course some subsidiary topics, A Passage to India has for its basis several themes. The skillful author has blended these themes in such a subtle manner that the readers assimilate them without being conscious of their distinctness or individuality. The book has built itself on the firm foundation of interrelationships of several sorts, necessitating a clash of interests, thanks to differing social and cultural inheritance and, upbringing as well as diversity of status and position in society.

      Conflicts of Numerous Types. The author has touched upon all types of conflicts such as that between Indians and Anglo-Indian bureaucrats, among the several communal groups, among the natives and also among the English people. The governed and the governing class, the religious beliefs and social taboos, rivalry among the servants and several other factors are admirably portrayed.

      The Theme of Aloofness. How people keep themselves aloof from others for various reasons, how they erect fences and hurdles both for themselves and others have been described in detail by Forster. The distinct characters of the ruling class and the ruled, the diversities among the people of the same communal unit whether Hindu or Muslim, or the different castes among the Hindus themselves and the yawning gap between them, and the brittle nature of the relationships among persons has been skilfully portrayed by the author.

      Nationalistic Views Encouraging Hostile Tendency Among the Indians. In the beginning itself, the author describes the mutual discussions of some Muslims regarding the possibility and advisability of Indians becoming friendly with Englishmen. Many of them were against such a move because they felt that all Englishmen who came to India undertaking Government jobs lost the refinement of their manners and Englishwomen became haughty and authoritarian.

      The Grudges and Grievances of the Subordinate Officers. Indian subordinate officers were harassed and ill-treated by the officers. Dr. Aziz had that grudge against the Civil Surgeon and the advocate Hamidulla against the City Magistrate. Many Indian high dignitaries felt it an insult that the Englishmen had exclusive clubs where Indians were banned.

      Suspicious Nature of the English Ruling Class. The Englishmen began to distrust Indians who had begun to protest against their brutal behavior. Ronny and other officials were annoyed that the educated Indians had begun to claim independence. The English branded all of them as 'Traitors' and guilty of sedition. They had no warmth of feeling towards Indians. They could not develop any understanding with them. The bureaucrats claimed that their presence was necessary to do justice and maintain law and order. They denied that there was any necessity for them to behave pleasantly with the native people. Mrs. Moore and Adela, who were magnanimous enough to criticize this attitude of superiority and arrogance in the ruling class, are the sole exceptions. All the other English Women are portrayed as haughty and arrogant in nature.

      Attempt at the Character Assassination of Aziz. Dr. Aziz is one of the principal Indian characters of the novel. Adela's mistake in accusing Dr. Aziz of an attempt at molesting her gives the ruling class enough material for the character assassination of Dr. Aziz. All the English ladies unanimously declared him guilty even before the trial started. The Superintendent of Police unearthed some private correspondence of the doctor to find evidence of his moral lapses. His own dead wife's picture was taken as evidence of his immorality.

      The Indian View Before and After the Trial. The Indian were convinced that there was some mistake somewhere because they knew Dr. Aziz to be a perfect gentleman and innocent in this respect. They joined together to put up a stiff resistance to the attempt of the ruling class to magnify a very trivial incident. The Nawab Bahadur was their leader who financed the scheme of defence. The college students held demonstrations against the City Magistrate. When Adela withdrew the charge and admitted her mistake, the tried had to be dropped and the accused discharged. The students and others were then happy and they exhibited it by way of processions and celebrations. The Nawab Bahadur renounced his title and became mere Mr. Zulfikar.

      The Cleavage between the two Races. The Indians did not find that there was any sacrifice on the part of Adela in facing the hostility of her own people as a result of her recantation. She wanted cold justice and honesty. She did not feel any sort of apologetic love and sympathy for those whom she had wronged by her false accusation. The Indians did not think much of her sacrifice because her desire to exonerate the man whom she falsely accused did not represent her sincerity in full. It came from her head but did not include the heart. Truth can be truth only when it is accompanied by kindness and more kindness. According to Forster there are certain fundamental things that keep the cleavage between the two races intact; such as suspicion in the Indian mentality and hypocrisy in the Westerners. As Aziz says, no friendship could be possible between the races as long as there is no political independence. Even Fielding, who did much for the sake of the Indians, could not become a close friend of Aziz.

      Emotional Disparity Cause of Absence of Intimacy at the Individual Level. Forster does not seem to believe that the gulf of separation between the Indians and the English and their cultures can be adequately bridged, because of their inability to share emotions. According to author the average Englishman who worked in the administrative services then failed to develop his heart adequately while the Indian could not develop his head befittingly. The Englishman had to be, as a matter of policy, cold and unemotional while the Indian was compelled to be unduly suspicious though it was irrational.

      Hostility among the different Communal Units. At that time the relations between the members of the different religious groups, mainly between the Hindus and Muslims, were not cordial on account of the difference in beliefs and cultural inheritance. One section 'pooh-poohed' or looked down on the rituals and conventions which the other eagerly cherished and enthusiastically followed. There are many subcastes among the Hindus and the author remarks "Hindusim so solid from a distance is riven into sects and clans." The scene in India at that time was nothing but a nightmarish spectacle of social conflict and individuals without the readiness to understand one another. Of course the later events have disproved many of these conjectures and fears and India has emerged as a big secular, democratic republic despite social, religious and communal differences. But the tinge of communalism has not completely vanished as yet.

University Questions

What is the main theme of A Passage to India? How far do you think is the theme of social conflict dealt with in the novel? Discuss.
Comment on the theme of conflict of cultures in A Passage to India.
Comment on the validity of the view: " In A Passage to India, Forster's intention is to present the Western civilization in collision with the Eastern, the imperial with the colonial, the human heart in conflict with the machinery of government, class and race".
Do you think Forster has been able to mediate between East and West? Discuss.
Consider A Passage to India as a comment on the failure of the ruler and the ruled to "only connect"

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