Portrayal of Muslim: in A Passage To India

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      Forster's seventeen years friendship with Syed Masood to whom the book is dedicated, confirms the belief that Forster knew Muslims of India well. His living with Muslim friends helped him greatly in creating the life-like character of Dr. Aziz. His personal experience of enjoying the hospitality of Muslims lent credence to his creation of Dr. Aziz. It is through Aziz that Forster speaks. Forster, despite his religious, racial and cultural differences with the Muslims, displays his skill in delineation of a man of culture and refinement. Aziz delights the hearers with verses from Hafiz, Hali and Iqbal. Though a modern Muslim educated in England, his sense of beauty is awakened at the sight of beautiful mosque. He is proud of Islam and recollects the glory of Moghul Emperors. He feels that India is his home inspite of a few blabby Hindus who had preceded him there and a few silly English men who had succeeded them. Aziz was a skillful doctor but the boredom of hygiene and regime repelled him. After inoculating a man for enteric disease, he would go and drink unfiltered water himself. When in high spirits, he enjoyed being misunderstood by Englishmen. He says "If I am cycling in English dress, starch, collar, hat and stick, they take no notice. When I wear a fez, they cry, 'your lamp's out' Lord Curzon did not consider it when he urged natives of India to retain their picturesque costumes, Hooray!"

      Fielding's visit to Aziz made the latter conscious of his bungalow being near the bazar in dirty surroundings. Aziz's house was also not well-kept. He felt ashamed of it and in the beginning showed frigidity to Fielding. Touched by Fielding's kindness Aziz relented. He showed the photograph of his wife to Fielding, confiding in him that he was conferring this privilege only on him.

      His perversion in sex matters also needs description. He had learned all he needed concerning his own constitution many years ago. Thanks to the social order in which he had been born, and when he came to study Medicine he was repelled by the pedantry and fuss with which Europe tabulated the facts of sex.

      He referred to Miss Adela Quested as having practically no breasts. He did not realize the vulgarity of the remark. He tells Fielding: "For the city magistrate they shall be sufficient perhaps and he for her. For you, I shall arrange a lady with breasts like mangoes."

      He was shocked at Adela's simple question as to how many wives he had got. The trial angered him because he was associated with a woman who had no personal beauty. He thought of the beautiful dancing girls of Calcutta and longed to enjoy them.

      The estrangement between Aziz and Fielding was caused by the lack of appreciation of heroism. He failed to eulogize the heroism of Adela who even after being subjected to thorough preparation for the trial, suddenly stood up and upheld the truth. Suspicion in the oriental's mind was a sort of malignant humor.

      Aziz had many unpleasant features. He does not show any superiority when compared to Fielding or Mrs. Moore. But still, he is a remarkable creation.

A Liberal Muslim

      Hamidullah, though a minor character, represents a liberal Muslim. He pleads for friendship between Englishmen and Indians. He talks of his experiences in England. Mahmoud Ali opposed him and declared that friendship between Englishmen and Indians was a mirage. Hamidullah also came to the conclusion that friendship between the two races was possible in England and not in India where the Englishman acts as the master and treats the Indians as saves. At the time of Aziz's trial he tried to rally round Aziz all the sections of the Indians so as to give it color of racial victimization.

      Nawab Bahadur, who came from the Muslim nobility believed in cultivating good relations with the Englishmen. He attended the Bridge Party given by Turton and took pride on being invited. He looked upon the Lt. Governor and the Collector as his friends. He gave lift to Ronny and Adela Quested in his car. Being involved in the accident he was worried over the safety of his English guests. He was less worried about his personal protection. After the trial scene, he persuaded the Muslims to exercise restraint and not precipitate any kind of rioting.

      Forster is not a propagandist, says Dr. Bhupal Singh. He is just and avoids preaching. Dr. Bhupal Singh further adds: "But it is possible that in one of the self-communings of Aziz, he is communicating his own vision of India of the future."

Hindu India

      Against the depiction of the Muslims, the depiction of Hindu India grows pale. Since he had not come into personal contact with any Hindu, he could not do justice, in spite of his best efforts, to the delineation of Prof. Godbole. Prof. Godbole is made to represent love, mysticism and aloofness of the Hindus. Much of the talk about the Hindus comes through the mouths of Muslim characters. It is possible that whatever knowledge Forster possessed of the Hindu character was not first-hand and was based on vicarious knowledge coming through Muslim friends. A Muslim account of Hinduism could be as biased as the account of the Britishers about the Indians.

      After all, Muslims also remained masters of India for centuries and looked upon the Hindus as their inferior. They also believed that they had come to the land of the heathens. It was their duty to bring back the Hindus —most of the idol-worshippers — to the Islamic fold of one God. They also felt that they had come to India to civilize the Hindus. Such is the irony. Any ruling race soon starts considering itself as a superior one and the other over whom they ruled the inferior one. However, Forster could not be accused of such a fallacy.


Do you think, Forster has been successful in depicting the Muslim life in India?

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