The Oriental Mind: in A Passage To India

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      E.M. Forster has succeeded to a great extent in revealing the mind of the Indian people in his novel A Passage to India. Forster came twice to India, in 1912 and 1922. His sojourn was quite brief and insufficient for understanding India - a great nation on a vast subcontinent. What type of men did Forster meet while in India? He met men like Aziz and Das - all government servants, seeking favors from their masters.

Revenge and Forgiveness

      Anyhow, Forster made a serious attempt to understand India and to depict Indian life faithfully. Dr. Aziz is the hero of the novel. He was a respectable man and polite to others, religious-minded and proud of the past glory of Islam. He was friendly towards Mrs. Moore, Miss Adela and Fielding. In spite of his hospitality and kindness, he was wrongfully implicated by Miss Adela in a case of rape. During the trial nothing was proved and he was honorably acquitted. He felt that his honor had been sullied and so he had sued Adela for Rs. 20,000 as compensation money for involving him in a wrong case. Forster shows here the contradictions in the oriental mind. Dr. Aziz was revengeful and wanted reparations from Miss Adela. Later on when he was reminded of Lady Moore whom he still held in high esteem, he decided to forgive Adela. Revenge and forgiveness live side by side in an Indian character.

Indians are Hypocrites

      Indians are hypocrites. They invite others outwardly, as a way of courtesy but actually they do not want the guests to come. The Bhattacharya's had invited Mrs. Moore and Miss Adela Quested to their residence on Thursday and promised to send the carriage for them. No carriage had come for them though they had waited and waited. Both the ladies simply said "It must be some point of Indian etiquette." Dr. Aziz, however, at once criticized the Hindus for their slackness and lack of social sense. On an impulse he invited both the ladies to his house. His invitation was accepted and he repented why he had invited them. He tried to change the subject to the Marabar Caves and invited them to a picnic at the Caves. Aziz actually forgot about the Marabar Caves after that. He was however, reminded of his invitation later on. Forster by these examples, shows that the Indians invited others to their house but actually they did not mean it. That was their way of doing things.

Indians Suspicious by Nature

      Forster has said: ''Suspicion in the oriental is a sort of malignant tumor, a mental malady, that makes him self-conscious and unfriendly suddenly". Forster illustrates this through the character of Dr. Aziz who trusts his friend Fielding and at the same time suspects his friend of having illicit relations with Adela.

Indians are Superstitious

      Indians are given to superstition. Nawab Bahadur believed that his car was involved in the accident by a ghost. Many stories were set afloat about the death of Mrs. Moore. Some of the Indians started worshipping her as a goddess. Two tombs were erected in her honor and wreaths were laid on them. Similarly, mounds on the way to the Marabar Caves were regarded by the villagers as the breasts of Goddess Parvati. The Krishna-Janma-Ashtami festival was also viewed as a festival of superstition. Forster describes the festival with an ironic smile.

Unity a Myth

      The whole country was divided into different races, sects and religions. The Hindus and the Muslims could not live in amity. On Moharram, there were riots between the Hindus and the Muslims. There was no cultural unity. Let us quote Forster here "The fissures in the Indian soil are infinite; Hinduism so solid from a distance is riven into sects, and clans, which radiate and join and change their names, according to the aspect from which they are approached".

      Indians Read Private Correspondence
Indians did not believe in the sanctity of private correspondence. Dr. Aziz went to see Mr. Fielding at Mau's guest house and found two letters lying on the piano. He read the letters without any moral scruple. Forster says regarding this incident "He was not ashamed to do this. The sanctity of correspondence has never been satisfied by the East".

Indians are Unpunctual

      Forster laughs at the unpunctuality of the Indians. The Englishmen are always punctual. They never miss their trains. It was the Indians who missed trains. Godbole prolonged his prayer and missed the train. However, the birth of the Lord was observed exactly at midnight. About this Forster remarked "In a land where all else was unpunctual, the hour of the birth was chronometrically observed." Indian nationalism has been caricatured. Aziz became nationalist under the duress of circumstances. Before his arrest he was proud of Islam and wanted Afghans to conquer and rule India. After the trial, he left British India, joined service in a Hindu state and became, a staunch nationalist. He wanted every Englishman to be kicked out into the sea.

      Is it a true portrayal of the Indian character? May we agree with Trilling when he says that Forster has treated the Indians with sympathy and affectionate understanding? Certainly not. Forster himself is confused. He says "India is a country of fields then hills, jungles, hills and more fields. How can the mind take hold of such a country?" But without the necessary background, it is very difficult for a foreigner to have a deep insight into the Indian character. However, it is to be appreciated that Forster made an attempt to give a sympathetic account of India at a time when very few Englishmen chose to write about India. He tried to assess the impact of British rule on Indian life.


Evaluate Forster's A Passage to India as a study of the Oriental mind.
"Forster's A Passage to India is a fine psychological study of the Oriental mind". Discuss.

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