Significance of The Title: A Passage To India

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Allegorical in Meaning

      It is significant that E.M. Forster chose the title of his novel from Whitman's poem "Passage to India". Outwardly and superficially, the title of the novel may signify a journey to India. There have been invaders on ransacking sprees and going back with heavy loot. The rulers have been pouring in to establish themselves on the throne: missionaries have been coming with religious messages to remove the darkness and to spread the gospel of light everywhere. India has been attracting tourists who come to see the beautiful architecture, the bewitching natural spots, the fascinating lakes, the holy rivers and, above all, the spiritual abodes. These globe trotters come and go. Their visit to India is of a qualified and professional kind. If we take the meaning of the title in this way, it is quite simple and easily understandable. This is a layman's view and cannot be easily accepted by those who can afford to see beneath the surface.

      The problem is not as simple as it appears to be. The title is obviously suggestive and needs careful study, to unfold the real meaning. It may carry a surface meaning but it is also loaded with symbolism and allegory. As a matter of fact, there is more than that meets the eye. The novel was not meant for the layman only. It was the scheme of the novel to make it widely read by different classes of people. For that purpose E.M. Forster presented parallel meanings to plot, situation and characters.

The Journey of the Soul

      If we ponder deeply, we catch a deeper meaning and a thoughtful message with all the attendant implications. It is not an ordinary journey of the tourist. It is, so to speak, the journey of the mind in search of new ventures, a journey of the soul to understand thoroughly what India really is. It is the journey of one nation into another; the journey of one religion into another. It is a contact of two different civilizations. Can there be positive relations between the ruling nation and the ruled one? Can the domination of one over the other lead to any cementing bond between the two? That is precisely the question posed in the book and the whole book is an attempt to find a workable solution to it.

Clash of Two Cultures

      Different mental make-ups, various temperaments, various viewpoints are brought together to find out a satisfactory solution. Principal Fielding, who represents the best in English culture, sought passage to India so as to project the real image of the English character to the Indians. His journey was from one heart to another. To understand the Indians he talked of friendship, tolerance, mutual respect and understanding. He made a sincere attempt to display these qualities in his dealings with the Indians.

      The officials tried to understand the Indians from a respectable distance. They had their own point of view. They looked upon the Indians from the angle of superiority. Their understanding of the Indians was based on prejudiced opinions, haughtiness and hatred. Mr. Turton also perceived the necessity of "Impartiality and justice, fair play and order" but as an official he said: "Intercourse, Yes; courtesy by all means: intimacy never." McBryde and Ronny did not need these things to comprehend India. All Indians to them were criminal by nature, unreliable and untrustworthy.

      Mrs. Moore and Miss Adela's visit constitute fresh attempt to explore the inner recesses of the Indian's mind. Mrs. Moore was quite sincere in her efforts to understand not only India but Indians also. Here was a journey of a soul. Her approach was based on love, justice and fair play. She was quite consistent in her outlook. She was not disturbed by minor irritants. She went to the mosque to understand Islam and its followers. She formed friendship with Aziz and went on defending him at different times. She did not mind his shouting at her to take off her shoes because a Christian would have done the same thing if a non-Christian had entered the Church with a hat on. Indians were to be treated equally because they were created by the same God who created Englishmen. After Azizs arrest she told Adela that Aziz was innocent. Similar was the approach of Fielding. Mrs. Moore did not help Aziz actively by appearing as the witness in the court. Fielding, on the other hand, made earnest endeavor to save him even to the annoyance of his community composed of hardhearted and narrow-minded officials.

      The drunken Major remarked that Indians knew one language and that was the language of force. He wanted the city to be handed over to the army to make the natives behave properly.

      Professor Godbole traveled on the path of universalism. "Let us all live and let live." The world is wide enough for both of us. Dr. Aziz talked of "brotherhood on many terms" which included pride of Islam in history.

      Truly speaking, this was a journey of reactions to the central problem. EM. Forster tried to find a conclusion in the state of Mau. But the problem was so ticklish that it evaded solution. Forster had to admit that the maintenance of personal relationship on the basis of mutual confidence was not always sure and it failed in moments of crisis. Secondly, the racial question was admittedly insoluble. Fielding and Aziz could not go on as friends because their horses moved in different directions. The journey of one nation, especially the ruling one into the heart of the ruled, failed. Two races could meet only on an equal footing. Aziz frankly declared that friendship of equals could be lasting whereas between unequals it could not endure for long. Fielding and Aziz could not become friends as long as English men were the masters. The novel comes to an end with the temporary coming together of Aziz and Fielding only to separate again.

Attempt at Reconciliation

      An attempt has been made to bring Aziz and Godbole closer in Mau. But that attempt also does not succeed. It is not a union of hearts. It is a union of convenience. Dr. Aziz could not live in British India anymore after what had happened. Professor Godbole got Aziz fixed up well in Mau because of the latter's skill as a surgeon.

      Miss Quested's journey also failed. She had tried to understand India without knowing the Indians, Such attempts made a mess of everything.

      Mrs. Moore's last journey was very significant. She could not leave the Indian Ocean because it was she who had tried to know India and the Indians. She was the only lady who got success in her objective. She was buried in the Indian Ocean but it appears that her spirit traveled back to India to exercise its subtle influence over Aziz, Fielding and the common man. The passage to India ended in India. The title A Passage to India is apparently the most suitable title that Forster could have conceived.


Write a short note on the title of Passage to India and bring out its significance.

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