A Passage to India is on TIME Magazine's list of the 100 best English novels from 1923 to the present. It is, deservingly, an oft-recommended classic that could be mandatory reading for anyone wishing to make sense of the British Raj and the complex web of relationships and attitudes it spawned between people of different cultures and different races.
As an enthusiast of all things history, especially related to the British Raj, I'm glad I finally got around to reading Forster's masterpiece. This classic captivated me for the simple fact that Forster is a pleasure to read and he takes on a canvas that is as confusing, myriad and breathtaking as the country it is set in. It is the reader whom Forster takes on a passage to India, the India of the British Raj, showcasing a look into the attitudes, practices and opinions of the people who lived in that time.
The plot seems deceptively simple: Adela Quested arrives in India along with Mrs.Moore to whose son Ronny serving in India, she might most possibly decide to get married. In their quest to find the 'real India' Ms.Quested and Mrs.Moore decide they need to meet Indians who are the ones oppressed by their British rulers. They meet Dr.Aziz, who is such a complex character I still haven't decided if I like him or not, and strike an unlikely friendship that sets off a series of events that will change the lives of all the characters in this book.
Dr.Aziz's journey in making friends with Britishers like Cyril Fielding and Mrs.Moore is a wonderful exploration of racism, the scope of a relationship between the rulers and the ruled and the tensions it is subjected to. The story of Miss Quested and Dr.Aziz's misfortunes in the Marabar caves is a wonderful device with which Forster indulges in a brilliant analysis of cultural, religious, racial identities and the impact when they clash.
Forster is at his best when he provides vignettes of the manners and attitudes of the British men who governed India, right from the frivolous, never-ending conversation about Indian weather to startling though not surprising racist comments about Indians. Indeed, if A Passage to India is anything to go by, Indian weather was the conversation topic of choice in the British Raj. As Ronny remarks:
''There's nothing in India but the weather, my dear mother; it's the alpha and omega of the whole affair'
Forster is eminently quotable, something that adds to my enjoyment of a book. This is one of my favourite quotes from the book:
Forster not only analyzes British attitudes about Indians, but also the clash of personalities between Muslims and Hindus in their India. There are intriguing conversations about the Mughal emperors, each of their contributions to the identity of Muslims in India and the identity of Indians themselves. There are stunningly descriptive, beautifully written passages about the fun and frolic of festivals like Gokul Ashtami (which, as Forster remarks, forms a stunning contrast to the solemn nature of many Christian festivals).
A Passage to India is clearly written by a writer, who while he may not be an impartial observer nor an encyclopedia of information about the Raj, offers an important perspective that would be foolish to ignore. This book is one I cannot wait to re-read, for there is certainly more than meets the eye of a first-time reader, even though the reader may be armed with a lengthy spoiler-filled introductory analysis. I highly recommend A Passage to India to anyone who loves classics, is interested in the British Raj or likes to understand race and religion in the context of interaction between people of different countries placed in an unequal platform.