A Passage To India

Today I completed my reading of

This beautifully written novel, although first published in 1924, depicts the attitudes of the British governing classes, their relationships among themselves and with the Indians, themselves representing different cultures and beliefs. The barely concealed tensions and resentments between the various groups ready to explode as they eventually do during a court case inevitably exposing deep seated prejudices, not just between governors and the subjugated, but also among the different faiths within the sub-continent.

The truths of the pivotal accusation are dependent upon individual perceptions depending upon individual attitudes and fixed convictions.

With the benefit of his insightful characterisation Forster gives a profound, complex, picture of his protagonists with sensitive narrative. He has a mastery of dialogue. The prose flows along like the Ganges, and is full of examples of his descriptive skills, making good use of similes such as “three ladies…suddenly shot out of the summer-horselike exquisitely coloured swallows” , metaphors, adjectives and adverbs. Perhaps this paragraph is an extended metaphor in itself: “Going to hang up her cloak, she found that the tip of the peg was occupied by a small wasp. She had known this wasp or his relatives by day; they were not as English wasps, but had long yellow legs which hung down behind when they flew. Perhaps he mistook the peg for a branch – no Indian animal has any sense of an interior. Bats, rats, birds, insects will as soon nest inside a house as out; it is to them a normal growth of the eternal jungle, which alternately produces trees, houses, trees. There he clung, asleep while the jackals in the plain bayed their desires and mingled with the percussion of drums.” The descriptions of the significant Marabar caves are equally polished, as is that of the sensitive depiction of the punkah-wallah keeping the fan turning in the courtroom. This was a man of considerable beauty of the lowest caste performing a routine task with no understanding of what was going.

The book contains predictions that India will become a nation free from British rule; its own indigenous people will become one of equality was not considered.

Michael Holroyd’s informative introduction puts this classic in the context of the author’s time, his childhood, and his other work.

The bustling illustrations of Ian Ribbons requiring close study for interpretation perfectly reflect the book and its subject. The Header picture shows the boards and spine of the Folio Society’s production.

This evening we all dined on meaty sausages, creamy mashed potatoes, crunchy carrots, firm cauliflower, and tender broccoli stems, with which I drank more of the Malbec.