A Passage to India by E.M. Forster — A Review


I know this is way more than late but as I had said I was very busy writing my novel Droṇyāksha and The Rise of Asuras which is coming along very nicely. I have sent first 20K+ words to a few close friends and the answer is more than encouraging. In the meantime I read Lord of The Rings and The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi! I may do a review of the latter later. I also read Inferno by Dan Brown and am currently reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Here now is what you have been waiting for, a great review of a great book, ‘A Passage to India’!

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In my review of Tranquility by Laurie Gardiner and in a self-defaming post I mentioned I am reading ‘A Passage to India’ and am planning to give a review of it in as much detail as I can. E. M. Forster has managed to captivate his readers and deliver an enchanting tale in this 300 + page novel set in British India of 1920s. Though many would have already read it I am quite sure some of you have not, so relax because there will be no spoilers. I intend to keep and if possible increase your desire to read the book.

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The language is rich and fluid. Easily capturing the mood and scenario of Indian mindset under British rule and exposing the hypocrisy of the ruling class. Our main characters are Dr. Aziz, Mr. Fielding, Ms. Quested and Mrs. Moore. But other characters that come maintain a strong hold and play their parts wonderfully. Those of you who are serious about writing must read this as it shows how characters develop and undergo various changes in course of the novel. There is perhaps no villain or if there is one, it would be different for everyone who reads it.

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E. M. Forster worked on this novel for nine years and this was his last novel. Why he did not write anything else after this is not very clear. Scholars have given conflicting views and it is not easy to accept any view as truthful. The remark of Forster himself could be accountable. He claimed he had become bored with the novel form. If that is true, though highly improbable, we could understand why he decided not to write further.

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The book is dedicated to Syed Ross Mahood, former chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and friend and student of Forster. Forster was in love with Mahood and Mahood being heterosexual could not reciprocate his feelings. Though Mahood was not his only love interest, he surely held massive impact on Forster’s thoughts and writing. The frustrated relationship of Mr. Feilding and Dr. Aziz is seen by some scholars to be an echo of Forster’s relation with Mahood. But I disagree. There is no doubt a frustration in the relationship of two friends in the novel and it may reflect to some extent the relationships of Mahood and Forster but it is not an echo of the writer’s relationship with his friend, as nothing I read and interpreted gives this idea.

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Let’s now talk on other aspects of the book. ‘Echo’ when you read this novel will stand out to you, it’s a word that slowly takes form of a character, not a comforting one and certainly not a villain but a disturbing one. You will not hate this new character but I doubt you will love it either. Your best hope would be to hope for a lingo. You would wait and when you would reflect on what have you just read I’m quite certain ‘echo’ will stand out to you.

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One of the prominent questions of the novel is, ‘Is it possible for an Englishman and an Indian to be friends?’ The friendship of our two main characters goes through a lot and can by no means be called ideal. The question is one of ethnicity, can two people with different mindsets and different backgrounds be friends? My experiences have been varied. I have found wonderful people both outside and inside my community who I can call friends and yet the question is still poignant. Once you read the book and analyze other motifs and themes, please do come back to this theme and give a thought. I would love to hear from you.

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One of my friends said she did not like the book, now her reasons were solid and so I must tell you if you are not into reading anything like this which is now at least hundred years old you must stay away. Although the story becomes more potent and charming for it has survived the test of time and still rings true to many.

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There is a charge regarding the mention of Indians as stereotypical. This charge holds some value as the characters are not entirely as the writers has shown but leverage can be given to him if he has stayed true to the story form which he had, and developed the characters well, which again he had.

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I have certainly mentioned some of my favorite lines from the book but that’s not it. I have tons of it and here are another few ones:

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* Opening his eyes, and beholding thousands of stars, he could not reply, they silenced him.

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* You can’t eat your cake and have it, even in the world of spirit.

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* There is no such person in existence as the general Indian.

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* There is no God but God doesn’t carry us far through the complexities of matter and spirit; it is only a game with words, really, a religious pun, not a religious truth.

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* You cannot say “The rose is faded” for evermore. We know it’s faded. Yet you can’t have patriotic poetry of the “India, my India” type, when it’s nobody’s India.

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* There is something in religion that may not be true but has not yet been sung.

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* One man needs a coat, another a rich wife; each approaches his goal by a clever detour.

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* God si Love. Is this the final message of India?

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* ‘I am an Indian at last,’ he thought standing motionless in the rain.

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* The air was thick with religion and rain.

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So, what do you think? Are you going to read it? You must, it’s worth it. Let me know what you think and please check out other great reviews here.

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