Set during the nascent years of the Indian nationalist movement in the fictitious North Indian town of Chandrapore, E.M. Foster’s novel, A Passage to India, follows Adela Quested, a young English woman visiting India for the first time. During a trip to the nearby Marabar caves, Adela accuses Dr. Aziz, an educated and well-reputed Muslim, of attempting to rape her. The contentious trial, which follows Adela’s accusation, brings to the surface the racial and sexual tensions of the British Raj.
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
‘Hamidullah!’ cried the young man. ‘Am I late?’
‘Do not apologise,’ replied his host. ‘You are always late.’
‘Yes, but has Mahmoud Ali eaten all the food? Mahmoud Ali, how are you?’
‘Thank you, Dr Aziz, I am dying.’
‘Dying before dinner? Poor Mahmoud Ali!’
‘We are having a very sad talk,’ said Hamidullah. ‘We were discussing whether it is possible to be friends with an Englishman. Mahmoud Ali says no, but I say yes.’
‘For example,’ said Mahmoud Ali, ‘the red-nosed boy has insulted me again in court. I don’t blame him. Until recently he was quite a nice boy, but the others have influenced him.’
‘I agree that you can’t be friends with them here,’ said Hamidullah. ‘Only in England. Years ago, at Cambridge, Mr and Mrs Bannister were my dearest friends! And when the English first come out here, they can be quite nice. You won’t believe me, but Turton and I were quite intimate when he first arrived. He showed me his stamp collection. When any Englishman comes to India he is pleasant for two years. Englishwomen are only pleasant for six months.’
Hamidullah called out, ‘When will dinner be ready?’ The servants shouted back that it was ready. They meant that they wished it was ready. Everybody understood this, so nobody moved.
‘When I was at Cambridge,’ said Hamidullah, ‘I stayed with Mr and Mrs Bannister during the vacations. I often took their children out. I remember taking little Hugh to Queen Victoria’s funeral.’
‘Queen Victoria was different,’ murmured Mahmoud Ali.
‘Let’s not talk about the English,’ said Aziz. ‘Queen Victoria and Mrs Bannister were the only nice ones, and they’re both dead.’
‘No, I have met others,’ said Hamidullah.
‘So have I!’ said Mahmoud Ali, and the mood changed. They recalled little kindnesses and courtesies, but after a while they could think of no more examples…