[RGC 224.] A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

[read: all exoticism aside, a real passage to India]


» Must haves: I pulled out all the exotic Indian things I had because it’s not too hard to find, but of all of them I’d recommend just sitting outside in the middle of the summer heat since that’s the setting of the novel. » Pairs well with: some real chai, not chai tea because chai just means tea, a solid chai. 

Gotta love the exoticization on that book cover, though. That aside, Forster does a really amazing job emphasizing the colonial era (nearing the end of it) and its many flaws and greater harms on an entire society. Using an Indian-Muslim narrator, on the background of British India, plays up different contexts we face today in conjunction with old relations as they were then. Sometimes that can make these earlier pieces more difficult to relate to, but in taking two steps back you remember that India and Pakistan (and Bangladesh) were actually together once, under one big empire.

You read about race and religious divides, though, and it feels as though nothing has changed. I think that’s why I wrote one of my papers at Cambridge about Forster’s work (let alone his influence over the Bloomsbury group) and titled it “Today’s A Passage to India: Forster’s ‘Epic’ Novel and Its Resonance Today.” The Oxford Union Society recently held a debate on whether or not Britain owes India reparations for the colonial period. And, in my opinion, it does. The British destroyed a homegrown industry for their own economic gains, impaired the people of India, and kept them under their command for over 100 years. Some of that damage is irreversible (actually, most of it) and for that I believe it’s worth a discussion on Britain’s role today, and its responsibility for starting that bloody past. For the impact it had on shaping not one but three postcolonial nations, so deeply rooted in war over the past century that their children’s children see this damage as inevitably permanent.

I never grew up in India, but my parents did. And their parents, and my ancestors, and my extended family, and everything that they carry comes from India, or the collective land that was ruled by the British. And there are shocking connections that Forster, a man of England but a lover of India, makes to the human condition under imperial rule and the fraying ties between the oppressor and the oppressed. It’s fiction at its finest, and for me it was a tie to a place I can never truly know.

While reading this book, I was living at King’s College, Cambridge and I found out one day that Forster’s room while living on grounds was situated right across the hall from mine. {Where there is now a secret graduate bar, if you ever want to try to get in there.} Reading A Passage to India, you feel its resonance today. However, walking down those halls, I felt his own presence in the cheesiest way and read those words as if they he were speaking directly to me. And for the most part, he got it right, everything felt true and real and as if I had the chance to be there as I could never be otherwise.

10 out of 10 would recommend.


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