Samadrita's Reviews > A Passage to India

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
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Make no mistake. This, to me, will always be Forster's magnum opus even though I am yet to even acquaint myself with the synopses of either Howards End or Maurice. Maybe it is the handicap of my Indian sentimentality that I cannot remedy on whim to fine-tune my capacity for objective assessment. But strip away a colonial India from this layered narrative. Peel away the British Raj too and the concomitant censure that its historical injustices invite. And you will find this to be Forster's unambiguous, lucid vision of humanity languishing in a zone of resentful sociocultural synthesis, his unhesitant condemnation not merely of racism, casteism, religion-ism and what other noxious, vindictive 'ism's we have had throughout the history of our collective existence but of the fatalistic human tendency of rejecting a simple truth in favour of self-justifying contrivances.

Yes there's the much hyped 'crime' analyzed in the broader context of presupposed guilt and innocence . There's the issue of race, class and privilege factoring into the ensuing judicial process. The ripples of the eventual fallout of this mishap disrupt the frail status quo that all parties on either side of the race divide were tacitly maintaining so far and pose crucial existential questions before people of all communities.
Then there are hypocritical Englishmen who cannot choose between preserving the sanctity of the Empire's administrative machinery and upholding their own prejudices. And hypocritical Indians who righteously accuse the Englishmen of institutionalized hatred while stringently maintaining their own brand of intolerance. But greater than the sum of all these thematic veins is the connecting thread of Forster's sure-footed, measured prose which explores not only the inner lives of the central characters but tries to penetrate the heart of a nation-state in the making.

The India depicted here is a foreign country to me - a time and a place yet to be demarcated irreversibly along lines of communal identities that are presently dominating our political rhetoric. It is of little appeal to the newly arrived umpteenth Englishman but, nonetheless, presents itself as an amalgamation of unrealized possibilities. Not once did my brows knit together in frustration on the discovery of any passage or line even casting a whiff of Forster's bias against the people or the land. My senses were stretched taut all the time in an effort to detect any. Sure, Dr. Aziz is a little infantilized and his importance is sometimes reduced to that of a plot device used for manufacturing the central conflict while Adela Quested, Mrs Moore and Mr Fielding appear before a reader as upright individuals who stand for the truth. The other Indian characters seem to be defined by their general pettiness. But these imperfect characterizations can be more than forgiven in the light of what Forster does accomplish.
The song of the future must transcend creed.

There are times when the narrator's voice dissects the drama unfolding against unfamiliar Indian landscapes with a kind of fond exasperation and times when it dissolves into a withering regret for the way the engines of civilization continue to trundle along towards some catastrophic destiny without ever pausing for the purpose of self-assessment. And it is the profound clarity of Forster's worldviews and his sensitivity and forthrightness in deconstructing the enigma of the 'Orient' that elevates his writing even further.
Perhaps life is a mystery, not a muddle; they could not tell. Perhaps the hundred Indias which fuss and squabble so tiresomely are one, and the universe they mirror is one.

It's not the 'handicap of my Indian sentimentality' after all. Forster sought to extract the kernel of truth buried underneath layers of artifice and his craft could successfully flesh out the blank spaces between that which can be expressed with ease. Those are always worthy enough literary achievements in my eyes.
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Reading Progress

January 18, 2014 – Shelved
January 18, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
January 18, 2014 – Shelved as: 1001-and-more
January 18, 2014 – Shelved as: timeless-classics
January 18, 2014 – Shelved as: india
January 18, 2014 – Shelved as: britain
January 18, 2014 – Shelved as: european-literature
August 20, 2014 – Shelved as: don-t-melt-my-melting-pot
December 3, 2014 – Started Reading
December 4, 2014 –
4.0% "" India-a hundred Indias-whispered outside beneath the indifferent moon, but for the time India seemed one and their own, and they regained their departed greatness by hearing its departure lamented, they felt young again because reminded that youth must fly.""
December 9, 2014 –
15.0% "Trying to recover his temper, he sad, "India likes gods."\n "And Englishmen like posing as gods.""
December 11, 2014 –
30.0% ""He could hear church bells as he drowsed, both from the civil station and from the missionaries out beyond the slaughter house-different bells and rung with different intent, for one set was calling firmly to Anglo-India, and the other feebly to mankind. He did not object to the first set; the other he ignored, knowing their inefficiency.""
December 19, 2014 –
40.0% ""Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence. Inside its cocoon of work or social obligation, the human spirit slumbers for the most part, registering the distinction between pleasure and pain, but not nearly as alert as we pretend.""
December 20, 2014 –
67.0% ""When that strange race nears the dust and is condemned as untouchable, then nature remembers the physical perfection that she accomplished elsewhere, and throws out a god- not many, but here and there, to prove to society how little its categories impress her.""
December 21, 2014 –
96.0% ""...the two nations cannot be friends."\n "I know. Not yet.""
December 21, 2014 – Shelved as: my-god-is-better-than-yours
December 21, 2014 – Shelved as: cherished
December 21, 2014 – Shelved as: adoration
December 21, 2014 – Finished Reading
January 8, 2015 – Shelved as: pg-woes
February 19, 2015 – Shelved as: racism-slavery-post-colonial

Comments Showing 1-50 of 68 (68 new)


message 1: by Avik (new)

Avik seen the movie? i found it quite well made, contrary to expectations!


Samadrita Not yet.


Kalliope I read this many years ago, so I do not remember details, but it is a pleasure, and a relief, to read your impressions on this book, even if the Forster's India seems foreign to you....

Excellently well articulated review and a pleasure to read.


Rakhi Dalal Very profound expression,Samadrita. And yes, I loved the movie too. In my view, it captures the essence of this work quite remarkably.

Great review :-)


message 5: by Crease (new) - added it

Crease I would pay for your reviews in print, Samadrita. Brilliant review.


Samadrita Kalliope wrote: "I read this many years ago, so I do not remember details, but it is a pleasure, and a relief, to read your impressions on this book, even if the Forster's India seems foreign to you....

Excellentl..."


Thank you, Kall. I was definitely on edge myself wondering how much of Forster's portrayal of a pre-Independence India will ring true and how he proved all my misgivings to be unfounded.


Samadrita Rakhi wrote: "Very profound expression,Samadrita. And yes, I loved the movie too. In my view, it captures the essence of this work quite remarkably.

Great review :-)"


Thank you, Rakhi. After two spirited recommendations of the movie, I cannot help but give in.


Samadrita Crease wrote: "I would pay for your reviews in print, Samadrita. Brilliant review."

That's incredibly kind of you to say, Crease. Thank you!


message 9: by Cheryl (new) - added it

Cheryl Nice! I awaited this one. Good to know that this is one Forster I can look forward to.


message 10: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Lovely, Samadrita. :)


Garima To read your review immediately after completing this book is a matter of immense pleasure for me, Samadrita. I'm yet to gather my thoughts but they certainly mirror yours to a great extent. Hope to come back to say more for this lovely and beautiful piece of writing.


message 12: by Mosca (last edited Dec 21, 2014 09:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mosca I read this 40 years ago.

Your review is extraordinary----and a treat.

I've been considering re-reading this. Now I am decided.

You are a perceptive reader and a gifted reviewer.

Thank you.


message 13: by Erwin (last edited Dec 21, 2014 10:03AM) (new) - added it

Erwin I enjoyed reading your wonderful review! Thank you. :)


message 14: by Agnieszka (new) - added it

Agnieszka Read most of significant Forster's works . Except this one . But with your excellent review I know that have to get to it finally . Thank you Sam , as always for such wonderful appraisal .


message 15: by Dolors (last edited Dec 21, 2014 10:44AM) (new) - added it

Dolors Deconstructing prose, characters and context is not enough for you anymore, Sama. You go several steps beyond and fill up those "blank spaces" that percolate flawless narration with substance and almost visionary interpretation. Your approval of Forster's broad comprehension of the workings of history and fair characterization is irrefutable evidence of the value of this book and your own voice equals his in emotion, passion and transcendence. Another book to add to my TBR for 2015. Thanks for continuing to infuse this page with oxygenated words that keep our hearts beating! :)


message 16: by Praj (last edited Dec 21, 2014 10:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Praj Daebak!! Metaphorically speaking, India is a world within a world, opaque through its diverse cultural heritage and the subsequent perils and translucent through its humanism and spirituality. I'm fascinated by the lives of people during British Raj, as I was merely a spectator to the various tales told by my family elders. This book was a fantastic experience as I read it while on a train journey during one of my summer vacations, ages ago.

PS:- Chinguya, did you watch the movie. Victor Banerjee does a marvelous job as Dr.Aziz.(especially when he recites the Urdu poem)


message 17: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Samadrita wrote: "I was definitely on edge myself wondering how much of Forster's portrayal of a pre-Independence India will ring true and how he proved all my misgivings to be unfounded. "

that you feel that your misgivings were unfounded raises my opinion of Forster's book! :)

I don't share your view that Adela Quested stands for the truth - her search for the 'real' India strikes me as a warning that she is a bit lost herself, more a quester for truth than an embodiment of it I felt **shrugs**


message 18: by Jill (new)

Jill Even if your appreciation of the book was a "handicap of Indian sentimentality," I don't think that'd be a bad thing! My favorite reviews are the most personal, where the person had a meaningful stake in what they were reading.

I'm jealous of cogently you think about books. 2015 resolution to read finally read a Forster novel and to try to interpret half as well as you seem to have done here!


message 19: by J. (new)

J. Lovely, Samadrita. I was really wondering what you might find. I find myself agreeing with you.

Oh, and yes, re the film, intriguing that Mr Lean, the grand and majestic cinematic arbiter of things-british, should have finished his career here, connecting, these same dots.


message 20: by Himanshu (new) - added it

Himanshu Always a pleasure to read how profoundly you put together your thoughts on a book and make an excellent job out of it, Samadrita. I still have to read this one and I'm sure I'll come back to this review with much more praise, hopefully soon.


message 21: by Samadrita (last edited Dec 22, 2014 02:00AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Samadrita @Cheryl:-You certainly can. I also loved his A Room with a View - a rom com in pedestrian terms but which subtly subverts societal conventions and encourages a woman's right to self-determination.

@Steve:-Thank you! :)

@Garima:-I know it was such a pleasure to do an unplanned co-read of this with you. I'll be waiting for your thoughts but glad you agree with what I felt about Forster's homage to India. :)

@Mosca:-I hope to read this one again in the near future. There are passages I want to savour more slowly. Glad you liked the review. Thank you!

@Erwin:-I'm glad you liked it.

@Aga:-You'll love this one I'm sure. This one goes beyond the boundaries of nation, race, religion and caste and leaves a deeply meaningful human message.


Samadrita Dolors wrote: "Deconstructing prose, characters and context is not enough for you anymore, Sama. You go several steps beyond and fill up those "blank spaces" that percolate flawless narration with substance and a..."

I wish I could bottle up the radiance you spread with such kind words, Dolors. Thank you so much for being you. Also I have a feeling you will hear Forster's silent appeal to humanity and civilization to give up false pretense and embrace diversity in all forms much better than any of us. A sensitive reader who reads between the lines and comes up with such thought-provoking interpretations such as yourself is his ideal audience.


Samadrita Praj wrote: "Daebak!! Metaphorically speaking, India is a world within a world, opaque through its diverse cultural heritage and the subsequent perils and translucent through its humanism and spirituality. I'm..."

Okay a third recommendation. Now I really have to watch the movie. And you say it so well...as our high school textbooks used to contain a much rehashed line which contained a grain of truth - 'India is the epitome of the world.' Thank you, unniya!


message 24: by Samadrita (last edited Dec 22, 2014 02:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Samadrita Jan-Maat wrote: "Samadrita wrote: "I was definitely on edge myself wondering how much of Forster's portrayal of a pre-Independence India will ring true and how he proved all my misgivings to be unfounded. "

that y..."


(view spoiler)


Samadrita Jill wrote: "Even if your appreciation of the book was a "handicap of Indian sentimentality," I don't think that'd be a bad thing! My favorite reviews are the most personal, where the person had a meaningful st..."

I also prefer the personal touch in reviews to be honest. But I was a little worried if I'm rating this higher because it has to do with India but that's really not the case here. This novel summarizes humanity, almost gives out a very spiritual message and the writing is amazingly precise - after a lot of passages I had to pause and let the full significance sink in. And that's enough to merit 5 stars. India and the British Empire be damned.

You will love this one I think. Just hold on and read through the boring parts.


Samadrita J. wrote: "Lovely, Samadrita. I was really wondering what you might find. I find myself agreeing with you.

Oh, and yes, re the film, intriguing that Mr Lean, the grand and majestic cinematic arbiter of th..."


Thank you, J. I am glad we agree on the book.
Re David Lean, I'm ashamed to admit I have seen not a single film from his dazzling, multiple Oscar-winning directing career. I only remember catching a few snippets of Lawrence of Arabia on tv a few years ago..


Samadrita Himanshu wrote: "Always a pleasure to read how profoundly you put together your thoughts on a book and make an excellent job out of it, Samadrita. I still have to read this one and I'm sure I'll come back to this r..."

Thank you, Himanshu. I'll eagerly await your thoughts on Forster's masterpiece. Cannot wait to read what fellow GR friends (who are yet to read this) think of this.


message 28: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Samadrita wrote: ..."

yes (view spoiler)

it is certainly interesting, cleverly done - perhaps there is room for even more opinions about what she represents? :)


Samadrita Jan-Maat wrote: "Samadrita wrote: ..."

yes [spoilers removed]

it is certainly interesting, cleverly done - perhaps there is room for even more opinions about what she represents? :)"


This is where we need Fionnuala don't we? :)

(view spoiler)


message 30: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Samadrita wrote: ..."

nice theories, I like the (view spoiler) that works for me.

I'm not sure in that context that there is (view spoiler)


message 31: by Abubakar (new)

Abubakar Mehdi Excellent review Samadrita!


message 32: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala I followed your updates, Sam, and noticed the slow beginning so I'm delighted and relieved to see that you liked Forster's version of life under the British Raj and appreciated his sure-footed, measured prose which explores not only the inner lives of the central characters but tries to penetrate the heart of a nation-state in the making. And that's a perfectly sure-footed sentence in itself!

Before I read your interesting discussion with Jan-Maat about Adela, I had been about to say that Adela was a character I had doubts about. Or at least, doubts about what Forster thought he wanted for her, what he wished to do with her. While she is central to the plot, she is never a central character. Recently when I was reminded of the book by Jeffrey's review, I found I'd almost forgotten Adela whereas I could remember Aziz and Mrs Moore perfectly. Perhaps Forster is using her to ridicule people who travel to other countries seeking to 'understand' the other culture but who are incapable of making the least adjustment to their own world view in the process? Innocents abroad literally..


Samadrita Abubakar wrote: "Excellent review Samadrita!"

Thank you, Abubakar.


message 34: by Samadrita (last edited Dec 22, 2014 10:56AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Samadrita Jan-Maat wrote: "Samadrita wrote: ..."

nice theories, I like the [spoilers removed] that works for me.

I'm not sure in that context that there is [spoilers removed]"


(view spoiler)


Samadrita Fionnuala wrote: "I followed your updates, Sam, and noticed the slow beginning so I'm delighted and relieved to see that you liked Forster's version of life under the British Raj and appreciated his sure-footed, mea..."

This thread would have been incomplete without your two cents, Fio. So thank you for pitching in.
(view spoiler)


message 36: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Samadrita wrote: "..she would have been an ideal candidate to be subjected to psychoanalysis because it's hard to guess why she did the things she did..."

That would make for an interesting scenario, Sam - the real happening inside the cave revealed on the analyst's couch...


message 37: by Steve (new)

Steve That was quite a ringing endorsement, Samadrita. Next time I'm looking for timeless insights into bad -isms, I'll keep this one in mind. The time I saw the movie was so long ago that the story will seem fresh again, I'm sure.


Samadrita Steve wrote: "That was quite a ringing endorsement, Samadrita. Next time I'm looking for timeless insights into bad -isms, I'll keep this one in mind. The time I saw the movie was so long ago that the story wi..."

Everybody has seen the movie but me. :( Glad you like the review, Steve.


message 39: by mark (new)

mark monday excellent review


Samadrita mark wrote: "excellent review"

Thank you, mark.


message 41: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue I so appreciate your review. it adds even more impetus to my finding a spot for this book. Well done.


message 42: by [deleted user] (new)

I have reread your marvelous review, Sam. I loved the Merchant and Ivory films of Forster's books, and I adored the novel Howard's End. This book is high on my list of priorities to read. I will always remember the evolution of and the final dignity of Dr. Aziz (as portrayed in the film). I am glad to hear your assessment from the perspective of a cultured reader and as of a resident of India that you did not find the portrayals offensive, and I was struck by your saying that this India seems a foreign land to you--which makes total sense. I am currently reading Midnight's Children, so I will be thinking of these issues and the land I hope to visit someday.


Samadrita Sue wrote: "I so appreciate your review. it adds even more impetus to my finding a spot for this book. Well done."

Thank you, Sue. Hope you get to read this soon.


Samadrita sckenda wrote: "I have reread your marvelous review, Sam. I loved the Merchant and Ivory films of Forster's books, and I adored the novel Howard's End. This book is high on my list of priorities to read. I will al..."

Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Steve. Midnight's Children is another pending item on the tbr and I'll look out for Dolors' and your updates on that one. As for Forster's masterpiece on race relations, I am more than certain you will find the book to your taste.


Nandakishore Varma Lovely review, Samadrita.

I did not like the book much, because I found the Indians to be rather one-dimensional. But there is no racism.

Have you read The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott? If not, do so. IMO, the best set of books to come out of colonial India.


message 46: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Don't know how I missed this one. Wonderful review, Sam!


Samadrita Nandakishore wrote: "Lovely review, Samadrita.

I did not like the book much, because I found the Indians to be rather one-dimensional. But there is no racism.

Have you read The Raj Quartet by [author:P..."


I had been afraid to add that one given the sheer length but now I will. Thank you, Nandakishore. The portrayal of Indians was a bit underwhelming but I think Forster projected only what he witnessed during his sojourn in India.


Samadrita Riku wrote: "Don't know how I missed this one. Wonderful review, Sam!"

Thank you, Riku. Glad to see your 5 stars as well.


message 49: by Gregsamsa (last edited Jan 11, 2015 11:09PM) (new)

Gregsamsa Damn, Sam, you should do this for a living. I wonder if you appreciate the value your perspective has for us "Western" readers. Given Forster's time and place, that he gave your read an unknitted brow is an accomplishment itself, regardless of whatever else the book achieves.


Samadrita Gregsamsa wrote: "Damn, Sam, you should do this for a living. I wonder if you appreciate the value your perspective has for us "Western" readers. Given Forster's time and place, that he gave your read an unknitted..."

Kudos to Forster for criticizing what he found noxious about our culture so tastefully. I fully agree with his indirect appraisal of Hinduism for one. Thank you for reading, Josef.


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