A Passage to India | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India | Part 1, Chapter 6 ((Mosque)) | Summary

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Summary

Distracted by several surgical cases, Aziz doesn't attend the Bridge Party. While busy at the hospital, he encounters Major Callendar, who is furious Aziz did not appear when summoned on the night of the play, completely unaware the young doctor would be anywhere but at his home. Despite his snobbishness about Dr. Panna Lai, Aziz had planned to drive to the Bridge Party with the low-born Hindu in the latter's carriage, partly because Panna Lai has a hard time controlling his horse. But when the time comes, he decides not to go, partly because today is the anniversary of his wife's death. He reflects on his arranged marriage; he grew to love his wife by the time she died, bearing their third child. At times he engages in sexual trysts; at other times he is nearly suicidal at her loss, and he wonders if he will meet her in Paradise. His religious beliefs are uncertain. At the last minute he decides not to go to the Bridge Party almost without realizing it; he feels he can't subject himself to the likes of Mrs. Callendar and Mrs. Lesley on a day when he already feels so sensitive, so he lets Panna Lai go on his own.

Instead, Aziz gazes at a photograph of his wife and becomes desperately sad, and then, after thinking of interesting cases at work, he soon forgets about her. He next goes to Hamidullah's, borrows a polo pony and mallet, and trots off to the Maidan to practice polo. There he meets an English subaltern—an army officer below the rank of captain—doing the same. They soon begin playing together and seem to like each other, at least for the moment.

As the sun descends, some Muslims begin praying toward Mecca. When a bull, sacred to Hindus, comes by, Aziz taps it with his polo mallet, just in time for Panna Lai, returning from the party, to see him do it. Annoyed by Aziz's action, Panna Lai asks why Aziz had not shown up to go to the party. Aziz makes an excuse about being at the post office, which Panna Lai challenges and proves to be nothing but an excuse, much to Aziz's annoyance. Panna Lai is irritated because Aziz did not help him manage his horse, which ran over some hollyhocks at the club. Panna Lai says Aziz's absence was noted. Irritated, Aziz rides toward Panna Lai, making the latter's horse bolt, and then he gallops off. Then he begins to worry about whom he may have offended. Returning home he finds an invitation to Fielding's tea party, which gratifies him greatly. He goes off to Hamidullah's to learn all he can of the schoolmaster, but he finds only Mahmoud Ali.

Analysis

Class, or social position, is a major issue in this chapter. Callendar's frustration with Aziz shows he is ignorant about the lives of his Indian subordinates—as ignorant as the upper-class Indians are about their servants—and has no idea they have social lives and visit one another. Aziz, who is educated, is also rather snobbish about Panna Lai and cares little about the Hindu doctor's feelings.

Panna Lai's refusal to pretend to believe Aziz's excuse for not keeping his commitment can be seen as a failure to maintain "truth of mood." Unlike the Indians at the Bridge Party, who will say anything they can to be agreeable to the English ladies, Dr. Panna Lai is grimly determined to get at the truth, thereby offending Aziz, who sees it as a sign of poor breeding.

In a case of situational irony, the failed goal of the Bridge Party—to allow East and West to mix, at least by playing tennis—comes to fruition in this offhand meeting between Aziz and an Englishman whose position would make him very unlikely to involve himself in diplomatic overtures.

This chapter also focuses on characters' subjective perspectives and demonstrates the relationship between the characters' internal feelings or mood and their public actions. Sad and sensitive about the anniversary of his wife's death, Aziz refuses to expose himself to people who have not treated him kindly. Later in the chapter readers see how various irritations—Aziz's failure to show up, the mishap with his horse, Aziz's mistreatment of the bull—lead Panna Lai to be confrontational with Aziz; and then readers see how Aziz's irritation leads him to impulsively offend the Hindu doctor. Readers also follow the somewhat unpredictable process of Aziz's thoughts as he goes from deep sadness over the loss of his wife to speculation about the afterlife to avid interest in his work. Finally, after his impulsive gallop at Panna Lai's horse, readers experience Aziz's changing feelings, from anger to athletic confidence to political fear to ebullience at an invitation to tea.

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