A Passage to India | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India | Part 1, Chapter 7 ((Mosque)) | Summary

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Summary

In this chapter readers learn Fielding came to India late in life, at age 40, having taught in all sorts of other situations. When he was appointed principal of the college at Chandrapore, he didn't fit in with the other English people, inspiring mistrust in them because of his association with ideas. He believes in culture and intelligence, which renders him an outsider among the English of Chandrapore. He doesn't stick with the herd and lacks "racial feeling." Although he gets on with the men, their wives distrust him. Realizing he must choose between the company of Indians or Englishwomen, he chooses the former. Thus spending time with Adela and Mrs. Moore will be quite a novelty.

On the day of the tea party, Fielding is dressing when Dr. Aziz arrives, and tells him, through a ground-glass door, to make himself at home. The doctor takes this quite literally, and is charmed at Fielding's lack of pretension. They begin chatting through the door, never having met, when Fielding curses after stamping on his collar-stud; at the time shirt collars were held by three metal studs. Aziz offers him one of the precious gold ones he is wearing, claiming it's an extra, and backs away from the glass door so Fielding won't see him take it out of his own collar before handing it to him. Having heard only good things about each other, they immediately get along.

Aziz feels comfortable in Fielding's rooms at Government College, because they are not as orderly as he feared an English dwelling would be. Fielding questions the purpose of collars, but Aziz says he wears them so as not to get stopped by the police. Fielding then mentions the two ladies he has invited and suggests Aziz can discuss art with Adela. When Aziz asks if Adela is a postimpressionist, Fielding dismisses the idea, and Aziz, always sensitive, takes offense momentarily. But because he trusts Fielding's fundamental goodwill, he forgets it. Fielding then says Professor Narayan Godbole, a Brahman, will also attend.

When the ladies arrive, Aziz is completely at ease in the "unconventional" gathering, to a large degree because he finds neither lady at all attractive. They ask him to explain what they must have done to offend the Bhattacharyas, who failed to keep their appointment that morning. Fielding tries to steer the conversation to something else, but Adela, who is intent on understanding things, persists. Aziz tells the ladies it's because the Bhattacharyas are "Slack Hindus," who are probably ashamed of their house. Fielding, calling it a muddle, says it's better not to inquire. Then Aziz impulsively invites them to his house, and both ladies immediately accept. But when he thinks with horror about his own miserable house, he changes the subject and begins discussing the architecture of the Fielding's old Mogul house, the central hall of which Fielding has kept untouched.

Aziz now imagines himself a Mogul emperor, dispensing justice and charity in an extraordinarily generous way. Inspired by the architecture, he is lost in his reverie and tells Mrs. Moore the water from the mosque comes down to fill the tank they see in the garden. Fielding knows Aziz is wrong, but doesn't correct him, because he cares "chiefly for truth of mood." Aziz then goes on discussing his work in detail, when Professor Godbole arrives. A strict Brahman, he takes his food separately from the rest and says nothing. Aziz then goes on to discuss mangoes, urging Adela to wait until the mangoes are ripe. Adela says she cannot do so; much later she realizes she unconsciously decided at that moment not to stay in India with Ronny.

Fielding offers to show Mrs. Moore around the college, while Adela remains with Aziz and Godbole. When Adela reminds Aziz about his invitation, he is again horrified at the idea and impulsively invites them to the Marabar Caves instead. She asks him to describe the caves, but he has never been there, so then she asks Godbole to describe them. He agrees to do so, but then gets a tense look on his face that says very little, leading Aziz to think he is holding something back.

Then Ronny, wearing an expression of annoyance, shows up to bring Adela and his mother to see polo. Ronny ignores the Indian men, having no professional relationship with either of them. Bristling at being ignored, Aziz becomes louder and more provocative to Ronny, confidential to Adela, and jovial with Godbole, making the others uncomfortable. When Fielding returns and sees things have gone sour, Ronny complains because Fielding left Adela to smoke with two Indian men. Fielding apologizes; everyone is now in a bad mood, and they take leave of one another. Aziz reminds Adela about his invitation to the caves and bemoans her decision not to stay in India, when finally Godbole decides it's time to sing. When he does, the English are bemused but the servants are enchanted. Godbole explains he sang in the persona of a milkmaid appealing to Krishna to come, but the god fails to come, which confuses and disappoints Mrs. Moore. After the echo of Ronny's steps die away—he walked out in the middle of the song—there is silence.

Analysis

Fielding thinks of himself as an individual, existing apart from what Forster calls "the herd" of Anglo-Indians; this notion will recur throughout the novel. When the English gather into a herd, they become suspicious and hostile to outsiders and reactionary in their thinking. At one point Fielding reflects on the club members' collective misconceptions about Indians, although as individuals they know better.

Just as in the Bridge Party in Chapter 5, there is no formula for East-West interactions during Fielding's tea party, so even though there is good will on both sides, there are misunderstandings and miscommunications. Aziz, though fluent in English, isn't quite familiar with all of Fielding's idioms, so when the latter tells Aziz, "Make yourself at home," Aziz is genuinely touched and later even sits on Fielding's bed with his legs drawn under him.

The unconventionality of the gathering puts Aziz at ease, as do the aesthetics of the Mogul architecture, where he feels culturally at home as he did in the mosque. This stands entirely in contrast to the Bridge Party for several reasons. First, at that gathering, convention, especially in terms of the participants' official roles and relationships with one another, prevented any true interaction. In this party, however, the lack of conventional relationships allows for more natural interaction; for his part Aziz feels free to treat the women as equals because he feels no physical attraction to them. Second, the physical setting at the Bridge Party—specifically the tennis courts—served to keep the two groups apart, while here the architecture brings the parties together, with Aziz acting as the English ladies' guide to India. Third, whereas the Indians' attempts at European dress drew only derision from the English at the Bridge Party, here, Fielding curses his collar, while Aziz points out the practical reality that European dress keeps him out of trouble with the police.

The power of emotion over reason is particularly prominent in this chapter. Feeling respected and empowered, Aziz is inspired here to act as a generous host to the English ladies, prompting him to make overblown statements and promises difficult to keep. After impulsively inviting them to his bungalow, he then imagines himself a generous Mogul ruler, dispensing charity; later he invites them on a grandiose expedition to the Marabar Caves, fulfilling the goal of being an Oriental host. Such generosity echoes his giving his own collar stud to Fielding and the Bhattacharyas' offer to host the ladies any time they wished. The excitement he feels in this role makes him exceed the bounds of reason, causing him to make a charming but inaccurate statement about the water flowing from the mosque. While other Englishmen might have corrected Aziz, Fielding cares more for truth of mood; he values feeling over fact. It is also interesting to reflect that while riding on this wave of Aziz's genuine emotion, Adela almost unwittingly decides not to marry Ronny; despite her careful efforts to study the situation, she makes what seems to be an impulsive, gut decision.

The division between Hindus and Muslims, a recurring theme throughout the novel, is introduced here when Aziz ascribes the Bhattacharyas' failure to keep their appointment to their religion. Later in the novel—and in history—Hindu-Muslim unity will be seen as key to efforts to make a stand against British rule. Godbole, the first major Hindu character readers have met, is an example of the theme of the inscrutability of India, and especially of Hindus, in his unwillingness to explain what appears to be the mystery of the caves. As will be seen in the future, there is much about India the rational mind cannot puzzle out. Fielding calls India a muddle, which is a recurring term throughout the novel.

Finally, differing views of the arts play a role in this chapter. Aziz has been inspired by the beauty of the Mogul architecture, but the Anglo-Indian indifference to the arts can be seen clearly in Ronny's callously leaving the party during Godbole's song, which inspires even lowly, naked laborers to stop and listen with pleasure.

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