A Passage to India | Study Guide

E. M. Forster

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A Passage to India | Part 1, Chapter 9 ((Mosque)) | Summary

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Summary

At the start of the chapter Aziz is lying in bed slightly ill, pretending to be more ill so he doesn't have to work. He hears church bells, thinks of the ineffectual missionaries, and wishes he could see Fielding, but not in his squalid room. He calls for his servant, Hassan, to clean up, but Hassan pretends not to hear. He then thinks of going to Calcutta to visit a brothel. Thinking of Fielding again, he orders Hassan to figure out a way to kill all the flies collecting on his ceiling. After a feeble effort, Hassan finds a way not to do as he was ordered. Meanwhile, Aziz resumes scheming about a getaway to Calcutta, where he can spend time with beautiful women.

Hamidullah, Mr. Syed Mohammed, Mr. Mohammed's nephew Rafi, and police inspector Haq come to visit Aziz. They discuss the possibility he was sickened at Mr. Fielding's, and bring up the rumor Godbole is sick as well, with diarrhea, according to Rafi. The others react with concern, suspecting cholera. Mr. Haq and Mr. Mohammed disparage Hindu hygiene. At this point, Aziz begins to recite sad, yearning poetry by the Muslim poet Ghalib, which touches them all and puts an end to the gossip; once again they feel India is theirs—and, therefore, Muslim. Although only Hamidullah understands poetry, they all listen attentively. Then Hamidullah—on his way to a meeting of an interfaith committee with nationalist aims—takes his leave, and the others begin to do so as well.

Then Dr. Panna Lai, accompanied by Ram Chand, arrives—purportedly on Major Callendar's orders—to see how ill Aziz really is. Panna Lai takes Aziz's temperature and acknowledges he has some fever; although he is tempted to report Aziz for slacking, he reminds himself he might like a day off sometime too. Ram Chand says Panna Lai is due at Government College to check on Godbole. But when they find out the cause is hemorrhoids, they chide Rafi for spreading rumors and prompt him to apologize, which results in a Hindu-Muslim shouting match between Ram Chand and Syed Mohammed.

Fielding arrives to visit Aziz. Aziz, embarrassed by the squabbling and the condition of his room, greets him coldly. A genial conversation ensues among the others in which Providence is mentioned, which results in Fielding shocking the assembled Indians by saying he does not believe in God. He is asked if most English are atheists, if therefore morality declines, and if so, what right has England to rule India? He dodges the political question, saying he is here only because he needed a job, and he is delighted to be here. But by failing to say anything to justify the English rule of India, he bewilders the small assembly in Aziz's room. When Ram Chand says Indians are too spiritual to kick the English out, Hamidullah says the so-called spirituality of India is just a failure to coordinate, to be on time, and to do their jobs. As they all leave, Fielding, having hoped to develop their friendship, feels disappointed with his visit to Aziz.

Analysis

This chapter brings up the theme of slackness; not only Aziz, but also Hassan, Hamidullah, and Panna Lai aren't doing what they should be doing. Indeed, instead of attending a committee intent on interfaith cooperation, Hamidullah and Mr. Haq are in a room in which Hindus and Muslims are insulting each other, reiterating the theme of Hindu-Muslim divisions. Aziz's sexual desires are brought up; readers have already seen he is snobbish about women's looks, and here he schemes to spend time with beautiful women. Another important motif is rumor; most of the discussion during the chapter is based on a rumor that turns out not to be true but had the potential to grow and spread. This comports with Forster's emphasis on the power of subjectivity—of what people believe, over what might be objectively true.

Aziz's recitation of Muslim poetry echoes the subjective feeling of Muslim domination of India that occurred when he recited poetry in the second chapter or when he sat in the mosque before meeting Mrs. Moore. This feeling is related to a mistrust of Hindus, which is amplified by the arrival of Panna Lai and Ram Chand. Such rancor between the two religions points at how difficult unity against the British will be. Again, the Indians, even the uneducated, seem to have a natural reverence for poetry missing among the Anglo-Indians.

Fielding's admission of atheism brings up the dichotomy between belief and skepticism introduced in the previous chapter. But it also leads to the question of why the English have the right to colonize India. And his answer is characteristically individual: not about to speak for the herd, Fielding speaks only for himself when he says he is happy to be here.

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