A Passage to India – The Eternal Sleep

‘Those in the Civil Station kept watch a little, fearing an attack, but presently they too enteredt the world of dreams – that world in which a third of each man’s life is spent, and which is thought by some pessimists to be a premonition of eternity.’ – p.239

It is interesting then that quickly following this passage, Fielding has this to say:

‘Liking here better he smiled and said, ‘It’ll get us to heaven.’
‘Will it?’
‘If heaven existed.’
‘Do you not believe in heaven, Mr Fielding, amy I ask?’ she said, looking at him shyly.
‘I do not. Yet I believe that honesty gets us there.” – pp.240-241

 
Hypnos, Greek god of sleep, and his brother, Thanatos, god of death, as painted
by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 2:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Poetry to address the Heat?

The following passage describes quite incisively the severity of the heat that accompanies India’s summer months, drawing neat contrast with the life pattern of Europe:

‘Making sudden changes of gear, the heat accelerated its advance after Mrs moore’s departure, until existence had to be endured and crime punished with the thermometer at a hundred and twelve. Electric fans hummed and spat, water splashed onto screen, ice clinked, and outside these defences, between a grayish sky and a yellowish earth, clouds of dust moved hesitatingly. In Europe life retreats out of the cold, and exquisite fireside myths have resulted – Balder, Persephone – but here the retreat is from the source of life, the treacherous sun, and no poetry adorns it, because disillusionment cannot be beautiful. Men yearn for poetry though they may not confess it; they desire that joy shall be graceful, and sorrow august, and infinity have a form, and India fails to accommodate them. The annual helter-skelter of April, when irritability and lust spread like a canker, is one of her comments on the orderly hopes of humanity. Fish manage better: fish, as the tanks dry, wriggle into the mud and wait for the rains to uncake them. But men try to be harmonious all the year round, and the results are occasionally disastrous. The triumphant machine of civilisation may suddenly hitch and be immobilized into a car of stone, and at such moments the destiny of the English seems to resemble their predecessors’, who also entered the country with intent to refashion it, but were in the end worked into its pattern and covered with its dust.’ – pp.214-215

Is the weather so linked to civilisation? And is it true that India fails to accomodate the men who yearn for poetry? What kind of poetry?

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 1:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Judgement on Indian Behaviour

‘Aziz was innocent and all actions must be based on that, and the people who said he was guilty were wrong and it was hopeless to try to propitiate them. At the moment when he was throwing in his lot with Indians, he realized the profundity of the gulf that divided him from them. They always do something disappointing. Aziz had tried to run away from the police, Mohammed Latid had not checked the pilfering. And now Hamidullah! – instead of raging and denouncing, he temprized. Are Indians cowards? No, but they are bad starters and occasionally jib. Fear is everywhere; the British Raj rests on it; the respect and courtesy Fielding himself enjoyed were unconscious acts of propitiation.’ – p.182

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – South of Latitude 30

‘Mr McBryde [District Superintendent of Police] was shocked at his downfall [Aziz’s after his accusation of assault], but no Indian ever surprised him, because he had a theory about climatic zones. The theory ran: ‘All unfortunate natives are criminals at heart, for the simple reason that they live south of latitude 30. They are not to blame, they have not a dog’s chance – we should be like them if we settled here.’ Born at Karachi, he seemed to contradict his theory, and would sometimes admit as much with a sad, quiet smile.’ – p.176

Why Latitude 30? The heat? Physical, social, economic geographical concerns?

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Proverbs and Peaceful Co-existence

The following takes place towards the end of Aziz’s planned picnic to the Marabar caves as he replies to Fielding’s query as to the day-trip’s cost:

‘Aziz, have you figured out what this picnic will cost you?’
‘Sh! my dear chap, don’t mention that part. Hundreds and hundreds of rupees. The completed account will be too awful; my freinds’ servants have robbed me right and left, and as for an elephant, she apparently eats gold. I can trust you not to repeat this. And M.L. – please employ initials, he listens – is fat the worst of all.’ [ML is Mohammed Latif, a servant]
‘I told you he’s no good.’
‘He is plenty of good for himself; his dishonesty will ruin me.’
‘Aziz, how monstrous!’
‘I am delighted with him really, he has made my guests comfortable; besides, it is my duty to employ him, he is my cousin. If money goes, money comes. If money stays, death comes. DId you ever learn that useful Urdu proverb? Probably not, for I have just invented it.’
‘Mt proverbs are: A penny saved is a penny earned; A stitch in time saves nine; Look before you lap; and the British Empire rest on them. You will never kick us out, you know, until you cease employing MLs and such.’
‘Oh, kick you out? WHy should I trouble over that dirty job? Leave it to the politicians…No, when i was a student I got excited over your damned countrymen, certainly; but if they’ll let me get on with my profession, and not be too rude to me officially, I really don’t ask for more.’
‘But you do; you take them to a picnic.’
‘This picnic is nothing to do with English or Indians; it is an expedition of friends.’ – p.170

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Life and Freud’s Death Instinct (Again)

The following chestnut from Forster describes an aspect of life I’m sure everyone has acknowledged at some point in a kind of nihilistic confrontation of our insignificance. And it is the last line of the paragraph which I get quite excited over as it once again conjures up Freud’s theory of Thanatos, or the Death Drive, in which we all aim at reducing stimulus to absolute zero – achievable only in death. There’s a lot of material out there for elucidation, but i especially like the following article: http://www.artsandopinion.com/2007_v6_n3/lewis-29.htm

‘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. There are periods in the most thrilling day during which nothing happens, and though we continue to exclaim ‘I do enjoy myself’ or ‘I am horrified’ we are insincere. ‘As far as i feel anything, it is enjoyment, horror’ – it’s no more than that really, and a perfectly adjusted organism would be silent.’ -p.145

I warn you, as soon as you starting reading Freud, you’ll see him everywhere in everything…

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 4:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Thoughts over Children

Aziz and Fielding’s relationship is a healthy enjoyable one that truly inspires as well as saddens due its intrinsically tragic inevitability. The following is a bonding moment of many; Aziz is baffled by the lack of acepted tradition in Fielding’s character:

‘Aziz after another silence said, ‘Why are you not married?’
Fielding was pleased that he had asked. ‘Because I have more or less come through without it…The lady i liked wouldn’t marry me – that is the main point, but that’s fifteen years ago and now means nothing.’
‘But you haven’t children.’
‘None.’
‘Excuse the following question: have you any illegitimate children?’
‘No. I’d willingly tell you if i had.’
‘Then your name will entirely die out.’
‘It must.’
‘Well.’ He shook his head. ‘This indifference is what the Oriental will never understand.’
‘I don’t care for children.’
‘Caring has nothing to do with it,’ he said impatiently.
‘I don’t feel their absence, I don’t want them weeping around my deathbed and being polite about me afterwards, which I believe is the general notion. I’d far rather leave a thought behind me than a child. Other people can have children. No obligation, with England getting so chock-a-block and overrunning India for jobs.’ – 130

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 4:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Life Between Worlds

There’s a wondeful passage that seems to define life as a transcient trifle where what is really important is the snatching and appreciation of moments of beauty, for it is beauty that characterises this quick burst of humanity and makes it beyond bearable, but enjoyable:

‘The poem had done no ‘good’ to anyone, but it was a passing reminder, a breath from the divine lips of beauty, a nightingale between two worlds of dust. Less explicit than the call to Krishna, it voiced our loneliness nevertheless, our isolation, our need for the Friend who never comes yet is not entirely disproved.’ – p.119

Religion vs Beauty. It recalls a particular metaphor in a poem I can’t for the life of me recall where life is reduced to a bird flying in from the cold to enjoy the warmth and tremendous excitement of a festive feast in an instant before exiting through another open window. Two worlds of dust separated by life.

If anyone knows the poem, please put me out of my misery, there’s a connection awaiting conclusion.

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 4:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Colonialism. Why are we here?

Like many explorations of colonisation there is always a fundamental difficulty that no matter how deeply investigated and logically reasoned fails to be fully addressed; the coloniser despite just and reasonable justifications has no choice but to trail off into silence or obscurity. Marlowe in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ is just as guilty of this as Ronny here arguing with his perhaps naive mother who maybe comes as close to the issue as possible:

”We’re not out here for the purpose of behaving pleasantly!’
‘What do you mean?’
‘…We’re out here to do justice and keep the peace. Them’s my sentiments. India isn’t a drawing room.’
‘Your sentiments are those of a god,’ she said quietly…
…’India likes gods.’
‘And Englishmen like posing as gods.’
‘There’s no point in all of this…I am out here to work, mind, to hold this wretched country by force. I’m not a missionary or a Labour Member or a vague sentimental sympathetic literary man. I’m just a servant of the Government…We’re not pleasant in India, and we don’t intend to be pleasant. We’ve something more important to do.’
   He spoke sincerely. Every day he worked hard in the court trying to decide which of two untrue accounts was the less untrue, trying to dispense justice fearlessly, to protect the weak against the less weak, the incoherent against the plausible, surrounded by lies and flattery. That morning he had convicted a railway clerk of overcharging pilgrims for their tickets, and a Pathan of attempted rape. He expected no gratitude, no recognition for this, and both clerk and Pathan might appeal, bribe their witnesses more effectually in the interval, and get their sentences reversed.
…He spoke sincerely, but she could have wished with less gusto. How Ronny revelled in the drawbacks of his situation! how he did rub it in that he was not in India to behave pleasantly, and derived positive satisfaction therefrom!’
…’I’m going to argue, and indeed dictate, ‘ she said…’The English are out here to be pleasant.’
‘How do you make that out, mother?’ he asked, speaking gently again, for he was ashamed of his irritability.
‘Because India is part of the earth. And God has put us on the earth in order to be pleasant to each other. God…is…love.’ She hesitated, seeing how much he disliked the argument, but something made her go on. ‘God has put us on earth to love our neighbours and to show it, and He is omnipresent, even in India, to see how we are succeeding…The desire to behave pleasantly satisfies God…The sincere if impotent desire wins His blessing. I think everyone fails, but there are so many kinds of failure. Goodwill and more goodwill and more goodwill.” -pp.69-71

Published in: on December 14, 2009 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Passage to India – Privacy, conventions and the weather

‘[Mrs Moore] Accustomed to the privacy of London, she could not realise that India, seemingly so mysterious, contains none, and that consequently the conventions have greater force.’ – p.68

This is certainly true, there is no privacy; fear of liberal talk proliferating keeps one self-consciously in check. Everyone knows everyone who knows anyone who talks to everyone such that noone can afford to adopt an entirely independent ‘who cares what anyone thinks’ attitude because there will always be someone who cares. Obstacles of interconnection are everywhere; only the white tiger can break through at great personal cost and tremendously destructive consequences.

‘There’s nothing in India but the weather…it’s the alpha and omega of the whole affair’ – p.68

Lethargic. Soporific. Heat. I miss it.

Published in: on December 14, 2009 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment