Interracialfriendships in Apassage to India
Dr.Aziz and Cyril Fielding are two of the major characters in the novel,“A passage to India” by E M Forster that keep the story and plotinteresting. The book tells of the cultural differences between theEnglish and Indians through these close interactions of differentcharacters. The plot revolves around two females, elderly Mrs. Mooreand young Adele, who travel to India to visit Moore’s son and alsoAdele’ fiancée. During their visit, they also plan to explore andsample the Indian culture. The book lays emphasis on cultural andracial relations between the English people and the Indians. Thesecultural differences bring out the prejudices and racial stereotypingthat these groups subject to one another. It is also thesedifferences that provide a framework for any friendships across theracial divide. One outstanding friendship is between Dr. Aziz andFielding who manage to overcome their racial differences to form ahealthy friendship which is also undermined by racial tensions andsuspicions. This paper thus explores how Aziz’s and Fielding’sfriendships provide important lessons to the modern diversifiedworld.
Thetwo men, Dr. Aziz and Fielding, have very different culturalbackgrounds that have a bearing on their friendship. Dr. Aziz is aMuslim widower with three children living in Chandrapore. He takeshis religious convictions and cultural heritage very seriously whichseems to dictate how he relates with people, his general mannerismsand behavior. This is made clear in his conversations with hisfriends Nawab Bahadur, Hamidullah, and Mahmoud Ali. In theseconversations, the men express their reservations for Englishmen andtheir culture. They generally express their unhappiness withdomination by the English missionaries and administrators in thecountry. These reservations are not unique to these four men as theauthor makes it a theme and even opens up the first section of thebook with a rhetorical question “Is it possible for the Indian andthe Englishman to be friends?” (Forster 33). For the most part, itis these Indians who feel that it is impossible to be friends withthe Englishmen while Englishmen view Indians as more or less ofsavages. Forster highlights the rigidity of the country and thepeople by noting that earlier attempts to civilize the country hadfailed miserably (Kundu 89).
However,to the Indians, the English are the odd ones. In fact, Dr. Aziz iskeen to make fun of Englishmen by highlighting how different theyare. This in spite of the Indians themselves being very segregatedlong social status and religion. For instance, the author highlightsthat Hindus and Muslims are different and that friendship across thereligious divide is almost impossible. The fact that some Indiansfind it hard to relate with fellow Indians from a different religionor socioeconomic background helps to highlight the magnitude ofchallenges that had to be overcome in order for Dr. Aziz and Fieldingto establisha cross-ethnic friendship. For instance Aziz togetherwith his friends have nicknamed Ronny "red-nosed boy”. Again,the first time that Aziz meets with Mrs. Moore, he calls her an“oriental” and is even surprised that the old lady is eager tobefriend him. It is thus a common expectation that the Indians andthe English shall work together and relate at the professional levelbut keep off social interactions.
Onthe contrary, Fielding does not hold back from forming good socialrelationships with people of all kind including Indians. Forsterdepicts him as a humanist who believes in the equality of all humanbeings irrespective of race, culture, nationality or religion.Throughout the novel, Fielding interacts with students and peoplefrom different backgrounds very well. He manages to view people asindividuals rather than products of their culture or ethnicbackground. In fact, he says that “I believe in teaching people tobe individuals, and to understand other individuals. It’s the onlything I do believe in” (Forster 106). He is thus opposed to racialcategorization, which is the mainstay of English imperialism on whichcolonization is based. As such, Fielding appears to be in conflictwith the role that he is supposed to play as an educator in anEnglish colony. As an imperialist, he is supposed to believe in thesuperiority of the English race and culture which is not the case.Nonetheless, it is his nature as a humanist that sets up thefoundation upon which he can establish a friendship with Dr. Aziz.
Theirfriendship typifies modern friendships that are heavily influenced byglobalization. As the world becomes more interconnected thoughtechnology, different cultures and religions are interacting therebyfostering cross cultural understanding. Fielding invites Aziz for teaat the college at the request of Mrs. Moore. When the two meet, theyhit it off immediately with Aziz offering Fielding a collar stud.While Dr. Aziz has a largely negative perception towards the English,Fielding is more relaxed towards Indians. At first, Dr. Aziz issurprised that Fielding is friendly to Indians and does not hold thecommon misconceptions about Indians as lesser people who should bedominated and introduced into a new culture. As their friendshipdevelops, they grow even closer. Dr. Aziz opens up to Fielding bysharing some very private issues such as showing Fielding the pictureof his late wife which is equated to purdah, the highest honor anIndian can give.
Additionally,Aziz’s and Fielding’s friendship plays a significant role inthawing frosty relations between Indians and the English. Although itis Mrs. Moore who first facilitates the two men meeting, it is clearthat these men’s friendship has an impact on how the two ethnicgroups relates as far as their respective friends are concerned. ForDr. Aziz, he is able to set up a good example to his friendsincluding Bahadur and Hamidullah and even address the myths andprejudices that Indians have against the English and vice versa. Theyachieve this by organizing meetings and events where they bringtogether their friends from their respective cultures together tofoster understanding. It is during one such event whereby they hadgone touring the Marabar caves that their friendship is put under atough test.
Thetest comes in the form of loyalty to their friends after Adelaaccuses Aziz of assaulting her while there are in the poorly litcaves. Adela and her white friends assume that Fielding is morelikely to side with her as a fellow countryman. However, to thesurprise of Adela and other Englishmen, Fielding sides with Aziz whois arrested and tried in a court of law. The Indians and public moodat the time expects the court to be lenient on Aziz as Adela isperceived as an outsider while Aziz is one of them. In more than oneway, the case clearly divides the country along the ethnic dividepitting foreigners on one hand and locals on the other and thereforemakes Aziz’s and Fielding’s friendship unacceptable in the eyesof the public.
Additionally,the incident undermines all the trust that Aziz had on mendingrelations between the two groups. He feels that Adela only accusesher of the assault because he is an easy target as an Indian, a viewshared by Fielding. On the other hand, Mrs. Moore refuses to pick aside which angers her fellow Englishmen except for Fielding. Duringthe trial, Adela recollects the exact developments in the caves andthus withdraws the case against Aziz. In retaliation, Aziz sues fordamages but Fielding prevails upon him to drop the charges. This way,the author captures the concept of loyalty to friends. He shows thatFielding is willing to stand by his friend no matter the commonopinion of his fellow countrymen. Aziz also pays back the loyaltyshown by Fielding by agreeing to drop the charges against Adela at atime when his fellow Indian men are eager to see him proceed with thecharges. With the two men successfully overcoming this hurdle, thenext hurdle proves to be too damaging as their friendship suffers.
Thesupposed death of their friendship takes place when Fielding returnsto England for two years. He returns to India again for another jobposting as a married man. Dr. Aziz, now working in a differentposition, learns of Fielding’s return to India and annoyed that byhis suspicions that Fielding married Adela, a woman who almost costhim his freedom. These suspicions had started long way beforeFielding left India at the time he was hosting Adela at the collegeto save her from public wrath. During this period, Aziz believed thatAdela and Fielding were dating because she had broken off herengagement to Ronny. It was thus within Aziz’s right to feelbetrayed by Fielding but it was not the case.
Uponlearning the truth that Fielding was indeed married to Ronny’ssister and not Adela, the two men seek to reignite their friendship.At the Mau festival, Fielding who is riding in a boat together withhis wife and her brother are involved a collision with another boatcarrying Aziz and Ronny. The accident offers a chance to reconcilethe two as they discuss the event. To further reestablish theirfriendship, Fielding and Aziz decide to take horse ride. As theydiscuss their lives apart and the developments, they realize thatthey have grown very different in their political views which makestheir friendship untenable. The author further illustrates thisdiversion in ideas as the two men can no longer ride side by sidewhen they encounter a narrow path. This forces them to separate whichsymbolizes an end to their friendship on mutual agreement.
Insummation, it is clear there is a lot to learn about the friendshipbetween Dr. Aziz and Fielding. The two men make personal sacrificesto make their friendship thrive despite the seeming opposition tosuch cross-cultural friendships. The Indian society which is highlystratified something that does not escape both men. However, they arewilling to risk ostracization by their respective cultural groups inorder to give their friendship a chance. Their experience offersalong of lessons to people in the modern world who are increasinglyfacing people from different sociocultural backgrounds as thelearning institutions, neighborhoods and workplaces become morediversified. Their experience prepares the audience about thechallenges of such interracial relationships and offers important topeople may be facing similar situations.
EM Forster. Apassage to India,New Delhi. E M Forster Books. 1924. Print.
Kundu,Rama, EMForster’s A passage to India.New Delhi: Atlantic. 2007. Print.