Significance of the title of the novel ‘A Passage to India’
APTI, published in 1924, is the last novel of E. M. Forster. The title of it is taken from Walt Whitman’s poem Passage to India which is about the spiritual passage or journey that a man must take to be brought face to face with ultimate reality. “The A Passage” that Forster explores is also a similar journey to India for truth and reality. Like Whitman’s cry-“Passage to more than India”, Forster’s novel is more than a historical novel about India, it is a prophetic work in which Forster is concerned not only with the path to a greater understanding of India but also with man’s quest for truth and understanding about the universe he lives in.
In his novel, Forster undertakes the passage to India on two levels-the historical and the prophetic. On the historical level, the novel traces the passage undertaken by two sympathetic British ladies “to see the real India”, bridge the gap between the East and the West. In her attempt at the passage, Mrs. Moore is helped by her respective attitude. Unlike the Anglo-Indians around her, who are severely limited and narrow in their feelings, Mrs. Moore is full of love and excitement for everything around her. In India, she experiences a feeling of oneness with her God and with the universe. She is, as Aziz tells her, Oriental as well as Western and this makes her feel secure in her spiritual odyssey in India. She meets Aziz in the mosque and “the secret understanding of the heart” is established between these two widely different human beings.
However, if the first part of the novel has revealed to the reader how Mrs. Moore’s spiritual voyage to India is based on her perception of the unique power of beauty and personal relations, the ‘Caves’ section of the novel reveals to us how weak are the foundations on which Mrs. Moore’s and Adela’s ‘Passage to India’ rests. For, here these sympathetic British visitors to India are confronted with an India which destroys the very basis of their quest. The two women find that in the face of so many and so diverse customs, cultures, and religions, they are unable to retain their belief in an ordered world based on reason (Adela) or a Christian God (Mrs. Moore). Confronted with the variety, the disorder, and the chaos around them, both collapse spiritually-Adela nearly on the brink of madness, Mrs. Moore becoming indifferent to everything The caves are themselves a symbol of the timeless universe in which there was chaos everywhere. In such a universe of total chaos, there is no place for things such as civilization, order, human life, or even Ged-everything is reduced to nothing.
Mrs. Moore simply cannot do anything in the face of this overwhelming chaos. All her efforts at establishing kindness, love, and understanding are reduced to nothing by the disruptive and meaningless process she has seen at the heart of the caves or the universe for that matter. Hitherto, she has conceived of the earth as a loving spirit binding man with his fellow men and also with God. But in India, the earth is a hostile presence that works against man’s attempts at personal relationships as well as relationships with the divine. Mrs. Moore has a developed heart and is kind to those whom she meets. but what she is in the face of a country in which human beings are but a speck on a vast and hostile landscape? When she realizes this, her world of love and understanding is shattered and she is left with a heart, cynically indifferent towards everything–towards Aziz, towards her children, and even towards God, Her spiritual passage ends in panic and emptiness.
However, as the later part of the novel reveals this negating vision of India experienced by Mrs. Moore in her Passage to India is at best a half vision. When she starts her journey back to England, defeated and disillusioned, she somehow finds her freedom from the horror that plagued her in the caves. In her journey, she sees the town of Ashigar coming into view, disappearing, and then reappearing again. This persistence of a town suggests to her the solidity and permanence of life and objects. She realizes with a certain objectivity that life will go on, no matter what horror or chaos you may find in it. She discovers that her vision at the caves was at best a half truth-what she saw in the caves was true but that was not all.
In the third part of the novel, Forster supplements the delusive awareness of life and qualified optimism achieved at the end of Part II by a more exhilarating vision. In the Temple section, Forster shows how Hinduism is able not only to accept the muddle and the chaos which lie at the heart of the universe but also to embrace even the chaos in a more inclusive vision of joy and harmony. During the celebrations of the birth ceremony of Lord Krishna, the lost friends, Aziz and Fielding, are reunited by chance. The possibility of personal relationships which had grown dim during the cave section now again reasserts itself. The last chapter of the novel attempts to affirm this possibility of personal relation. But there are forces of disorder which exert their powerful and persistent influence in keeping an Englishman and an Indian apart: be that complete union between man and man will never be attained until the confines of time and place are finally demolished. Meanwhile, man must do everything he can to fight against and subdue these forces of disorder, if not conquer them. It is an undertaking, ‘A Passage’ in which everything depends upon man himself to make or mar. Here lies the appropriateness of the title.