A Passage to India

DiscovereBooksA Passage to India
A Passage to India


E. M. Forster

About this book

A Passage to India is a 1924 novel by English author E. M. Forster set against the backdrop of the British Raj and the Indian independence movement in the 1920s. It was selected as one of the 100 great works of 20th-century English literature by the Modern Library and won the 1924 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.

Contents (9)

Currently reading





Author of “Howards End,” “A Room with a View,” etc.












Made and Printed in Great Britain by

Butler & Tanner Ltd., Frome and London

Copyright in U.S.A.








Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.

Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which runs parallel to the river—the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars. They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifling purlieus and unconsidered temples. Seeking, light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafless, they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it provokes no emotion. It charms not, neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a red-brick club on its brow, and farther back a grocer’s and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.

The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference—orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core of blue persists, and so it is by night. Then the stars hang like lamps from the immense vault. The distance between the vault and them is as nothing to the distance behind them, and that farther distance, though beyond colour, last freed itself from blue.

The sky settles everything—not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little—only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused in it daily, size from the prostrate earth. No mountains infringe on the curve. League after league the earth lies flat, heaves a little, is flat again. Only in the south, where a group of fists and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the endless expanse interrupted. These fists and fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the extraordinary caves.


Abandoning his bicycle, which fell before a servant could catch it, the young man sprang up on to the verandah. He was all animation. “Hamidullah, Hamidullah! am I late?” he cried.

“Do not apologize,” said his host. “You are always late.”

“Kindly answer my question. Am I late? Has Mahmoud Ali eaten all the food? If so I go elsewhere. Mr. Mahmoud Ali, how are you?”

“Thank you, Dr. Aziz, I am dying.”

“Dying before your dinner? Oh, poor Mahmoud Ali!”

“Hamidullah here is actually dead. He passed away just as you rode up on your bike.”

“Yes, that is so,” said the other. “Imagine us both as addressing you from another and a happier world.”

“Does there happen to be such a thing as a hookah in that happier world of yours?”

“Aziz, don’t chatter. We are having a very sad talk.”

The hookah had been packed too tight, as was usual in his friend’s house, and bubbled sulkily. He coaxed it. Yielding at last, the tobacco jetted up into his lungs and nostrils, driving out the smoke of burning cow dung that had filled them as he rode through the bazaar. It was delicious. He lay in a trance, sensuous but healthy, through which the talk of the two others did not seem particularly sad—they were discussing as to whether or no it is possible to be friends with an Englishman. Mahmoud Ali argued that it was not, Hamidullah disagreed, but with so many reservations that there was no friction between them. Delicious indeed to lie on the broad verandah with the moon rising in front and the servants preparing dinner behind, and no trouble happening.

“Well, look at my own experience this morning.”

“I only contend that it is possible in England,” replied Hamidullah, who had been to that country long ago, before the big rush, and had received a cordial welcome at Cambridge.

“It is impossible here. Aziz! The red-nosed boy has again insulted me in Court. I do not blame him. He was told that he ought to insult me. Until lately he was quite a nice boy, but the others have got hold of him.”

“Yes, they have no chance here, that is my point. They come out intending to be gentlemen, and are told it will not do. Look at Lesley, look at Blakiston, now it is your red-nosed boy, and Fielding will go next. Why, I remember when Turton came out first. It was in another part of the Province. You fellows will not believe me, but I have driven with Turton in his carriage—Turton! Oh yes, we were once quite intimate. He has shown me his stamp collection.”

“He would expect you to steal it now. Turton! But red-nosed boy will be far worse than Turton!”

“I do not think so. They all become exactly the same, not worse, not better. I give any Englishman two years, be he Turton or Burton. It is only the difference of a letter. And I give any Englishwoman six months. All are exactly alike. Do you not agree with me?”

“I do not,” replied Mahmoud Ali, entering into the bitter fun, and feeling both pain and amusement at each word that was uttered. “For my own part I find such profound differences among our rulers. Red-nose mumbles, Turton talks distinctly, Mrs. Turton takes bribes, Mrs. Red-nose does not and cannot, because so far there is no Mrs. Red-nose.”


“Did you not know that when they were lent to Central India over a Canal Scheme, some Rajah or other gave her a sewing machine in solid gold so that the water should run through his state.”

“And does it?”

“No, that is where Mrs. Turton is so skilful. When we poor blacks take bribes, we perform what we are bribed to perform, and the law discovers us in consequence. The English take and do nothing. I admire them.”

“We all admire them. Aziz, please pass me the hookah.”

“Oh, not yet—hookah is so jolly now.”

“You are a very selfish boy.” He raised his voice suddenly, and shouted for dinner. Servants shouted back that it was ready. They meant that they wished it was ready, and were so understood, for nobody moved. Then Hamidullah continued, but with changed manner and evident emotion.

“But take my case—the case of young Hugh Bannister. Here is the son of my dear, my dead friends, the Reverend and Mrs. Bannister, whose goodness to me in England I shall never forget or describe. They were father and mother to me, I talked to them as I do now. In the vacations their Rectory became my home. They entrusted all their children to me—I often carried little Hugh about—I took him up to the Funeral of Queen Victoria, and held him in my arms above the crowd.”

“Queen Victoria was different,” murmured Mahmoud Ali.

“I learn now that this boy is in business as a leather merchant at Cawnpore. Imagine how I long to see him and to pay his fare that this house may be his home. But it is useless. The other Anglo-Indians will have got hold of him long ago. He will probably think that I want something, and I cannot face that from the son of my old friends. Oh, what in this country has gone wrong with everything, Vakil Sahib? I ask you.”

Aziz joined in. “Why talk about the English? Brrrr . . . ! Why be either friends with the fellows or not friends? Let us shut them out and be jolly. Queen Victoria and Mrs. Bannister were the only exceptions, and they’re dead.”

“No, no, I do not admit that, I have met others.”

“So have I,” said Mahmoud Ali, unexpectedly veering. “All ladies are far from alike.” Their mood was changed, and they recalled little kindnesses and courtesies. “She said ‘Thank you so much’ in the most natural way.” “She offered me a lozenge when the dust irritated my throat.” Hamidullah could remember more important examples of angelic ministration, but the other, who only knew Anglo-India, had to ransack his memory for scraps, and it was not surprising that he should return to “But of course all this is exceptional. The exception does not prove the rule. The average woman is like Mrs. Turton, and, Aziz, you know what she is.” Aziz did not know, but said he did. He too generalized from his disappointments—it is difficult for members of a subject race to do otherwise. Granted the exceptions, he agreed that all Englishwomen are haughty and venal. The gleam passed from the conversation, whose wintry surface unrolled and expanded interminably.

A servant announced dinner. They ignored him. The elder men had reached their eternal politics, Aziz drifted into the garden. The trees smelt sweet—green-blossomed champak—and scraps of Persian poetry came into his head. Dinner, dinner, dinner . . . but when he returned to the house for it, Mahmoud Ali had drifted away in his turn, to speak to his sais. “Come and see my wife a little then,” said Hamidullah, and they spent twenty minutes behind the purdah. Hamidullah Begum was a distant aunt of Aziz, and the only female relative he had in Chandrapore, and she had much to say to him on this occasion about a family circumcision that had been celebrated with imperfect pomp. It was difficult to get away, because until they had had their dinner she would not begin hers, and consequently prolonged her remarks in case they should suppose she was impatient. Having censured the circumcision, she bethought her of kindred topics, and asked Aziz when he was going to be married.

Respectful but irritated, he answered, “Once is enough.”

“Yes, he has done his duty,” said Hamidullah. “Do not tease him so. He carries on his family, two boys and their sister.”

“Aunt, they live most comfortably with my wife’s mother, where she was living when she died. I can see them whenever I like. They are such very, very small children.”

“And he sends them the whole of his salary and lives like a low-grade clerk, and tells no one the reason. What more do you require him to do?”

But this was not Hamidullah Begum’s point, and having courteously changed the conversation for a few moments she returned and made it. She said, “What is to become of all our daughters if men refuse to marry? They will marry beneath them, or——” And she began the oft-told tale of a lady of Imperial descent who could find no husband in the narrow circle where her pride permitted her to mate, and had lived on unwed, her age now thirty, and would die unwed, for no one would have her now. While the tale was in progress, it convinced the two men, the tragedy seemed a slur on the whole community; better polygamy almost, than that a woman should die without the joys God has intended her to receive. Wedlock, motherhood, power in the house—for what else is she born, and how can the man who has denied them to her stand up to face her creator and his own at the last day? Aziz took his leave saying “Perhaps . . . but later . . .” —his invariable reply to such an appeal.

“You mustn’t put off what you think right,” said Hamidullah. “That is why India is in such a plight, because we put off things.” But seeing that his young relative looked worried, he added a few soothing words, and thus wiped out any impression that his wife might have made.

During their absence, Mahmoud Ali had gone off in his carriage leaving a message that he should be back in five minutes, but they were on no account to wait. They sat down to meat with a distant cousin of the house, Mohammed Latif, who lived on Hamidullah’s bounty and who occupied the position neither of a servant nor of an equal. He did not speak unless spoken to, and since no one spoke kept unoffended silence. Now and then he belched, in compliment to the richness of the food. A gentle, happy and dishonest old man; all his life he had never done a stroke of work. So long as some one of his relatives had a house he was sure of a home, and it was unlikely that so large a family would all go bankrupt. His wife led a similar existence some hundreds of miles away—he did not visit her, owing to the expense of the railway ticket. Presently Aziz chaffed him, also the servants, and then began quoting poetry, Persian, Urdu, a little Arabic. His memory was good, and for so young a man he had read largely; the themes he preferred were the decay of Islam and the brevity of love. They listened delighted, for they took the public view of poetry, not the private which obtains in England. It never bored them to hear words, words; they breathed them with the cool night air, never stopping to analyse; the name of the poet, Hafiz, Hali, Iqbal, was sufficient guarantee. India—a hundred Indias—whispered outside beneath the indifferent moon, but for the time India seemed one and their own, and they regained their departed greatness by hearing its departure lamented, they felt young again because reminded that youth must fly. A servant in scarlet interrupted him; he was the chuprassi of the Civil Surgeon, and he handed Aziz a note.

“Old Callendar wants to see me at his bungalow,” he said, not rising. “He might have the politeness to say why.”

“Some case, I daresay.”

“I daresay not, I daresay nothing. He has found out our dinner hour, that’s all, and chooses to interrupt us every time, in order to show his power.”

“On the one hand he always does this, on the other it may be a serious case, and you cannot know,” said Hamidullah, considerately paving the way towards obedience. “Had you not better clean your teeth after pan?”

“If my teeth are to be cleaned, I don’t go at all. I am an Indian, it is an Indian habit to take pan. The Civil Surgeon must put up with it. Mohammed Latif, my bike, please.”

The poor relation got up. Slightly immersed in the realms of matter, he laid his hand on the bicycle’s saddle, while a servant did the actual wheeling. Between them they took it over a tintack. Aziz held his hands under the ewer, dried them, fitted on his green felt hat, and then with unexpected energy whizzed out of Hamidullah’s compound.

“Aziz, Aziz, imprudent boy. . . .” But he was far down the bazaar, riding furiously. He had neither light nor bell nor had he a brake, but what use are such adjuncts in a land where the cyclist’s only hope is to coast from face to face, and just before he collides with each it vanishes? And the city was fairly empty at this hour. When his tyre went flat, he leapt off and shouted for a tonga.

He did not at first find one, and he had also to dispose of his bicycle at a friend’s house. He dallied furthermore to clean his teeth. But at last he was rattling towards the civil lines, with a vivid sense of speed. As he entered their arid tidiness, depression suddenly seized him. The roads, named after victorious generals and intersecting at right angles, were symbolic of the net Great Britain had thrown over India. He felt caught in their meshes. When he turned into Major Callendar’s compound he could with difficulty restrain himself from getting down from the tonga and approaching the bungalow on foot, and this not because his soul was servile but because his feelings—the sensitive edges of him—feared a gross snub. There had been a “case” last year—an Indian gentleman had driven up to an official’s house and been turned back by the servants and been told to approach more suitably—only one case among thousands of visits to hundreds of officials, but its fame spread wide. The young man shrank from a repetition of it. He compromised, and stopped the driver just outside the flood of light that fell across the verandah.

The Civil Surgeon was out.

“But the sahib has left me some message?”

The servant returned an indifferent “No.” Aziz was in despair. It was a servant whom he had forgotten to tip, and he could do nothing now because there were people in the hall. He was convinced that there was a message, and that the man was withholding it out of revenge. While they argued, the people came out. Both were ladies. Aziz lifted his hat. The first, who was in evening dress, glanced at the Indian and turned instinctively away.

“Mrs. Lesley, it is a tonga,” she cried.

“Ours?” enquired the second, also seeing Aziz, and doing likewise.

“Take the gifts the gods provide, anyhow,” she screeched, and both jumped in. “O Tonga wallah, club, club. Why doesn’t the fool go?”

“Go, I will pay you to-morrow,” said Aziz to the driver, and as they went off he called courteously, “You are most welcome, ladies.” They did not reply, being full of their own affairs.

So it had come, the usual thing—just as Mahmoud Ali said. The inevitable snub—his bow ignored, his carriage taken. It might have been worse, for it comforted him somehow that Mesdames Callendar and Lesley should both be fat and weigh the tonga down behind. Beautiful women would have pained him. He turned to the servant, gave him a couple of rupees, and asked again whether there was a message. The man, now very civil, returned the same answer. Major Callendar had driven away half an hour before.

“Saying nothing?”

He had as a matter of fact said, “Damn Aziz”—words that the servant understood, but was too polite to repeat. One can tip too much as well as too little, indeed the coin that buys the exact truth has not yet been minted.

“Then I will write him a letter.”

He was offered the use of the house, but was too dignified to enter it. Paper and ink were brought on to the verandah. He began: “Dear Sir,—At your express command I have hastened as a subordinate should——” and then stopped. “Tell him I have called, that is sufficient,” he said, tearing the protest up. “Here is my card. Call me a tonga.”

“Huzoor, all are at the club.”

“Then telephone for one down to the railway station.” And since the man hastened to do this he said, “Enough, enough, I prefer to walk.” He commandeered a match and lit a cigarette. These attentions, though purchased, soothed him. They would last as long as he had rupees, which is something. But to shake the dust of Anglo-India off his feet! To escape from the net and be back among manners and gestures that he knew! He began a walk, an unwonted exercise.

He was an athletic little man, daintily put together, but really very strong. Nevertheless walking fatigued him, as it fatigues everyone in India except the new-comer. There is something hostile in that soil. It either yields, and the foot sinks into a depression, or else it is unexpectedly rigid and sharp, pressing stones or crystals against the tread. A series of these little surprises exhausts; and he was wearing pumps, a poor preparation for any country. At the edge of the civil station he turned into a mosque to rest.

He had always liked this mosque. It was gracious, and the arrangement pleased him. The courtyard—entered through a ruined gate—contained an ablution tank of fresh clear water, which was always in motion, being indeed part of a conduit that supplied the city. The courtyard was paved with broken slabs. The covered part of the mosque was deeper than is usual; its effect was that of an English parish church whose side has been taken out. Where he sat, he looked into three arcades whose darkness was illuminated by a small hanging lamp and by the moon. The front—in full moonlight—had the appearance of marble, and the ninety-nine names of God on the frieze stood out black, as the frieze stood out white against the sky. The contest between this dualism and the contention of shadows within pleased Aziz, and he tried to symbolize the whole into some truth of religion or love. A mosque by winning his approval let loose his imagination. The temple of another creed, Hindu, Christian, or Greek, would have bored him and failed to awaken his sense of beauty. Here was Islam, his own country, more than a Faith, more than a battle-cry, more, much more . . . Islam, an attitude towards life both exquisite and durable, where his body and his thoughts found their home.

His seat was the low wall that bounded the courtyard on the left. The ground fell away beneath him towards the city, visible as a blur of trees, and in the stillness he heard many small sounds. On the right, over in the club, the English community contributed an amateur orchestra. Elsewhere some Hindus were drumming—he knew they were Hindus, because the rhythm was uncongenial to him,—and others were bewailing a corpse—he knew whose, having certified it in the afternoon. There were owls, the Punjab mail . . . and flowers smelt deliciously in the station-master’s garden. But the mosque—that alone signified, and he returned to it from the complex appeal of the night, and decked it with meanings the builder had never intended. Some day he too would build a mosque, smaller than this but in perfect taste, so that all who passed by should experience the happiness he felt now. And near it, under a low dome, should be his tomb, with a Persian inscription:

Alas, without me for thousands of years

The Rose will blossom and the Spring will bloom,

But those who have secretly understood my heart—

They will approach and visit the grave where I lie.

He had seen the quatrain on the tomb of a Deccan king, and regarded it as profound philosophy—he always held pathos to be profound. The secret understanding of the heart! He repeated the phrase with tears in his eyes, and as he did so one of the pillars of the mosque seemed to quiver. It swayed in the gloom and detached itself. Belief in ghosts ran in his blood, but he sat firm. Another pillar moved, a third, and then an Englishwoman stepped out into the moonlight. Suddenly he was furiously angry and shouted: “Madam! Madam! Madam!”

“Oh! Oh!” the woman gasped.

“Madam, this is a mosque, you have no right here at all; you should have taken off your shoes; this is a holy place for Moslems.”

“I have taken them off.”

“You have?”

“I left them at the entrance.”

“Then I ask your pardon.”

Still startled, the woman moved out, keeping the ablution-tank between them. He called after her, “I am truly sorry for speaking.”

“Yes, I was right, was I not? If I remove my shoes, I am allowed?”

“Of course, but so few ladies take the trouble, especially if thinking no one is there to see.”

“That makes no difference. God is here.”


“Please let me go.”

“Oh, can I do you some service now or at any time?”

“No, thank you, really none—good night.”

“May I know your name?”

She was now in the shadow of the gateway, so that he could not see her face, but she saw his, and she said with a change of voice, “Mrs. Moore.”

“Mrs.——” Advancing, he found that she was old.

A fabric bigger than the mosque fell to pieces, and he did not know whether he was glad or sorry. She was older than Hamidullah Begum, with a red face and white hair. Her voice had deceived him.

“Mrs. Moore, I am afraid I startled you. I shall tell my community—our friends—about you. That God is here—very good, very fine indeed. I think you are newly arrived in India.”

“Yes—how did you know?”

“By the way you address me. No, but can I call you a carriage?”

“I have only come from the club. They are doing a play that I have seen in London, and it was so hot.”

“What was the name of the play?”

“Cousin Kate.”

“I think you ought not to walk at night alone, Mrs. Moore. There are bad characters about and leopards may come across from the Marabar Hills. Snakes also.”

She exclaimed; she had forgotten the snakes.

“For example, a six-spot beetle,” he continued, “You pick it up, it bites, you die.”

“But you walk about yourself.”

“Oh, I am used to it.”

“Used to snakes?”

They both laughed. “I’m a doctor,” he said. “Snakes don’t dare bite me.” They sat down side by side in the entrance, and slipped on their evening shoes. “Please may I ask you a question now? Why do you come to India at this time of year, just as the cold weather is ending?”

“I intended to start earlier, but there was an unavoidable delay.”

“It will soon be so unhealthy for you! And why ever do you come to Chandrapore?”

“To visit my son. He is the City Magistrate here.”

“Oh no, excuse me, that is quite impossible. Our City Magistrate’s name is Mr. Heaslop. I know him intimately.”

“He’s my son all the same,” she said, smiling.

“But, Mrs. Moore, how can he be?”

“I was married twice.”

“Yes, now I see, and your first husband died.”

“He did, and so did my second husband.”

“Then we are in the same box,” he said cryptically. “Then is the City Magistrate the entire of your family now?”

“No, there are the younger ones—Ralph and Stella in England.”

“And the gentleman here, is he Ralph and Stella’s half-brother?”

“Quite right.”

“Mrs. Moore, this is all extremely strange, because like yourself I have also two sons and a daughter. Is not this the same box with a vengeance?”

“What are their names? Not also Ronny, Ralph, and Stella, surely?”

The suggestion delighted him. “No, indeed. How funny it sounds! Their names are quite different and will surprise you. Listen, please. I am about to tell you my children’s names. The first is called Ahmed, the second is called Karim, the third—she is the eldest—Jamila. Three children are enough. Do not you agree with me?”

“I do.”

They were both silent for a little, thinking of their respective families. She sighed and rose to go.

“Would you care to see over the Minto Hospital one morning?” he enquired. “I have nothing else to offer at Chandrapore.”

“Thank you, I have seen it already, or I should have liked to come with you very much.”

“I suppose the Civil Surgeon took you.”

“Yes, and Mrs. Callendar.”

His voice altered. “Ah! A very charming lady.”

“Possibly, when one knows her better.”

“What? What? You didn’t like her?”

“She was certainly intending to be kind, but I did not find her exactly charming.”

He burst out with: “She has just taken my tonga without my permission—do you call that being charming?—and Major Callendar interrupts me night after night from where I am dining with my friends and I go at once, breaking up a most pleasant entertainment, and he is not there and not even a message. Is this charming, pray? But what does it matter? I can do nothing and he knows it. I am just a subordinate, my time is of no value, the verandah is good enough for an Indian, yes, yes, let him stand, and Mrs. Callendar takes my carriage and cuts me dead . . .”

She listened.

He was excited partly by his wrongs, but much more by the knowledge that someone sympathized with them. It was this that led him to repeat, exaggerate, contradict. She had proved her sympathy by criticizing her fellow-countrywoman to him, but even earlier he had known. The flame that not even beauty can nourish was springing up, and though his words were querulous his heart began to glow secretly. Presently it burst into speech.

“You understand me, you know what others feel. Oh, if others resembled you!”

Rather surprised, she replied: “I don’t think I understand people very well. I only know whether I like or dislike them.”

“Then you are an Oriental.”

She accepted his escort back to the club, and said at the gate that she wished she was a member, so that she could have asked him in.

“Indians are not allowed into the Chandrapore Club even as guests,” he said simply. He did not expatiate on his wrongs now, being happy. As he strolled downhill beneath the lovely moon, and again saw the lovely mosque, he seemed to own the land as much as anyone owned it. What did it matter if a few flabby Hindus had preceded him there, and a few chilly English succeeded?


The third act of Cousin Kate was well advanced by the time Mrs. Moore re-entered the club. Windows were barred, lest the servants should see their mem-sahibs acting, and the heat was consequently immense. One electric fan revolved like a wounded bird, another was out of order. Disinclined to return to the audience, she went into the billiard room, where she was greeted by “I want to see the real India,” and her appropriate life came back with a rush. This was Adela Quested, the queer, cautious girl whom Ronny had commissioned her to bring from England, and Ronny was her son, also cautious, whom Miss Quested would probably though not certainly marry, and she herself was an elderly lady.

“I want to see it too, and I only wish we could. Apparently the Turtons will arrange something for next Tuesday.”

“It’ll end in an elephant ride, it always does. Look at this evening. Cousin Kate! Imagine, Cousin Kate! But where have you been off to? Did you succeed in catching the moon in the Ganges?”

The two ladies had happened, the night before, to see the moon’s reflection in a distant channel of the stream. The water had drawn it out, so that it had seemed larger than the real moon, and brighter, which had pleased them.

“I went to the mosque, but I did not catch the moon.”

“The angle would have altered—she rises later.”

“Later and later,” yawned Mrs. Moore, who was tired after her walk. “Let me think—we don’t see the other side of the moon out here, no.”

“Come, India’s not as bad as all that,” said a pleasant voice. “Other side of the earth, if you like, but we stick to the same old moon.” Neither of them knew the speaker nor did they ever see him again. He passed with his friendly word through red-brick pillars into the darkness.

“We aren’t even seeing the other side of the world; that’s our complaint,” said Adela. Mrs. Moore agreed; she too was disappointed at the dullness of their new life. They had made such a romantic voyage across the Mediterranean and through the sands of Egypt to the harbour of Bombay, to find only a gridiron of bungalows at the end of it. But she did not take the disappointment as seriously as Miss Quested, for the reason that she was forty years older, and had learnt that Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually. She said again that she hoped that something interesting would be arranged for next Tuesday.

“Have a drink,” said another pleasant voice. “Mrs. Moore—Miss Quested—have a drink, have two drinks.” They knew who it was this time—the Collector, Mr. Turton, with whom they had dined. Like themselves, he had found the atmosphere of Cousin Kate too hot. Ronny, he told them, was stage-managing in place of Major Callendar, whom some native subordinate or other had let down, and doing it very well; then he turned to Ronny’s other merits, and in quiet, decisive tones said much that was flattering. It wasn’t that the young man was particularly good at the games or the lingo, or that he had much notion of the Law, but—apparently a large but—Ronny was dignified.

Mrs. Moore was surprised to learn this, dignity not being a quality with which any mother credits her son. Miss Quested learnt it with anxiety, for she had not decided whether she liked dignified men. She tried indeed to discuss this point with Mr. Turton, but he silenced her with a good-humoured motion of his hand, and continued what he had come to say. “The long and the short of it is Heaslop’s a sahib; he’s the type we want, he’s one of us,” and another civilian who was leaning over the billiard table said, “Hear, hear!” The matter was thus placed beyond doubt, and the Collector passed on, for other duties called him.

Meanwhile the performance ended, and the amateur orchestra played the National Anthem. Conversation and billiards stopped, faces stiffened. It was the Anthem of the Army of Occupation. It reminded every member of the club that he or she was British and in exile. It produced a little sentiment and a useful accession of will-power. The meagre tune, the curt series of demands on Jehovah, fused into a prayer unknown in England, and though they perceived neither Royalty nor Deity they did perceive something, they were strengthened to resist another day. Then they poured out, offering one another drinks.

“Adela, have a drink; mother, a drink.”

They refused—they were weary of drinks—and Miss Quested, who always said exactly what was in her mind, announced anew that she was desirous of seeing the real India.

Ronny was in high spirits. The request struck him as comic, and he called out to another passer-by: “Fielding! how’s one to see the real India?”

“Try seeing Indians,” the man answered, and vanished.

“Who was that?”

“Our schoolmaster—Government College.”

“As if one could avoid seeing them,” sighed Mrs. Lesley.

“I’ve avoided,” said Miss Quested. “Excepting my own servant, I’ve scarcely spoken to an Indian since landing.”

“Oh, lucky you.”

“But I want to see them.”

She became the centre of an amused group of ladies. One said, “Wanting to see Indians! How new that sounds!” Another, “Natives! why, fancy!” A third, more serious, said, “Let me explain. Natives don’t respect one any the more after meeting one, you see.”

“That occurs after so many meetings.”

But the lady, entirely stupid and friendly, continued: “What I mean is, I was a nurse before my marriage, and came across them a great deal, so I know. I really do know the truth about Indians. A most unsuitable position for any Englishwoman—I was a nurse in a Native State. One’s only hope was to hold sternly aloof.”

“Even from one’s patients?”

“Why, the kindest thing one can do to a native is to let him die,” said Mrs. Callendar.

“How if he went to heaven?” asked Mrs. Moore, with a gentle but crooked smile.

“He can go where he likes as long as he doesn’t come near me. They give me the creeps.”

“As a matter of fact I have thought what you were saying about heaven, and that is why I am against Missionaries,” said the lady who had been a nurse. “I am all for Chaplains, but all against Missionaries. Let me explain.”

But before she could do so, the Collector intervened.

“Do you really want to meet the Aryan Brother, Miss Quested? That can be easily fixed up. I didn’t realize he’d amuse you.” He thought a moment. “You can practically see any type you like. Take your choice. I know the Government people and the landowners, Heaslop here can get hold of the barrister crew, while if you want to specialize on education, we can come down on Fielding.”

“I’m tired of seeing picturesque figures pass before me as a frieze,” the girl explained. “It was wonderful when we landed, but that superficial glamour soon goes.”

Her impressions were of no interest to the Collector; he was only concerned to give her a good time. Would she like a Bridge Party? He explained to her what that was—not the game, but a party to bridge the gulf between East and West; the expression was his own invention, and amused all who heard it.

“I only want those Indians whom you come across socially—as your friends.”

“Well, we don’t come across them socially,” he said, laughing. “They’re full of all the virtues, but we don’t, and it’s now eleven-thirty, and too late to go into the reasons.”

“Miss Quested, what a name!” remarked Mrs. Turton to her husband as they drove away. She had not taken to the new young lady, thinking her ungracious and cranky. She trusted that she hadn’t been brought out to marry nice little Heaslop, though it looked like it, Her husband agreed with her in his heart, but he never spoke against an Englishwoman if he could avoid doing so, and he only said that Miss Quested naturally made mistakes. He added: “India does wonders for the judgment, especially during the hot weather; it has even done wonders for Fielding.” Mrs. Turton closed her eyes at this name and remarked that Mr. Fielding wasn’t pukka, and had better marry Miss Quested, for she wasn’t pukka. Then they reached their bungalow, low and enormous, the oldest and most uncomfortable bungalow in the civil station, with a sunk soup plate of a lawn, and they had one drink more, this time of barley water, and went to bed. Their withdrawal from the club had broken up the evening, which, like all gatherings, had an official tinge. A community that bows the knee to a Viceroy and believes that the divinity that hedges a king can be transplanted, must feel some reverence for any viceregal substitute. At Chandrapore the Turtons were little gods; soon they would retire to some suburban villa, and die exiled from glory.

“It’s decent of the Burra Sahib,” chattered Ronny, much gratified at the civility that had been shown to his guests. “Do you know he’s never given a Bridge Party before? Coming on top of the dinner too! I wish I could have arranged something myself, but when you know the natives better you’ll realize it’s easier for the Burra Sahib than for me. They know him—they know he can’t be fooled—I’m still fresh comparatively. No one can even begin to think of knowing this country until he has been in it twenty years.—Hullo, the mater! Here’s your cloak.—Well: for an example of the mistakes one makes. Soon after I came out I asked one of the Pleaders to have a smoke with me—only a cigarette, mind. I found afterwards that he had sent touts all over the bazaar to announce the fact—told all the litigants, 'Oh, you’d better come to my Vakil Mahmoud Ali—he’s in with the City Magistrate.’ Ever since then I’ve dropped on him in Court as hard as I could. It’s taught me a lesson, and I hope him.”

“Isn’t the lesson that you should invite all the Pleaders to have a smoke with you?”

“Perhaps, but time’s limited and the flesh weak. I prefer my smoke at the club amongst my own sort, I’m afraid.”

“Why not ask the Pleaders to the club?” Miss Quested persisted.

“Not allowed.” He was pleasant and patient, and evidently understood why she did not understand. He implied that he had once been as she, though not for long. Going to the verandah, he called firmly to the moon. His sais answered, and without lowering his head, he ordered his trap to be brought round.

Mrs. Moore, whom the club had stupefied, woke up outside. She watched the moon, whose radiance stained with primrose the purple of the surrounding sky. In England the moon had seemed dead and alien; here she was caught in the shawl of night together with earth and all the other stars. A sudden sense of unity, of kinship with the heavenly bodies, passed into the old woman and out, like water through a tank, leaving a strange freshness behind. She did not dislike Cousin Kate or the National Anthem, but their note had died into a new one, just as cocktails and cigars had died into invisible flowers. When the mosque, long and domeless, gleamed at the turn of the road, she exclaimed, “Oh, yes—that’s where I got to—that’s where I’ve been.”

“Been there when?” asked her son.

“Between the acts.”

“But, mother, you can’t do that sort of thing.”

“Can’t mother?” she replied.

“No, really not in this country. It’s not done. There’s the danger from snakes for one thing. They are apt to lie out in the evening.”

“Ah yes, so the young man there said.”

“This sounds very romantic,” said Miss Quested, who was exceedingly fond of Mrs. Moore, and was glad she should have had this little escapade. “You meet a young man in a mosque, and then never let me know!”

“I was going to tell you, Adela, but something changed the conversation and I forgot. My memory grows deplorable.”

“Was he nice?”

She paused, then said emphatically: “Very nice.”

“Who was he?” Ronny enquired.

“A doctor. I don’t know his name.”

“A doctor? I know of no young doctor in Chandrapore. How odd! What was he like?”

“Rather small, with a little moustache and quick eyes. He called out to me when I was in the dark part of the mosque—about my shoes. That was how we began talking. He was afraid I had them on, but I remembered luckily. He told me about his children, and then we walked back to the club. He knows you well.”

“I wish you had pointed him out to me. I can’t make out who he is.”

“He didn’t come into the club. He said he wasn’t allowed to.”

Thereupon the truth struck him, and he cried “Oh, good gracious! Not a Mohammedan? Why ever didn’t you tell me you’d been talking to a native? I was going all wrong.”

“A Mohammedan! How perfectly magnificent!” exclaimed Miss Quested. “Ronny, isn’t that like your mother? While we talk about seeing the real India, she goes and sees it, and then forgets she’s seen it.”

But Ronny was ruffled. From his mother’s description he had thought the doctor might be young Muggins from over the Ganges, and had brought out all the comradely emotions. What a mix-up! Why hadn’t she indicated by the tone of her voice that she was talking about an Indian? Scratchy and dictatorial, he began to question her. “He called to you in the mosque, did he? How? Impudently? What was he doing there himself at that time of night?—No, it’s not their prayer time.”—This in answer to a suggestion of Miss Quested’s, who showed the keenest interest. “So he called to you over your shoes. Then it was impudence. It’s an old trick. I wish you had had them on.”

“I think it was impudence, but I don’t know about a trick,” said Mrs. Moore. “His nerves were all on edge—I could tell from his voice. As soon as I answered he altered.”

“You oughtn’t to have answered.”

“Now look here,” said the logical girl, “wouldn’t you expect a Mohammedan to answer if you asked him to take off his hat in church?”

“It’s different, it’s different; you don’t understand.”

“I know I don’t, and I want to. What is the difference, please?”

He wished she wouldn’t interfere. His mother did not signify—she was just a globe-trotter, a temporary escort, who could retire to England with what impressions she chose. But Adela, who meditated spending her life in the country, was a more serious matter; it would be tiresome if she started crooked over the native question. Pulling up the mare, he said, “There’s your Ganges.”

Their attention was diverted. Below them a radiance had suddenly appeared. It belonged neither to water nor moonlight, but stood like a luminous sheaf upon the fields of darkness. He told them that it was where the new sand-bank was forming, and that the dark ravelled bit at the top was the sand, and that the dead bodies floated down that way from Benares, or would if the crocodiles let them. “It’s not much of a dead body that gets down to Chandrapore.”

“Crocodiles down in it too, how terrible!” his mother murmured. The young people glanced at each other and smiled; it amused them when the old lady got these gentle creeps, and harmony was restored between them consequently. She continued: “What a terrible river! what a wonderful river!” and sighed. The radiance was already altering, whether through shifting of the moon or of the sand; soon the bright sheaf would be gone, and a circlet, itself to alter, be burnished upon the streaming void. The women discussed whether they would wait for the change or not, while the silence broke into patches of unquietness and the mare shivered. On her account they did not wait, but drove on to the City Magistrate’s bungalow, where Miss Quested went to bed, and Mrs. Moore had a short interview with her son.

He wanted to enquire about the Mohammedan doctor in the mosque. It was his duty to report suspicious characters and conceivably it was some disreputable hakim who had prowled up from the bazaar. When she told him that it was someone connected with the Minto Hospital, he was relieved, and said that the fellow’s name must be Aziz, and that he was quite all right, nothing against him at all.

“Aziz! what a charming name!”

“So you and he had a talk. Did you gather he was well disposed?”

Ignorant of the force of this question, she replied, “Yes, quite, after the first moment.”

“I meant, generally. Did he seem to tolerate us—the brutal conqueror, the sundried bureaucrat, that sort of thing?”

“Oh, yes, I think so, except the Callendars—he doesn’t care for the Callendars at all.”

“Oh. So he told you that, did he? The Major will be interested. I wonder what was the aim of the remark.”

“Ronny, Ronny! you’re never going to pass it on to Major Callendar?”

“Yes, rather. I must, in fact!”

“But, my dear boy——”

“If the Major heard I was disliked by any native subordinate of mine, I should expect him to pass it on to me.”

“But, my dear boy—a private conversation!”

“Nothing’s private in India. Aziz knew that when he spoke out, so don’t you worry. He had some motive in what he said. My personal belief is that the remark wasn’t true.”

“How not true?”

“He abused the Major in order to impress you.”

“I don’t know what you mean, dear.”

“It’s the educated native’s latest dodge. They used to cringe, but the younger generation believe in a show of manly independence. They think it will pay better with the itinerant M.P. But whether the native swaggers or cringes, there’s always something behind every remark he makes, always something, and if nothing else he’s trying to increase his izzat—in plain Anglo-Saxon, to score. Of course there are exceptions.”

“You never used to judge people like this at home.”

“India isn’t home,” he retorted, rather rudely, but in order to silence her he had been using phrases and arguments that he had picked up from older officials, and he did not feel quite sure of himself. When he said “of course there are exceptions” he was quoting Mr. Turton, while “increasing the izzat” was Major Callendar’s own. The phrases worked and were in current use at the club, but she was rather clever at detecting the first from the second hand, and might press him for definite examples.

She only said, “I can’t deny that what you say sounds very sensible, but you really must not hand on to Major Callendar anything I have told you about Doctor Aziz.”

He felt disloyal to his caste, but he promised, adding, “In return please don’t talk about Aziz to Adela.”

“Not talk about him? Why?”

“There you go again, mother—I really can’t explain every thing. I don’t want Adela to be worried, that’s the fact; she’ll begin wondering whether we treat the natives properly, and all that sort of nonsense.”

“But she came out to be worried—that’s exactly why she’s here. She discussed it all on the boat. We had a long talk when we went on shore at Aden. She knows you in play, as she put it, but not in work, and she felt she must come and look round, before she decided—and before you decided. She is very, very fair-minded.”

“I know,” he said dejectedly.

The note of anxiety in his voice made her feel that he was still a little boy, who must have what he liked, so she promised to do as he wished, and they kissed good night. He had not forbidden her to think about Aziz, however, and she did this when she retired to her room. In the light of her son’s comment she reconsidered the scene at the mosque, to see whose impression was correct. Yes, it could be worked into quite an unpleasant scene. The doctor had begun by bullying her, had said Mrs. Callendar was nice, and then—finding the ground safe—had changed; he had alternately whined over his grievances and patronized her, had run a dozen ways in a single sentence, had been unreliable, inquisitive, vain. Yes, it was all true, but how false as a summary of the man; the essential life of him had been slain.

Going to hang up her cloak, she found that the tip of the peg was occupied by a small wasp. She had known this wasp or his relatives by day; they were not as English wasps, but had long yellow legs which hung down behind when they flew. Perhaps he mistook the peg for a branch—no Indian animal has any sense of an interior. Bats, rats, birds, insects will as soon nest inside a house as out; it is to them a normal growth of the eternal jungle, which alternately produces houses trees, houses trees. There he clung, asleep, while jackals in the plain bayed their desires and mingled with the percussion of drums.

“Pretty dear,” said Mrs. Moore to the wasp. He did not wake, but her voice floated out, to swell the night’s uneasiness.


The Collector kept his word. Next day he issued invitation cards to numerous Indian gentlemen in the neighbourhood, stating that he would be at home in the garden of the club between the hours of five and seven on the following Tuesday, also that Mrs. Turton would be glad to receive any ladies of their families who were out of purdah. His action caused much excitement and was discussed in several worlds.

“It is owing to orders from the L.G.,” was Mahmoud Ali’s explanation. “Turton would never do this unless compelled. Those high officials are different—they sympathize, the Viceroy sympathizes, they would have us treated properly. But they come too seldom and live too far away. Meanwhile——”

“It is easy to sympathize at a distance,” said an old gentleman with a beard. “I value more the kind word that is spoken close to my ear. Mr. Turton has spoken it, from whatever cause. He speaks, we hear. I do not see why we need discuss it further.” Quotations followed from the Koran.

“We have not all your sweet nature, Nawab Bahadur, nor your learning.”

“The Lieutenant-Governor may be my very good friend, but I give him no trouble.—How do you do, Nawab Bahadur?—Quite well, thank you, Sir Gilbert; how are you?—And all is over. But I can be a thorn in Mr. Turton’s flesh, and if he asks me I accept the invitation. I shall come in from Dilkusha specially, though I have to postpone other business.”

“You will make yourself chip,” suddenly said a little black man.

There was a stir of disapproval. Who was this ill-bred upstart, that he should criticize the leading Mohammedan landowner of the district? Mahmoud Ali, though sharing his opinion, felt bound to oppose it. “Mr. Ram Chand!” he said, swaying forward stiffly with his hands on his hips.

“Mr. Mahmoud Ali!”

“Mr. Ram Chand, the Nawab Bahadur can decide what is cheap without our valuation, I think.”

“I do not expect I shall make myself cheap,” said the Nawab Bahadur to Mr. Ram Chand, speaking very pleasantly, for he was aware that the man had been impolite and he desired to shield him from the consequences. It had passed through his mind to reply, “I expect I shall make myself cheap,” but he rejected this as the less courteous alternative. “I do not see why we should make ourselves cheap. I do not see why we should. The invitation is worded very graciously.” Feeling that he could not further decrease the social gulf between himself and his auditors, he sent his elegant grandson, who was in attendance on him, to fetch his car. When it came, he repeated all that he had said before, though at greater length, ending up with “Till Tuesday, then, gentlemen all, when I hope we may meet in the flower gardens of the club.”

This opinion carried great weight. The Nawab Bahadur was a big proprietor and a philanthropist, a man of benevolence and decision. His character among all the communities in the province stood high. He was a straightforward enemy and a staunch friend, and his hospitality was proverbial. “Give, do not lend; after death who will thank you?” was his favourite remark. He held it a disgrace to die rich. When such a man was prepared to motor twenty-five miles to shake the Collector’s hand, the entertainment took another aspect. For he was not like some eminent men, who give out that they will come, and then fail at the last moment, leaving the small fry floundering. If he said he would come, he would come, he would never deceive his supporters. The gentlemen whom he had lectured now urged one another to attend the party, although convinced at heart that his advice was unsound.

He had spoken in the little room near the Courts where the pleaders waited for clients; clients, waiting for pleaders, sat in the dust outside. These had not received a card from Mr. Turton. And there were circles even beyond these—people who wore nothing but a loincloth, people who wore not even that, and spent their lives in knocking two sticks together before a scarlet doll—humanity grading and drifting beyond the educated vision, until no earthly invitation can embrace it.

All invitations must proceed from heaven perhaps; perhaps it is futile for men to initiate their own unity, they do but widen the gulfs between them by the attempt. So at all events thought old Mr. Graysford and young Mr. Sorley, the devoted missionaries who lived out beyond the slaughterhouses, always travelled third on the railways, and never came up to the club. In our Father’s house are many mansions, they taught, and there alone will the incompatible multitudes of mankind be welcomed and soothed. Not one shall be turned away by the servants on that verandah, be he black or white, not one shall be kept standing who approaches with a loving heart. And why should the divine hospitality cease here? Consider, with all reverence, the monkeys. May there not be a mansion for the monkeys also? Old Mr. Graysford said No, but young Mr. Sorley, who was advanced, said Yes; he saw no reason why monkeys should not have their collateral share of bliss, and he had sympathetic discussions about them with his Hindu friends. And the jackals? Jackals were indeed less to Mr. Sorley’s mind, but he admitted that the mercy of God, being infinite, may well embrace all mammals. And the wasps? He became uneasy during the descent to wasps, and was apt to change the conversation. And oranges, cactuses, crystals and mud? and the bacteria inside Mr. Sorley? No, no, this is going too far. We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing.