DOORWAYS OF THE MIND : on A PASSAGE TO INDIA (1984)

This is part 2 of my previous post on A PASSAGE TO INDIA, a direct continuation.

**

PART 2

Marabar Caves is the location occasioning the central conflict in A PASSAGE TO INDIA. It emerges on its own as a purveyor of emotions. On the one hand is Chandrapore, a conflicted site with a vague history and devoid of any individual character. The hustle and bustle of a typified Indian setting and the town’s Anglicized enunciation (by the colonizers) are clear signs of the identity crisis that engulfs it. Then there’s Marabar. Powerfully evocative of a ghostly sense of despair that naturally lay at the threshold of this feature, Adela’s bemusement and subsequent horror at experiencing a mystical, almost incomprehensible reckoning of this landmark lend it the air of a mute spectator absorbing the town’s latent dissent. It is the watchman overlooking differential mindscapes of its residents. The Marabar is a source of local attention and detachment and since caves were often the refuge of saints seeking solitary meditation, its spiritual antecedent is aligned with facts.

It beats out all notions on Adela’s part, to the extent of mental disrepair and invites unwanted gloom for her . The reverberating sound of ‘Om’ or ‘boum’ is unlike anything she has ever come across. The veracity around her actual experience in the cave remains one of popular culture’s abiding enigmas. Fear governs her.

Her spirits shattered, Quested’s fall into acute depression and social downslide is further accentuated by her accusations which are directly aimed at the gentleman who played host to her trip and merited her friendship, that is Dr. Aziz. A local scandal on top of a cultural furore is soon inflamed in Chandrapore as Aziz is arrested on the horrendous charge of outraging Adela’s modesty in the caves.

Bigoted ‘goras’ view it as a mark of vengeance against rulers, in some kind of orchestrated, pre – planned act in the guise of Oriental geniality. The contrast of Occidental /Western open spaces and Eastern claustrophobia is a subtext that adds practical underpinnings to our understanding in this case.

***

This retelling holds our interests moreover because of the humane investment borne out of the aftermath of this tragedy. Voices of acerbic reasoning and non-partisan support drum up a lucid picture of clarity that find their way in Headmaster Fielding (a sincere James Fox), a true hero to reckon with, and Mrs. Moore who doesn’t budge from her beliefs. Both continue to uphold Aziz’s innocence even when the truth spelled out by their vested compatriots seems otherwise. In the bargain, Fielding contracts much of his acquaintances’ disgust. Mrs. Moore’s role in the judgement is cut short when she is shipped away to England by her cynical son Ronny who exercises a general distaste towards the so called uncouth and inferior ‘natives’ ; her death and subsequent funeral at sea echo a larger collateral damage to the fabric of normalcy. All throughout, the Marabar Caves hold their stead as an omnipresent force of nature that simply preside over a rattled populace. With this arc, A PASSAGE TO INDIA achieves rare psychological insights without succumbing to twisting factual bases, historical precedents or even sensationalism given the theme.

As Adela’s unfounded claims and fears slowly translate to stoic realization and Aziz’s honour is restored by way of a complex trial, crackling with nervous tension and simmering communal angst, relationships break down, loyalties are tested and one woman’s disorientation becomes another man’s bitter fruit for lifetime. Both represent, with the passage of years to me , cultural precedents dividing and distancing society from the truth till this very current era.

***

Readers of the novel will find the ending to have been smartly tweaked to serve its purpose and make all events come full circle instead of the text’s open- ended conclusion to the thematic turn of events. Langurous and adequately slow boil reflecting the era it is set in as well as the coil of shifting veracity, A PASSAGE TO INDIA will require first – time viewers to muster up the patience to partake and then interpret its content which is where readers of the original work will be blessed with an all – encompassing sensibility.

But Lean, helmer of classics as DR. ZHIVAGO, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA AND BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, levels Forster’s worldview, encapsulating an overarching naturalistic element of the horrors of racial prejudices at our core. It’s the sum of its many malleable parts that design our mindsets, both by dint of history and personal contact. Shout – outs also go out to ALEC GUINNESS playing Professor Godbole and Syed Jaffrey as Hamidullah, both accommodating a space for placating Aziz and his innocence.

Forster’s mastery at narration and a fair grip on life altering proceedings rub their effect on this M. G. M. gem. Lean gives it the timeless flavour of uncovering a Pandora’s box of hidden secrets, guiles and unexpected outcomes. In the #Me Too era, it is a complex case study of gender relations made murkier by culture.

**

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s