Culture in A Passage to India E. M. Forster

WHAT IS CULTURE?

The concept of culture can be used in different ways. Having several meanings and connotations, it has become the broadest term.

‘Culture’ refers to all those activities and values on which the building of some society is placed. It also covers the intellectual and artistic activities and products of the society. According to some anthropologists, it can be used to describe the best activities and products in the society.

The members of some community share their own feelings, emotions and beliefs with each other under the specifications of certain culture. It also conveys the expressions how people make behaviors, responses and reactions to each other. There are systems or patterns of values, symbols, ritual myths, and practices that are included in culture. It is famous that culture includes norms, values, language, religion, attitude, behavior and social practices. Culture is made through the unification of all those mentioned elements. This world is based on different cultures, but the most prominent cultures are the Western and Eastern in all over the world.

The English and The Indians present their own cultures through their certain actions, norms, beliefs and values. Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’ presents two main cultures; the western and the eastern. But the Eastern is further divided into two cultures; Hinduism and Islam. This research is going to depict the colonial constructions of power belonging to the English, the Hindu and the Muslim cultures.

CULTURE DIFFERENCES IN THE NOVEL

Being the English colony, India was the embodiment of three different cultures; English, Hinduism and Islam. Forster depicts these differences in an appropriate way in his novel. In the second chapter of the novel, when Dr. Aziz goes for dinner at Hamidullah’s home, there is a discussion on the cultural differences across the Anglo-Indians;

No, that is where Mrs. Turton is so skillful. 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 (Forster 1924: 34)

Mrs. Turton was bribed by some Raja when she was selected as an inspector for canal scheme. Some people gave her a sewing machine in solid gold so that the water should run through their states. Actually bribery is a social crime due to which several problems get birth. Mrs. Turton was much bribed due to her social status. It is considered unlawful act in Islam. Dr. Aziz talks to Hamidullah that the act of bribery is legitimate near the Christians.

First of all, the Muslims run away from the approaching this social evil. If some Indians or black people have to bribe at the performance of some act, they are charged as black sheep in the whole society. On the other hand they have to face their music. There is no law for the English people at some bribery act. The Englishmen take it as a gift or reward, while the black race is punished very severely on this foul work. Dr. Aziz says that it is the main point to present the admiration of the western people.

Indian culture is recognized through its inhabitants’ customs, values and beliefs. Indian people always spend their leisure in taking hookah and pan. These are the best source to spend the spare time in gossips. In the second chapter Dr. Aziz utters,

If my teeth are to be cleaned, I don’t go at all. I am Indian, it is and Indian habit to take pan (Forster 1924: 38)

Dr. Aziz and Hamidullah were going to start dinner but they were interrupted by some letter from Major Callendar. Actually it was a summon Aziz to come urgently. In the very beginning, Dr. Aziz refuses to visit the civil surgeon. But Hamidullah insisted not to have a refusal. Dr. Aziz is also advised that he should clean up his teeth.

In these given lines, two particular things are mentioned regarding Dr. Aziz’s character. If Dr. Aziz engages himself in cleaning his teeth he will be late. So it shows his punctuality regarding his duties and responsibilities. Second thing is to be proud in having Indian identity. He thinks that it is an Indian habit to take pan. Hence, he needs not to clean his teeth. Hamidullah realizes Dr. Aziz’s punctuality and his cultural arrogance after having some discussion. In the same chapter, Forster further throws light on the Western and the Hindu culture.

One night, 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 (Forster 1924: 41).

These lines are the presentations of comparison of two cultures. When Dr. Aziz is summoned by Major Callendar and he found no message for him, he went to Mosque. All the English class was busy in doing a play ‘Cousin Kate’ at the club. Dr. Aziz heard an artistic music from the side of club. The English class was enjoying its high status in the India.

Dr. Aziz recognized the Western culture through its presentations. Music is considered fair and accepted action in the Christianity. The Westerns call music the diet for soul. On the other hand Dr. Aziz also heard the beat of drum sitting in the Mosque. He recognized it that these sounds were produced by Hindu culture the rhythm of the drumming was unpleasant and mental torture for Aziz. Dr. Aziz did not like it because it was foul and unlawful act in Islam.

There has been a great religious dispute among the Hindus and the Muslims, in India. Some people were busy in mourning at the corpse. It is also the symbol of Hindu culture. The writer could use here the word ‘mourning’ but he used ‘bewailing’ to emphasize the Hindus feelings at a particular situation.

Culture in A Passage to India
A Passage to India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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