A passage to India is an early 20th century novel by the critically acclaimed writer E.M. Foster. The novel is built around the monarchial British rule of the Indian subcontinent and India’s rise to independence. The book stays true to Foster’s own experiences in the country, so it holds quite a few points of interest to certain demographics.
The story is centered around the characters Cyril Fielding, Mrs. Moore, Dr. Aziz and Miss Adela Quested. It starts off with Miss Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore dropping off in India. As their names suggest, both the women are British, and heavily differentiating in age. The reason for their visit is to execute Miss Adela’s planned engagement with Ronny, who happens to be the British magistrate in Chandrapore, an Indian city, and also Mrs. Moore’s son. Both the women appear excited to experience the original culture of India instead of the disingenuous culture that has gone through much of British cultural appropriation.
The readers are then introduced to another central character, Dr. Aziz, a practicing doctor in the British Raj with Islamic belief. Dr. Aziz gradually finds himself to be annoyed by the discriminatory treatment his people receive on a daily basis. He discusses with his friend, Hamidullah, whether a friendship between two individuals of the opposite cultures can be attained. Hamidullah expresses that it might be possible in England, but they both agree that it’s only a faint dream in the British Raj. A following conversation between Aziz and Hamidullah’s wife reveals that he’s a widower with three children in the care of his mother-in-law. The readers also discover that Aziz’s deep frustration of the British comes from the poor treatment he receives from Major Callendar and his family.
One day, while walking home from a pointless trip to Callendar’s abode, Aziz comes into contact with Mrs. Moore in an adjacent mosque. The interaction that starts with a fierce exchange, soon turns into a respectable and empathetic experience for both. Dr. Aziz takes his leave after escorting Mrs. Moore inside the club where she soon finds Adela.
The readers meet the last key character, Cyril Fielding, who overhears the two women speaking of their desire to experience the real India, and suggests that they meet Indians firsthand. It is then decided that the ladies shall meet them, despite the popular opinion against it. On their way back, Mrs. Moore recalls her encounter with Aziz but is met with agitation from her son.
The next chapter ensues where the Indians appear confused by the invitations, but decide to join the event following the Nawab Bahadur. To the dismay of the two women, the party fails to deliver what it was set out to achieve and instead creates a division between the two people and a platform for the English to judge the Indian. Mrs. Turton, the hostess, unwillingly takes Mrs. Moore and Adela to meet some Indian women. This is when Mrs. Moore asks for a home invitation from Mrs. Bhattacharya, an Indian woman present at the function, and she gleefully agrees. The women meet Fielding, interacting with the Indians more so than the English. He agrees to host a tea party for the two and Dr. Aziz, to Mrs. Moore’s request. Later at dinner, Adela’s anxiety grows at the idea of being married into a discriminatory English family.
It is evident from past events that Cyril Fielding treats Indians with kindness and respect, unlike most of the English population. An aspect that doesn’t go unnoticed and receives substantial criticism. However, Fielding still manages to maintain an amiable relationship with his racial peers. Nevertheless, Aziz arrives at Fielding’s tea party, and they immediately start developing a good relationship. They are soon joined by the remainder of the guests, who seem upset at Mrs. Bhattacharya for not hosting them in the morning as promised. Aziz, dismayed by the outcome and to be polite, offers to host the women at his own residence. Aziz later asks Adela whether her stay here will be permanent, to which she emphatically says no. Upon doing so, Adela realizes what she had done. She had just disclosed her wishes to reject her planned marriage with Ronny to complete strangers without the knowledge of Ronny himself. Mrs. Moore seems deeply disheartened by the outcome and is escorted away by Fielding. When Adela asks Aziz to take her up on his offer to visit his place, he instead promises to show her the Marabar Caves, embarrassed by the state of his own house. The party is soon interrupted by Ronny, who seems disturbed seeing his mother and bride-to-be in the company of Indians. He then takes them away for a game of polo.
Haunted by the guilt of exposing her wishes too soon, Adela finally decides to disclose to Ronny her wishes to leave him. Ronny, though saddened, respects her decision and chooses to be friends. But ironically, the two of them slowly start to develop romantic feelings for each other right afterward, resulting in Adela going back on her decision to leave and agreeing to marry Ronny.
A few days pass since the tea party when Aziz starts to feel physically unwell. His Indian peers come to inquire about his health and find out that Professor Godbole, another Indian guest at the tea party has also fallen sick. The group starts to suspect Fielding of trying to poison his guests but soon drops this suspicion. Returning to his health, Aziz, as promised, hosts a trip to the Marabar Caves for his guests. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Fielding and Godbole miss the train, leaving the two women in the company of Aziz. Concerned about the safety and lack of space, Mrs. Moore decides not to travel too far into the caves, so Adela and Aziz carry on forward with a guide alongside them. While reaching for higher caves, Adela finds herself questioning Aziz on whether he is married or even has multiple wives. The question offends Aziz due to his religious ideologies, and in an attempt to stop their interaction, he escapes into a lonely cave.
When Aziz returns, he is surprised to find out that the guide has lost tracks of Adela. They both start worrying for her safety, but Aziz soon finds Adela at the bottom of the caves. He is soon greeted by Fielding who has made it to the caves against all odds. He starts to suspect Adela’s movements as she hurriedly drives back to Chandrapore. Fielding collects all the details of the expedition from Aziz. Fielding’s suspicions turn into reality when police officers arrest Aziz on their way back under the charges of raping Adela that she has pressed herself. He is taken to jail until trial despite his claims of it being a mistake.
Fielding being sure of Aziz’s innocence, reluctantly decides to side with the Indians, knowing full well that the decision will result in the Englishmen’s impatience towards him to reach boiling point. He informs Hamidullah that he shall help however he can to prove Aziz’s innocence. Major Callendar then faces Fielding and tries his level best to change Fielding’s belief of Aziz being innocent, but fails. Fielding denounces Aziz’s prosecution and exclaims that he is prepared to bet his position in the British Raj to prove it.
Ronny, being completely agitated by the situation, decides to send his mother back home because of her failure to protect Adela. Mrs. Moore, however, does not reach the end of the journey and leaves the world realizing that her desire to experience the “real India” was a fallacy from the beginning. The “real India” is non-existent. It only exists in different perspectives and interpretations.
The day of Adela’s trial arrives. During the trial, Adela chooses to reveal the truth of the situation and confesses her mistake, surprising everyone present. This outcome causes Fielding to look at Adela from a different perspective. He begins to respect her for her display of courage and begins to develop a friendly relationship with her. But, Ronny clearly did not appreciate the outcome and chooses to cancel their marriage and send her back to England.
Meanwhile, Aziz is maddened by the fact that Fielding would befriend Adela, a woman who plotted to end his life. This takes a toll on their friendship when Aziz accuses Fielding of having an affair with Adela, which he responds furiously. Aziz understands his mistake and the situation calms. Fielding, after a while, decides to visit England once more. And Aziz, out of his disdain for the English, moves away far from Chandrapore.
Two years pass and it comes to Aziz’s attention that Fielding has married Adela in England. The man, who is now a chief doctor to the Rajah of Mau feels uncontrollable hate towards him. But he soon learns from an accidental meeting with Fielding that his marriage was actually with Mrs. Moore’s daughter, Stella Moore. The two start to rebuild their friendship once more.
The novel concludes with the two departing, wishing to one day be friends when the heinous chapter in India is over.