A Passage to India by Forster (Caves) – Summary and Analysis of Chapter XII to XIV.
Part II Caves Chapter XII.
Part II of E M Forster’s A Passage to India opens with the description of Marabar Caves, but before that the author describes India’s geological settings, the Holy Ganges and the Himalayas. According to the Hindu Mythology, Ganges flows from the foot of Vishnu and through the hair of Lord Shiva. However, the author mentions that it is not a very ancient stream as per Geology because the entire India was once ocean. Later as the mountain rose and debris settled India came into being. The Hindu Gods and Goddesses took their place on the highest peaks of the Himalayan range. Author makes a detailed Geological analysis of how entire India came into being before he moves on to the description of the Marabar caves. The southern part of the peninsula was already in existence at the time of the prehistoric ocean and lands of Dravidia were land which saw both the rise of the Himalayas and the sinking of the land that joined them with Africa. These lands are older than everything. The Indian landscape is changing but the sun that has been watching the earth for countless years knows they are a real part of him. Buddha must have passed the Marabar caves but there is no historical mention of it. These caves he describes are nothing more than a pattern of dull hollows. A tunnel eight feet in length, five feet in height and three feet in width leads to a circular chamber and the pattern repeats. A visitor may see as many as he likes but at last he remains confused about the experience. There is nothing notable about these caves. No pattern to differentiate one from the other and nothing to call extraordinary. The author very beautifully captures the darkness of the caves and how the light dances on their surface when a visitor lights a match. Chambers within chambers and then there can be chambers still unexplored with no entrances. Even if mankind explored them or opened them nothing was to be found inside. There is a hollow boulder on the top of the hill and sways when a crow perches on it. That is how the stone boulder has gained its name – Kawa Dol. Kawa meaning crow and dol means the action of swaying.
Chapter XIII – Summary and Analysis
This chapter opens with a description of how the Marabar caves looked from the club. Miss Quested wishes to be there. She tells Miss Derek that Aziz had proposed to take them but seems to have forgotten. A servant overhears the two ladies talking and the news travels through him. When Aziz learns that he has offended the ladies by not keeping his promise, he asks Fielding to invite them so the tour can be arranged. Fielding and Old Godbole were to accompany them and Ronny Heaslop was the only hindrance. However, he did not object because he did not see any harm till Fielding bore the full responsibility of the tour. Aziz was deeply worried over the arrangements since he had to take leave which was going to be a disdainful process that would be somehow made possible through Fielding. He had to arrange for whisky, soda and then Godbole was a strict Hindu who abstained from having meat or alcohol. The issue of Beef, mutton and ham were already making him worry deeply.
Forster notes, “Trouble after trouble encountered him, because he had challenged the spirit
of the Indian earth, which tries to keep men in compartments”.
Indian culture has drawn strict lines between people and they are required to keep within them and this party was going to be multicoloured leaving Aziz worried that someone in the party might feel offended. His friends had warned about mixing with the Indian ladies and cautioned him about punctuality. Since English are a comic institution, Indians treat them like a zoo. When they are around, you must behave yourself or the animal may leap out of the cage. They have several pleasant and unpleasant misgivings about the British. A train left for the Marabars early in the morning and so Aziz was up with the servants there right at night. In the morning a car arrived and Miss Quested and Mrs Moore got out with their Goanese servant. Aziz was trying to be as sweet and make them feel as welcome as possible.
An important thing about Forster’s novel is the role of nature in it. Right from the beginning of the novel, nature is a special element that adds beauty and meaning to the cultural and social fabric of India. India is special because of its nature. After discussing how India was formed and its geological history in the first chapter of this section, Forster moves on to discuss the Marabar caves and their peculiarly silent appeal. He calls India sun’s flesh and you can touch Apollo’s heart here. For Forster India was like an island with a divine culture and however simple the Indian people may appear to the British, their culture is beautiful and full of vibrant colors filled by nature.
Adela Quested decides to get rid of the servant Rony Heaslop has sent to accompany her. Mrs Moore and Adela Quested were behaving more like guests and less like Britishers. The train had arrived and night was showing the signs of getting over. Forster again portrays the beauty of the Indian culture in the crowd that occupied the train. “a box bound with brass, a melon wearing a fez, a towel containing guavas, a stepladder and a gun”.
Miss Quested and Mrs Moore were less race-conscious and Aziz felt good about it. Mr Fielding and Godbole were late. Meanwhile Aziz introduced his cousin Mohammed Latif. The two were discussing how to keep the guests entertained on the trip. Fielding and Godbole arrived late because the poor Brahmin had been praying for a little longer than he expected. The two could not catch the train which had caught speed by the time they arrived. Without Fielding Aziz was feeling very poor. He was almost crying but was consoled by Mrs Moore who said all was still fine and there was nothing to worry about. Aziz was incharge and he was going to prove everyone who said that Indians were incapable of responsibility wrong. Night was coming to an end but it was still dark outside the carriage. The scorpious’ glamour was getting dull in the sky. Mohammed Latif was a poor addition to the group. Aziz asked him what was in the caves worth seeing and the poor creature had nothing to tell except that only God and the local people knew who would gladly be their guides.
Chapter XIV – Summary and Analysis
Forster opens this chapter on a philosophical note because both Adela Quested and Mrs Moore have grown philosophical since they arrived in India. Forster quotes life as uninteresting where we keep distinguishing between our pleasant and painful experiences. Since Mrs Moore and Miss Quested had heard Godbole’s song they had felt nothing and lived in a state of oblivion. The only difference was that while Mrs Moore had accepted her lack of interest, for her it was something difficult to reconcile with. In order to feel important Adela attached importance to the events happening around her. If anything appeared boring, it was because she herself was and so tried to appear enthusiastic. This was the only inconsistency in her character which was otherwise consistent. She was in India to be married and so every moment had to be filled with beauty and its lack left her vexed.
Miss Quested’s wish had been granted but it failed to excite her soul. She was feeling amused over the arrangements that Aziz had made and the energy in his servants made her feel better. The things around her amused her but could not engage her thoughts that were focused on Ronny. She could not help expressing her frustration over Ronny’s servant Antony and told she would sack him. Mrs Moore tried to reduce her frustration by talking of the hot weather. She knew Ronny and Adela were not getting married till May and she was now caught in India for long because hot weather would not allow her to leave for England. She was growing disappointed about the two and had started thinking of how centuries have not been able to change the meaning of relationships and how people could not understand each other despite being in a relationship. She felt like losing control.
“the train half asleep, going nowhere in particular and with no passenger of importance in any of its carriages, the branch-line train, lost on a low embankment between dull fields. Its message—for it had one—avoided her wellequipped mind.”
The train like Adela herself was travelling in a meaningless direction doing nothing important travelling on an unimportant line was like trying to convey a message which Adela clearly could not understand. Everything in Adela’s life just came down to zero – Nothing that could be called of value. The mail train on the other hand connects important dots on the map of India. However, there are few such important dots because in India there are fields, hills and jungles. Adela’s mind was unable to grab the meaning of such a country and to catch the meaning of India’s all dimensions is impossible.
She calls “Come” through her hundred mouths, through objects ridiculous and august. But come to what? She has never defined. She is not a promise, only an appeal.
India has a distinct appeal that is mysterious. It is not possible to see all its sides at once. She invites everyone alike. Whether an invader, a friend or a foe, she embraces them all. For everyone there is something in India and that is why she has remained a preferred destination for both scholars and invaders – the ones who are here to give and the ones who are here to take. She does not make a value proposition but holds a generous appeal. The poor girl was still trying to chant but Mrs Moore was now deep asleep. Her health was poor and she must not have taken the trip but for the sake of others’ pleasure only. She was dreaming of her other children Stella and Ralph and when she woke up Adela had stopped planning and was admiring the beauty outside the window. The Marabars looked astonishing even from the civil station and were the only attraction in this area. Miss Quested had grown quite excited at the first look. The sky had turned deep orange. However, the sun did not emerge with much pomp and show. Instead it remained pale yellow hidden behind the trees. Aziz shouted that everyone put on their hats since the early sun could be dangerous for their heads. Adela was the most amused and called him an affable fellow.
An elephant was one of the grand features of the picnic. Aziz had calculated the length of the picnic. It was going to be four hours long and then they could catch the train back at eleven thirty. Where the train stopped, there was a small platform and a large elephant. Md Latif and the servants were content to see the animal. The villagers they found on the way to the caves were excited to lend company and offer guidance. Miss Quested even mistook a stump for a cobra. However, Aziz was feeling a bit lost without Professor Godbole. It was not a mosque that he would explain with eagerness and pride. This was the part of India, that people like Professor Godbole could connect better with. The caves were releasing heat except the one that lay in the shadows. Mrs Moore thought that the caves were horrid and stuffy. The servants were quick to lay down a cloth with a vase of flowers at the centre. Aziz was happy that he was being as hospitable as needed to keep his guests happy. He was reminded of his rudeness at the mosque and asked Mrs Moore if he could ever have the chance to be a host to her other children. Then he started talking of his ancestor emperor Babur who laid down his life for his dying son Alamgir whom history better knows as Humayun. He loved talking of the Moguls and soon the talk shifted to Akbar and all the magnificent things he achieved in his lifetime including the invention of a new religion instead of the Holy Kuran. However, even his religion failed to embrace entire India because nothing really does. To embrace entire India is impossible. She is a different notion and expands endlessly. Miss Quested was concerned that something must be universal about India. She was always excited over her idea of universal brotherhood. Upon permission from Mrs Moore she started talking of her concern over being called an Anglo Indian and how her life was going to change after she married Ronny Heaslop. She was concerned how snobby the other Anglo Indian women were and how they treated Indians. Aziz tried to console her telling that she was most unlike the others and so could never be as rude as them.
They entered the caves first of which appeared quite convenient. Mrs Moore was feeling suffocated as an entire crowd of villagers and servants had followed them. Something got tight on her mouth like a clamp. She gave a cry that echoed and was lost in the other echoes. Once they were out she hid her disappointment trying not to spoil others’ experience. Aziz and Adela were excited but Mrs Moore was unwilling to go further. Aziz felt good that she told him frankly. So, with just a guide, he and Adela went further. Mrs Moore sat down to write and after writing the names of her two other children she stopped. She cast a glance at the valley and felt afraid of the experience she recently had. The echo had left her feeling particularly dismayed, old and weak. With the echo she had felt like losing her grasp on her life. Marabar was feeling absolutely unromantic and she was feeling like drifting away. Again, she tried to gain hold of herself and thought that the creeping despair was merely a sign of age and that the world would go on even if she lost her senses. Suddenly, she felt reminded of her religion but all its preachings got lost in the same echo. She felt the horror taking over her senses and then nothing made sense; not the entire universe. Mrs Moore was somehow losing connection even with Aziz and his kind words. Somehow the hollow of the caves and the echo had drained her of energy.