The British’s India

A Passage to India overwhelms me with a sense of 

organic subjectivity — inanimate things (river Ganges, 

temples, houses) seem to have a life of their own, albeit 

one marked with deterioration. And despite the absence 

of any authorial marker in the first chapter of the text, the 

narrator is able to blend his point-of-view immaculately 

into what seems like objective descriptions of 

Chandrapore. For instance, while there may really be “no 

bathing steps on the river front”, it does not necessarily 

mean that “the Ganges happens not to be holy here”, or 

for that matter, be caused by it. What intrigues me is this 

method of showing-and-telling: it validates the traditional 

imagery of India as primitive and imbued with superstitious 

cultures while performing perfectly as the juxtaposed 

Other to the civilised west. Indeed, it really is not difficult to 

“Imagine [the narrator]  as addressing you from another 

and a happier world.”

 

This hierarchical intent, as I see it, is exemplified by the 

no-Indians Chandrapore Club. This exclusion illustrates a deep-

rooted uneasiness between the English and the locals. 

Acquaintances already seem unnecessary, as Mrs Moore 

has shown Aziz in the second chapter, let alone genuine 

friendship.

 

Till now, my take on the novel is best summarised by 

Ronny’s unconcerned remark: “[Even] The educated 

Indians will be no good to us if there’s a row, it’s simply not 

worth while conciliating them, that’s why they don’t 

matter.”

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The essay ‘Ruling An Empire’ by Levine brings to attention a point in colonial history which interests me tremendously: how “British administrators NEEDED to stop and take stock, to consider with all possible seriousness what empire was and what it was not” (p.103; my emphasis). To me, this one insighful statement reflects the truer picture behind that disguised self-centredness as well as ‘imperial supremacy’. The civilising mission as a white man’s burden (because of its potential fatality) is less than convincing, although missionaries have indeed ‘improved’ the lives of colonised people (as Levine tells us).

Nonetheless, although missionaries were advocates of anti-slavery and education, “It was not imperialism as a philosophy that [they] criticised; their disapproval was reserved for imperial policies that to them did nothing to consolidate and extend Christianity into non-Christian environments.” (p.121) Put differently, missionaries did see the local people as inferior, at least “in need of saving from their own ignorance and moral poverty”. This, in my opinion, is highly contestable per se.

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