Some thoughts on Passage

Some thoughts on ‘A Passage to India’:

1. The nature of racism in the book is interesting. In the opening chapters, the English characters often emphasized the difference between an Englishman who has just arrived in India and one who has been in India for some time. It is accepted that after one lives in India for some time, one stops being friendly or polite to Indian and all initial idealism dies. Soon, they would realize that the Indians deserve to be treated in the way they are, as they are indeed untrustworthy etc etc. Characters like Ronny realize their hypocritical attitudes but blame it on situation (and the natives). In fact, he explicitly says that he did not come to India to be unpleasant but somehow all the experiences he had thus far has forced him into his particular attitude. I think this is a very interesting, yet highly subtle and potentially more powerful form of racism. Racism is being explained away, and rationalized. Most importantly, the Englishman need not be held responsible – after all it is the Indians’ own fault that they are being treated meanly.

2. The English characters often use the native tongue to express their own ideas. In some sense, colonialism goes beyond conquering of lands. It actually colonizes language and culture as well. The English takes the native words and pulls them out of their native contexts, to use them in the English context. In using the Indian tongue, the English is not assimilating Indian culture – instead he tyrannically ‘takes over’ the language for he has no real understanding of the language and culture but simply uses the foreign words in the way he thinks them to mean.

Invention of the Other

Levine traces the development of British influence in India over the decades. What struck me the most is how the British treated India as a monogamous entity that is largely static. There were many cultural and religious practices across India, however the EIC (or the British government) often ignored or missed these differences. As a result, many policies such as the banning of suttees backfired.

The inability of the colonialist to react to a diverse India seems to suggest the colonialist’s own insecurities- it needs to invent an ‘other’ to define its own identity. Furthermore,  the ‘other’ must also be stable, in order for the colonialist to establish a secure identity for itself. It seems as though the colonialists were unable to establish for themselves an independent and stable identity, apart from the colony. In this sense, the perception of these colonies; and the constant comparison between self and the ‘other’ shaped the identity of the colonialist. In other words, they began to understand themselves vis-a-vis their own perceptions of their colonies.