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Review: A Passage to India, a classic just right for today

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My Interest

Never mind that I chose to finally read it because it is a classic. It is as much about today as it is about early 20th Century India. For minorities, even when they are the true majority in a country, real justice is often hard come-by. The British rule over India enforced a Western sense of order, justice, and manners and morality. But was that justice as fair to one group as to the British themselves? This is a very timely topic. In the United States, justice for Blacks has always been a problem, though as a nation we pride ourselves on an independent judiciary.  Reading Passage to India, if you substitute an American location, Passage to Indiana if you will, could as well be written about a white American woman and a Black American or Mexcian-American man. No difference.

The Story

“The issues Miss Quested had raised were so much more important than she was herself that people inevitably forgot her.”

“God who saves the King will surely support the police.”

A trip in a mixed (English and Indian) group to the Maranbar Caves has newly-arrived Miss Adela Quested sure she has been molested by the Indian host, Dr. Aziz. The Echo. The subsequent arrest and trial of Aziz bring out the worst in the rulers. The plotting, obfuscation, and outright lying would be right at home today in any court in the U.S.A. not trying the rape case of a top white, wealthy, collegiate swimmer. Miss Quested is treated like an imbecile (also still common today in rape cases anywhere in the world). But the predictable does not end predictably. In this case, justice prevails, but only in court. Aziz must remake his life elsewhere. Miss Quested returns home never to venture out of the UK again. Damages? A civil suit? No, no, no, move on, nothing to see here. The more things change the more they stay the same, eh?

My Thoughts

“The conversation had become unreal since Christianity had entered it. Ronny approved of religion as long as it endorsed the National Anthem, but he objected when it attempted to influence his life.”

“Ronny’s religion was of the sterilized Public School brand, which never goes bad, even in the tropics. Wherever he entered, mosque, cave or temple, he retained the spiritual outlook of the fifth form, and condemned as ‘weakening’ any attempt to understand them.”

First of all, I had a problem keeping two Ronnies straight. Ronnie Heaslop, the City Magistrate and putative fiancee of Miss Quested and the other Ronnie of the Raj–Ronnie Merrick of Jewel in the Crown–a story that also involves “fraternization” between a British woman and an Indian man, and which I enjoyed more, likely because I read it pre-cell phone attention span. I loved the miniseries, too, but then, back in the 80’s I loved the movie of Passage to India, too.

This book reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird even though it predates TKAMB by many years. The vivid portrayal of racism, the proceedings in court, the emotions generated. All were very much alike, only set in different countries and cultures.

Confession: I was not expecting an Indian voice to narrate the audio! #WhitePrivilege strikes again.

Note: This book was published in the 1920s. There are racial slurs in use at the time in this book that would not be used today. I think there were two such instances. Do not let that stop you from reading this impressive work that deserves its reputation as a classic.

My Verdict

4.5

 

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