Sunday, October 24, 2004

Really Cool Website relating to *Passage to India*

Hi everyone,

I came across this really interesting website that I think some of you might like to take a look at, especially if you are considering writing about *Passage to India.* The library at Louisiana State University has a webite called "British Voices of South Asia" reproducing a special exhibition that ran in 1996 -- it's a collection of transcribed oral interviews with British people who lived and worked in pre-independant India; most of their stories about events in the 1930s. Though a little later than Forster's book, I think it's interesting all the same. The site has a few categories: accounts of why working/living India appealed to them, what daily life was like, travel, departure, and, most interesting to me, the relationship between the British and the Indians.

It's fascinating to hear actual people who participated in the cultural situation about which Forster wrote, espcially when they talk about the attitude they had toward the Indian subjects. Here I'm just going to excerpt a few of my favorites:

Sir Charles Dalton: One of the things that we missed out on, in my time, was the fact that we had absolutely no intercourse with the Indians, except the servants. At the very top level, we did meet one or two Indian princes. But nowhere else. The Army and the Civil Service were completely in a world apart. We were British and they were Indians and never the twain shall meet. This was the sort of feeling. And I'm sure that this was wrong and that, if one were doing it again, I think one would take a lot of trouble to get to know Indians.

Colonel W.A. Salmon, British Army: It did have a magic, there's no doubt about it. I got tremendously fond of the Indian people. It didn't matter what they were, Mohammedans, Hindus or anything else. They had a charm. They were natural gentlemen. Many's the time I'd be riding around Peshawar, for instance, out hacking. You come somewhere and a chap in the field would stop and salaam. So you'd rein in and talk to him for a bit. And he might say, "Sahib, come to my house," which was probably only a little mud hut. You'd go there and he'd give you a cup of tea and you'd talk about this or that and then be on your way. It was a very happy, brotherly, friendly feeling.

Rt. Rev. Leslie Newbigin, Missionary, later Bishop of Madras: The British, of course, were very respectful of Indian customs. I mean this is the reason even to this day why government offices only open about 10:00 or 10:30 in spite of the fact that this means you've lost the cool hours of the day and you're working in the worst hours of the heat. The reason for that is because in the early days the offices were all staffed by Brahmins, and Brahmins had to go through all their religious duties [before they started work].

Geoffrey Lamarque, Indian Civil Service: You find this [Indians wanting to be separate] in the Indians in Britain today. They're terribly clannish, they keep together, they have their own clubs, and nobody objects to this. And just the same in the days when we ruled India, you did want a place, certainly in the larger cities--it was only in the larger cities where this happened--where the Europeans could get together of an evening and, as it were, unwind and relax and criticize Indians in an uninhibited sort of way or talk about any subject they liked. There is a great gulf, certainly in north India, between Indians and Europeans in their whole backgrounds. If you did have Indians there it did inhibit conversation, the feeling of relaxation. The British are clubable people; they love going to a club and playing tennis and so forth. The Indians on the other hand find this slightly odd. The club is an entirely British invention. Indians don't naturally go to clubs the way we do--we did. So I don't think you can be too hard on the British, who paid for these places. I think that the mistake that we made, really, was that we didn't say, "All right, any Indian can come and join the club if he wants to," because I'm entirely certain nine out of ten Indians would never have bothered to come. All they wanted to know was that they could join if they wished, because they don't enjoy club life.

That's just a tiny sampling from the section called "Never the Twain" about British and Indian relationships. If you'd like to read more, the web address is:

*I've assumed that all this was credible since it's out of LSU, but I might be wrong....



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