Pre-reading: A Passage to India

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1.Research the following terms:

1. Post-colonial Literature 2. Cultural Signifier 3. Empowerment 4. Appropriation 5. Hegemony 6. Diaspora 7. Caste System 8. Trans-cultural Writings

2. With reference to the the definitions to the aforementioned concepts , what can you estimate about A Passage to India?


About Words Infinitum- A Teacher's Haven

Am I a bird for Maya Angelou? If yes, why do I and so many of you around me feel caged? why not free? Am I a free spirit, then?If yes, then why don't I locate my limits? Because I can see I have lost the way. The quest for enlightenment is taking me acknowledge just Him ..and this strife just becomes so rewarding and so assuringly peaceful when I see myself having adopted His favourite occupation- the one he designated to his prophets. What is obstructing this self -actualization?
This entry was posted in A Level Literature in English, Course No.9695, Paper 3 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Pre-reading: A Passage to India

  1. zaibalykhan says:

    Q1. Literature written after the colonization of the world. A Passage to India was written during this time i.e when India was under British rule. wikipedia
    Shows the culture that the story or the study is about. Signifies cultures importance and cultural differences.
    Refers to an increase in power; political, financial, educational or economic strength –
    Funds set aside for some priority need.
    Social, Economic, Cultural, Ideological or Economic influence exerted by a dominant group.
    Migration or transfer of a large of people to a different country for different purposes. A group of people living outside their home country.
    Hereditary and social differences between people based on castes.
    Cross cultural Writings. Writing that embraces or proves right all human cultures.
    Q2. Looking at the terms above I think ‘A Passage to India’ is a multicultural story. The phrase ‘trans-cultural’ signifies its multiethnic background.
    Moreover the term ‘Post colonial’ suggests that it is a novel written during the British Colonization era.
    However, another theme that is present is cultures, cultural differences,embracing ethnic, cultural and social differences due to hereditary basis.
    These themes are apparent in the significance of the concepts ‘trans cultural writings’, ‘caste system’, ‘hegemony’ and ‘cultural signifier.’
    Thus my estimation of A Passage to India, is that its major themes are based on cultures and the concepts signify the setting of the story which is post colonial period.

  2. Ayesha Nasir says:

    Postcolonial literature:
    In simplistic terms, it covers the literature produced as a reaction to, and both indirectly and directly addressing, eras of colonization. The characters are usually shown as trying to espouse normality in their daily lives after being subjected to a colonial rule, but in Passage to India it has managed to create a critical analysis of the racist rule that the British Raj became a symbol of. This critique pays attention to the marginalisation and exclusion of groups of people based solely on differences in culture and race. The condition of living is exposed in writing by people belonging to the former European colonies such as in South Asia, South America, Africa and the Carribean.
    In the context of Passage to India, we look into E.M. Forster’s first visit to India; the Indians of the Subcontinent had already staged an unsuccessful attempt at rebellion which, from that moment on, cleared any doubt of the British being incharge. The East India Company had no intention of backing down or succumbing to the Indian demands. In fact, from then onwards each province had a British governor who reported to the British parliament. Forster, being a liberal-minded individual, found little trouble in establishing Indian friendships and found that he sought out their friendship over people who were of his own race.
    His experience of prejudice and misunderstanding made him clearly evaluate the troubled, and possibly nonexistent, relationship the “Anglo-Indians” had with the Indians of the subcontinent. He leaned towards the Indian side of the colonial argument meanwhile advocating tolerance and understanding.
    Cultural signifier:
    This stands in stark contrast with a stereotype and in PtI, it can be vividly seen in the form of the personality that Aziz is – a well-educated, literate, and English-speaking Indian doctor- who becomes a spokesperson for his community, consisting of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. However Aziz is not the lone sheep here. Individuals such as the Nawab is a different personality altogether although he is Indian too. Furthermore, even in the British raj there are different cultural signifiers that exist in the form of Angela Quested, Mr. Fielding and Mrs Moore whose view of Indians is starkly different in comparison to that of Ronny and most other Anglo Indians.
    Hence a cultural signifier is one which shows intrinscie parts of the culture of a group, delving into their individual personalities as well, rather than generalising a few, well-known (stereotypical) characteristics.
    However, even positive stereotypes may exist while observing cultural signifiers.
    As for Miss Quested, she accepted everything Aziz said as true verbally. In her ignorance, she regarded him as “India,” and never surmised that his outlook was limited and his method inaccurate, and that no one is India.
    I think Sparknotes made a brilliant point here: Adela is still caught up with English literalism, even though she is well meaning and her intelligent individualism sets her apart from the rest of the English. Without a capacity for sympathy or affectionate understanding, Adela cannot realize that she is evaluating Indians on her own terms, rather than their terms. Adela’s relationship with Aziz is, in this sense, without understanding or compassion. Rather, it is somewhat materialistic—Adela wants to know the “real India,” and she expects Aziz to render it for her. This goal in itself is Adela’s second mistake: whereas she seeks a single India, the real India exists in hundreds of guises, and no single Indian can offer an entire sense of it.
    “Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social, or economic strength of individuals and communities. It often involves the empowered developing confidence in their own capacities.”

    “In academic literature, the word empowerment first came onto the scene with regards to civil rights…The term really took off with literature discussing empowerment of marginalized peoples, such as women and the poor, and especially with regards to community development” (

    In Passage to India, a gradual shift of power is seen however this has nothing to do with the British willingly wanting that to happen. Rather, the accusation painted on Aziz’s personality is what causes an uproar and the Indians take to the streets in protest. This is the awakening at a smaller level. The highly materialistic and capitalist system that the British were trying to enforce rendered any attempts at empowerment as small, futile and shortlived. However as long as they were people like Aziz who valued soul over body and did not care for monetary gain, the Indians persisted in their efforts to never allow themselves to appear as subdued. The empowerment process was slow and gradual mainly because the British leaders were not empowering for the Indians, perhaps beacuase of the opposing interests, however I think that people like The Nawab Bahadur, who was initially loyal to the British, in giving up his title showed the resilient part of Indians which wanted to regain power and control over their own lives and the life of the community.
    What is important to note here is that since there was a severe lack of trust between the Indians and the Anglo-Indians, whatever relationship they had was not empowering at all hence barely any positive steps at freeing the Indian community from their generally miserable state were taken.
    Appropriation in literature involves “borrowing, stealing, imitation, plagiarizing, quoting, literary piracy, a pastiche, derivative.” I could not find much otherwise. This may involve “cultural appropriation” for which here is an interesting extract:
    “Most striking was how comfortable these Italians seemed in their appropriated shoes, adopting a foreign culture and somehow making it theirs. The scene reinforced my sense of how far we’ve come since the days when people dressed, talked and celebrated only that which sprang from their own background. For the first time in my life, I was fully aware of the spiritual concept that we’re all simply one.” (Justin Britt-Gibson’s article for the Washington Post)
    In this manner I find that Passage to India is a bit faroff in history to represent cultural appropriation of any sort since the British, although adopting the name, Anglo Indians, remained true to their British core, values, and legal and social system. Even their manner of thinking did not change much apart from a few exceptions which can be seen in Fielding, Mrs. Moore and Adela perhaps.
    “an indirect form of imperial dominance in which the hegemon (leader state) rules sub-ordinate states by the implied means of power rather than by direct military force — by intervention and occupation.”
    “by means of which one social class can manipulate the system of values and mores of a society in order to create and establish a ruling-class worldview (Weltanschauung) that justifies the status quo of bourgeois domination upon the other social classes of the society.”
    The idea of hegemony is not foreign to me but it does seem to fit well with Passage to India. Perhaps because hegemony is more prevalent in modern day South Asia as compared to the Indian Subcontinet back then. At the time the novel was written and where it fits in the timeline, we see that the British were already governing India and had colonized it. Furthermore, the process of hegemony may have begun in the form of cultural hegemony through which British goods were being introduced or fashion was being taken up but the Indian norms and values were so predominant back then (and perhaps still are) that the British had no choice but to invade India through the EIC and then fully establish themselves after the Rebellion in 1857.
    “According to Gramsci, civil society corresponds to hegemony, while political society or “State”—in what Gramsci will call the “narrow sense” (SPN264) — corresponds to “‘direct domination’ or command” (SPN 12). Gramsci further delineates these two relatively distinct forms of control, as follows:
    • “Social hegemony” names the “‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group [i.e. the ruling class – in Gramsci’s Western Europe, the bourgeoisie]; this consent is ‘historically’ caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.
    • “Political government” names the “apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed”
    Something of further relevance today more than ever before:
    “Gauri Viswanathan’s Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India. Viswanathan’s text demonstrates how English literary studies emerged as a discipline in colonial settings—prior to its institutionalization in England itself—with “the imperial mission of educating and civilizing colonial subjects in the literature and thought of England,” thus “serv[ing] to strengthen Western cultural hegemony in enormously complex ways” (2-3). As Viswanathan argues, the process of moral and ethical formation of Indian colonial subjects through the study of English literature was intimately linked to the consolidation and maintenance of British rule in India. “
    Furthermore, “Protagonists in post-colonial writings are often found to be struggling with questions of identity, experiencing the conflict of living between the old, native world and the invasive forces of hegemony from new, dominant cultures.” (Wikipedia)
    “The word has come to refer to historical mass-dispersions of people with common roots, particularly movements of an involuntary nature, such as the expulsion of Jews from the Middle East, the African Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the southern Chinese during the coolie slave trade, or the century-long exile of the Messenians under Spartan rule.” (Wikipedia)
    A cause of it, amongst others such as trade/labour migrations, avoidance of war and conflict, government action, is imperialism. Other diasporas were created as a consequence of “political decisions, such as the end of colonialism”. “Some diaspora communities maintain strong political ties with their homeland. Other qualities that may be typical of many diasporas are thoughts of return, relationships with other communities in the diaspora, and lack of full assimilation into the host country.”
    This is a highly accurate description of the Anglo Indians. The 20th century was a witness to “huge population movements.”
    “The poem “I Remember When” by Daphne Ruth Clarke is an example of how nostalgic writing constructs a history that privileges local knowledge and individual experience, which can ultimately be seen as functioning to (re)claim India as home.
    I remember when:
    In our little backyard at home,
    Our fowl roamed tame and free;
    When chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys, too,
    Pecked, scratched, gobbled, slept happily.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Winged ants flew into hurricane lamps,
    Dying in hundreds against their will,
    And stick boochis rested on guava-tree branches
    For days, so silent and still.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Barefooted experts played gilly-dundoo,
    An outdoor, everywhere game,
    Needing only a gilly and a stick,
    Calloused feet and a steady aim.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Near the kitchen, the ayah would sit
    At the grinding stone on the back stoop,
    Chatting to luchi sweeping out droppings
    From under each large hen coop.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Ball curry (on Sundays) with coconut rice,
    A traditional family blend,
    With chilli and onion chutney, as well,
    Tickled everyone’s palate no end.
    The kutipi vendor would limp to the door,
    Covered dekshi on his head,
    On the spicy dish still simmering inside
    Many families that day would be fed.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    I could easily go on and on-
    Remembering-when gives me much pleasure- (135-8)” (source:

    Caste System:
    With accordance to the novel, a caste system is “a type of class system linked to the Hindu religion. Caste is decided by birth, it cannot be changed. People born into a high caste are allowed to do the best jobs; the lower castes get the dirtiest and worst paid jobs.”

    Again, Sparknotes is spot on when it says: “The aspect of Hinduism with which Forster is particularly concerned is the religion’s ideal of all living things, from the lowliest to the highest, united in love as one….though Forster generally endorses the Hindu idea of the oneness of all living things, he also suggests that there may be inherent problems with it. Even Godbole, for example, seems to recognize that something—if only a stone—must be left out of the vision of oneness if the vision is to cohere. This problem of exclusion is, in a sense, merely another manifestation of the individual difference and hierarchy that Hinduism promises to overcome.”
    Trans-cultural writing:
    Basically a discourse between people from different cultures being put together in the same physical location. They may experience different socio-economic conditions but their interaction with one another is crucial, as is in Passage to India which “examines the racial misunderstandings and cultural hypocrisies that characterized the complex interactions between Indians and the English toward the end of the British occupation of India.”
    Also, this is out of context but some films I remember with this particular technique are: Anna and the King, The Namesake

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