A Passage to India: Novel Summary: Chapters 15-19
Aziz and Adela continue their expedition, but the caves they visit are not very interesting to either of them. Adela's mind is occupied by her approaching marriage, and she realizes that she does not love Ronny, which vexes her. She asks Aziz whether he is married, and he tells her of his wife (pretending she is still alive) and his three children. She asks him whether he has more than one wife, a question which shocks Aziz. Feeling confused, he mutters an answer and disappears into a cave. Adela, unaware that she has offended him, follows him and also goes into a cave.
When Aziz comes out of the cave, he finds the guide outside, alone. Down below he sees a car approaching, and runs back to tell Adela. But the guide says she has gone into a cave. He does not know which one. Aziz is horrified because he assumes Adela is lost. Then he sees her down in the gully, and assumes she has joined up with whoever was in the car. He is relieved. As he starts to return to his camp, he finds Adela's field glasses lying at the verge of a cave, with the strap broken. He puts them in his pocket. When he reaches the camp, he finds Fielding there, who had come with Miss Derek in the car. No one knows where Adela is, until Miss Derek's chauffeur announces that Adela and Miss Derek have returned to Chandrapore. Aziz is not disturbed by this news, but Fielding feels that something is wrong. When he had arrived with Miss Derek, there had been no talk of a speedy return to Chandrapore. Fielding asks Aziz how and where he left Adela. Aziz explains what happened, not realizing that he is misremembering the facts. He thinks he saw Adela climb down from the cave with the guide and go off to meet her friend. Happy with this version of events, he feels content because he has given his guests a good time. It does not bother him that Adela left early.
The train arrives, and they all return to Chandrapore. When they arrive, Mr. Haq, the Inspector of Police, arrests Aziz. He will not say what the charge is. Fielding assumes that a mistake has occurred, and restrains Aziz, who has tried to escape. All is confusion in the railway station. Fielding wants to accompany Aziz, but he is called away by Mr. Turton, and Aziz goes to prison alone.
The Collector (Mr. Turton) tells Fielding that Miss Quested has been "insulted" in one of the caves, and has accused Aziz of the crime. Fielding insists that Aziz is not capable of such an act; he must be innocent. But the Collector will not disbelieve the word of an Englishwoman, and he is worried about the consequences. He thinks the good name of his District will be sullied for a generation because of what has happened. While the Collector gives way to his emotions, Fielding decides that he must search for facts.
He goes to see Mr. McBryde, the District Superintendent of Police. McBryde explains the charge against Aziz: he is alleged to have followed Miss Quested into the cave and made "insulting advances." She hit him with her field glasses, and he pulled at them, breaking the strap. The glasses have been found in Aziz's pocket. Miss Derek says there was no guide with Miss Quested when she came down from the gully (contradicting Aziz's account).
In spite of the apparent evidence, Fielding continues to believe in Aziz's innocence. McBryde is taken aback. Fielding tries to get to see Miss Quested, to see if he can persuade her to recant her story before the trial, or at least to ask her if she is absolutely certain it was Aziz who followed her into the cave. But first McBryde and then Callendar denies him permission to see her. McBryde tells Fielding that all the English should stick together because the situation in Chandrapore over the next few weeks is going to get very nasty. He refuses to let Fielding visit Aziz.
Outside McBryde's office, Fielding and Hamidullah discuss how to get bail for Aziz. Hamidullah also wants to get a prominent anti-British Hindu lawyer, Amritao, to defend Aziz, but Fielding worries that this will be seen as a political challenge by the English.
Fielding then finds himself drawn into a tedious conversation with Professor Godbole, who wants to return to his birthplace in Central India and start a school there. When Fielding asks him whether he thinks Aziz is guilty or innocent, Godbole gives a rambling answer about everyone being involved in the good and evil actions of everyone else; good and evil are both aspects of God. Fielding neither understands or sympathizes with this belief.
These chapters reveal that Aziz (and, by extension, India) has a different attitude to truth than what English people would expect. He tells Adela that his wife is alive, simply because "he felt it more artistic to have his wife alive for a moment." Aziz is not consciously aware of telling lies. He just has a capacity for making the truth what he needs it to be-a talent he uses to the full when he explains to himself what happened regarding Adela's disappearance and sudden departure. But the novel does not make a simple contrast between Aziz, for whom facts are malleable, and the English. For all the English concern with justice, and a trial at which the truth would be established, all the English people, with the exception of Fielding, prejudge Aziz. Like Aziz, they too have the capacity to manipulate the truth into what they believe it to be.
These chapters further characterize Fielding as the one Englishman who can stand apart from the collective mindset of his "tribe."
But there is also a gulf between him and the Indians whose side he takes. They always do something that disappoints him. He finds old Professor Godbole's conversation almost unbearable and his religious views incomprehensible. The fact that even Fielding has difficulty establishing ideal relationships with Indians shows how wide the gap between the two cultures is. Fielding's developing relationship with Aziz will further illustrate this point.