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A Passage to India: Novel Summary: Chapters 4-6

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Chapters 4-6
In a room near the Court, several Indians discuss the invitation they have received from the Collector to a "bridge party" the following week. A respected landowner, the Nawab Bahadur, is gracious about the invitation and plans to attend, although another man, Ram Chand, disagrees with him.

The bridge party takes place in the garden outside the club, but it is not a success. The English and the Indians stay apart from each other as much as possible. The Collector assumes that the Indians are present because they want some specific favor from him. Mrs. Turton can barely deign to shake hands with an Indian, but Mrs. Moore and Adela are eager to meet the Indian ladies. The Indian ladies are nervous and retiring. They try to be friendly, but the conversation is halting and awkward. Mrs. Moore asks one of the women, Mrs. Bhattacharya, if she and Adela might visit her and her husband some day. After a fair amount of cross-cultural misunderstanding, a visit is arranged for the next Thursday.

The Collector, who believes that a bridge party such as this does accomplish some good, does his duty and mixes with the Indian gentlemen for a while, before retiring to the English side of the lawn. He leaves varying impressions, from favorable to cynical, among the Indians. Cyril Fielding, an Englishman who teaches at the English-run Government College, makes a much better impression because he is spontaneously friendly to the Indians and does not share the prejudices of his fellow countrymen. He invites Mrs. Moore and Adela to tea, where they will be able to meet Indians in a more informal setting. After the party is over Ronny talks to his mother regarding his concern that Adela should fit in (she obviously does not), and he explains his practical approach to the question of how to rule India. He is simply there to do his job; it is not necessary for him to try to be pleasant to the Indians. Mrs. Moore disagrees, justifying her view with reference to her religious beliefs. She also wonders, to herself, whether Ronny and Adela will become engaged to be married, since that was really the reason she had brought Adela to India.

The following morning there is a quarrel between Aziz and Major Callendar about why Aziz did not arrive promptly when summoned. Some days after this, Aziz decides not to go to a party given by the Collector, because it is the anniversary of his wife's death. Dr. Panna Lal, Aziz's colleague, goes to the party without him. After tea, Aziz visits Hamidullah, but finds he is out at the party. Aziz borrows his pony and tries his hand at playing polo. He teams up with a young English soldier who happens also to be practicing, and each gains some respect for the other. Dr. Lal arrives and complains to Aziz. Lal had called on Aziz to go to the party with him, but Aziz had been out. Aziz gives a lame excuse, which does not satisfy Lal. Irritated, Aziz deliberately rides his horse too close to Lal's horse Dapple, and Dapple bolts. When Aziz gets home, he is pleased to find an invitation from Fielding to come to tea the day after tomorrow.

After Chapters 2 and 3 have shown the Indians and the English in their separate domains, chapter 5 shows them together, at the bridge party. Given what has been presented so far about how the two races regard each other, it is no surprise that the bridge party is a failure. There is little overt hostility (except on the part of Mrs. Turton), but the English exhibit a kind of benign contempt, and a failure to understand cultural differences.

Forster also uses the bridge party as a vehicle for social satire. This can be seen for example in his portrayal of Mrs. Turton, the "great lady" who will not put herself out for the bridge party because she is saving herself "for some vague future occasion when a high official might come along and tax her social strength." There is more social satire, indeed high comedy, in the encounter between Mrs. Moore, Adela and the Indian ladies. Here again there are cultural misunderstandings, especially in the incident in which Mrs. Bhattacharya, at Mrs. Moore's inquiry, invites Mrs. Moore and Adela to tea. Mrs. Bhattacharya accepts Mrs. Moore's suggestion of Thursday, but sees no need to suggest a time: "Her gesture implied that she had known, since Thursdays began, that English ladies would come to see her on one of them, and so always stayed in." Lying behind the satire is the perception that the English and the Indians have different attitudes to time. The English are punctual, always running to a schedule, whereas the Indians have a more relaxed attitude and are more willing to take things as they come, not feeling they have to impose their will on events.

These chapters are also used to further develop the two English characters who do not fit into the closed, prejudiced world of the English Club that never questions its own rightness. These are Adela, with her insistence on meeting real Indians and finding the real India (as if there was such a thing), and Fielding, who simply does not share the assumption of superiority that the other English characters possess. Mrs. Moore is also an outsider. She and Adela have not been in India long enough to acquire the habits of thought that dominate the other English people. These attitudes are well illustrated in Ronny, who has quickly adopted the usual colonial stance, even though he has not been in his position as City Magistrate for long.


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