Summary: Chapter 36

At sundown that day, Aziz remembers that he promised to send ointment over to the guesthouse to treat Fielding’s brother‑in‑law’s bee stings. Aziz procures some of Mohammed Latif’s ointment and decides to take it over himself, as an excuse for a ride.

Outside, the Procession of the God is about to begin. The two claimants to the Rajah’s throne, sensing that the Rajah might be dead, have arrived at the palace, but they make no moves toward the throne while the festival continues. Aziz runs into Godbole on the street and tells the professor the news about Fielding’s wife. Godbole, however, has known all along that Fielding married Stella Moore, not Adela Quested. Aziz refrains from getting angry with Godbole out of respect for the festival time.

Riding toward the guesthouse, Aziz becomes cynical when he notices the English visitors out in the guesthouse boat watching the Hindu festival from afar. Aziz resents this sightseeing, which he views as really a form of ruling or patrolling India. Aziz rides on to the guesthouse, which is guarded only by a sleeping sentry. He lets himself in and snoops around the rooms, finally finding and reading a letter from Heaslop to Fielding and a letter from Adela to Stella. Aziz resents the intimate tone of the letters.

Frustrated, Aziz strikes the piano in front of him. Hearing the noise, Ralph Moore comes in, startled. Aziz recovers from his surprise and briskly asks to see the Englishman’s bee stings. Ralph retreats from Aziz, saying that Aziz’s hands are unkind. Ralph asks why Aziz is treating him and the other English visitors so cruelly. Aziz mentions Adela, but the procession outside nears the jail, and an outburst of sorrow from the crowd distracts them both.

Aziz decides to leave and shakes Ralph’s hand absentmindedly. Aziz suddenly senses that Ralph is no longer afraid of him. Aziz asks Ralph if he can always tell when a stranger is his friend. Ralph says yes, he can. Aziz pronounces Ralph an Oriental, then shivers, remembering that he once said those exact words to Mrs. Moore in the mosque. Aziz is wary that a cycle is beginning again—the friendship of the mosque, followed by the horror of the caves. Aziz impulsively offers to take Ralph out on the water for a few minutes.

Once on the water, Aziz’s old hospitality returns, and he begins to speak colorfully about the Hindu celebration. Ralph points out what looks like the Rajah floating on the water. Aziz admits that he does not know what it is, though he suspects it is the image of the old Rajah, which can be seen from only one point on the water. Aziz suddenly feels more like the visitor than the guide.

Ralph asks Aziz to row to a vantage point closer to the Procession of the God, in which rockets and guns are being shot off. Aziz is afraid of disturbing the celebration, and indeed, Godbole catches sight of them and begins to wave his arms wildly. Suddenly, Aziz’s boat collides with Fielding’s boat. Stella throws herself toward Fielding, and then forward toward Aziz. All four of them fall into the warm, shallow water, just as the Hindu festival, in the water nearby, reaches its climax. Their bodies, the props of the Hindu ceremony, Ronny’s and Adela’s letters, and the oars all swirl together.

Summary: Chapter 37

After the boating accident, Aziz and Fielding suddenly revert to their old friendship. They go for a ride in the jungles around Mau before Fielding’s departure. They know they will never see each other again.

During the ride, Aziz gives Fielding a letter for Adela, thanking her for her brave action at the trial. Fielding questions Aziz about Hinduism, reluctantly admitting that Stella and Ralph appear strangely drawn to the religion and to Mau. Aziz, impatient with talk of Hinduism, changes the subject to politics. Aziz and Fielding differ more politically than ever before, though they speak about their opinions with trust. Fielding now believes that the Empire is necessary, and he cares less about how polite it is. Aziz, however, hates the Empire. He predicts that India will become its own nation in the next generation, at which time he and Fielding might finally be friends. The two men embrace, and Fielding asks why they cannot be friends now, as they both seem to want it. But the land and sky themselves seem to arise between Fielding and Aziz, declaring, “No, not yet.”

Analysis: Chapters 36 & 37

Aziz’s interaction with Ralph Moore provides the catalyst for Aziz and Fielding to restore their old friendship. Throughout their interaction, the two men display a remarkable level of intuition regarding the sentiment and intent behind each other’s words. Aziz is initially callous and dismissive of Ralph, but then Ralph confronts this coldness by accusing Aziz of having unkind hands. Ralph senses that Aziz’s resentment is payback for the Indian’s own mistreatment at the hands of the English. Ralph’s intuition surprises Aziz and reminds him of Mrs. Moore. When Aziz lets his guard down a moment later, Ralph senses that Aziz is relenting. Aziz knows that Ralph is sympathetic to him, sensitive and aware of his feelings much as Mrs. Moore was. Indeed, in an uncanny moment, Aziz uses the same words he used toward Mrs. Moore in the mosque, pronouncing Ralph an Oriental. Aziz is aware that his words start a cycle over again, and he is wary of the fear and accusation that may again follow this initial friendliness. Yet Forster presents this cycle as potentially a new version of the old cycle, an improvement that will promote greater understanding and not necessarily end in disaster. Ralph Moore is not a carbon copy of Mrs. Moore, but a younger generation; Aziz lets his guard down not out of naïve goodwill, but conscious choice.

Almost as remarkable as the initial conciliation between Aziz and Ralph Moore is their sightseeing boat trip. Aziz initially expresses bitterness toward Fielding and his wife as typical English people who seek to rule India under the guise of exploring India. Yet just several minutes later, Aziz, in characteristically unpredictable fashion, invites Ralph to sightsee under his guidance, just as he invited Mrs. Moore and Adela to see the Marabar Caves under his guidance. In both cases, Aziz knows little about the territory he shows his visitors. The important difference between Mau and Marabar, however, is that Ralph is an active sightseer: he spots the mysterious and elusive image of the old Rajah—an image that Aziz himself has never seen before. For once, Aziz drops his guise of all-knowing guide, allowing himself to be a visitor and spectator in his own country. In this depiction Forster suggests that the only sound approach to India is for both the English and Indians to be active lookers and to accept that no single person owns the knowledge of the land.

While the Hindu festival of Krishna serves as one backdrop to Part 3, the elderly Rajah’s death serves as the secondary backdrop. As the Rajah’s personal physician, Aziz knows of the leader’s death; though Aziz attempts to keep it secret until after the festival, the rest of the royalty of Mau has begun to suspect it. The beginning of Chapter 36 informs us that the two claimants to the throne have gathered at the palace but will make no move toward the throne until the festival is over. The Rajah’s death thus suggests a general turning point, a changing of rulers. The patient and selfless approach of the two claimants to the throne suggest that politics is most humane when subordinated to a benevolent, religious worldview. In the context of Aziz and Fielding’s discussion of India’s future, the changing of rulers in Mau portends a general change in India and suggests an ideal means of change.

If Forster is critical of the British in Part 1 and the first half of Part 2, and critical of Indians in the second half of Part 2, in Part 3 he suggests that Hinduism holds the key by which all inhabitants of India might improve themselves and their country. In Part 3, the larger concern of A Passage to India, centering on India’s dilemma and future, moves beyond the personal level on which the novel’s drama has played out—the friendship between Fielding and Aziz. For we see in Chapter 37 that neither Fielding nor Aziz has any patience for Hinduism. Fielding is still an atheist, and he resents the mysticism of his wife and brother-in-law. Aziz, though now more affectionate with Hindus, still ignores their practices and considers them silly and provincial. Stella and Ralph Moore, like their mother before them, are the characters most open to and interested in Hinduism. Through these two, the pain of Marabar is erased and potentially replaced by a collective vision. First, Ralph Moore connects with Aziz, and then Stella Moore—through her lunge towards him during the boating accident—symbolically reaches out to Aziz as well. It is through the Moores, and not Aziz and Fielding, that Forster expresses optimism in Part 3.

Accordingly, the novel’s final scene—featuring only Aziz and Fielding—betrays a realistic pessimism that is not present in the rest of Part 3. Aziz and Fielding are happily back to their old selves, but these old selves suffer from drawbacks, new and old. Fielding has become more of a typical Englishman, more supportive of the British Empire than respectful of individual interactions. Likewise, Aziz’s affectionate side has given way somewhat to a hardened pride in himself and his country.

The final message of A Passage to India is that though Aziz and Fielding want to be friends, both their personal histories and historical circumstances—as embodied by the Indian landscape—prevent their friendship. Forster’s message has shifted throughout the course of the novel. At the start of the novel, characters such as Fielding and Aziz are evidence of Forster’s faith in liberal humanism—the belief that with goodwill, intelligence, and respect, all individuals can connect and make a successful world. Yet here in the final scenes, the natural landscape of India itself seems to rise up and divide Aziz and Fielding from each other. Forster suggests that though men may be well intentioned, outside circumstances such as cultural difference, natural environment, and the interference of others can conspire to prevent their union. The final lines are pessimistic in this regard, but Forster does ultimately leave open the possibility that cross-cultural friendship, though elusive at the present moment, may be viable in the future. He implies that the combination of a respect for people as individuals and a belief in sameness and the unity of man—though sometimes a fearful notion, as Mrs. Moore has seen in the Marabar Caves—is the path most likely to lead to the openness and understanding that Aziz and Fielding seek.