A Passage to India CHAPTER XI

Although the Indians had driven off, and Fielding could see his horse standing in a small shed in the corner of the compound, no one troubled to bring it to him. He started to get it himself, but was stopped by a call from the house. Aziz was sitting up in bed, looking dishevelled and sad. “Here’s your home,” he said sardonically. “Here’s the celebrated hospitality of the East. Look at the flies. Look at the chunam coming off the walls. Isn’t it jolly? Now I suppose you want to be off, having seen an Oriental interior.”

“Anyhow, you want to rest.”

“I can rest the whole day, thanks to worthy Dr. Lal. Major Callendar’s spy, I suppose you know, but this time it didn’t work. I am allowed to have a slight temperature.”

“Callendar doesn’t trust anyone, English or Indian: that’s his character, and I wish you weren’t under him; but you are, and that’s that.”

“Before you go, for you are evidently in a great hurry, will you please unlock that drawer? Do you see a piece of brown paper at the top?”


“Open it.”

“Who is this?”

“She was my wife. You are the first Englishman she has ever come before. Now put her photograph away.”

He was astonished, as a traveller who suddenly sees, between the stones of the desert, flowers. The flowers have been there all the time, but suddenly he sees them. He tried to look at the photograph, but in itself it was just a woman in a sari, facing the world. He muttered, “Really, I don’t know why you pay me this great compliment, Aziz, but I do appreciate it.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, she was not a highly educated woman or even beautiful, but put it away. You would have seen her, so why should you not see her photograph?”

“You would have allowed me to see her?”

“Why not? I believe in the purdah, but I should have told her you were my brother, and she would have seen you. Hamidullah saw her, and several others.”

“Did she think they were your brothers?”

“Of course not, but the word exists and is convenient. All men are my brothers, and as soon as one behaves as such he may see my wife.”

“And when the whole world behaves as such, there will be no more purdah?”

“It is because you can say and feel such a remark as that, that I show you the photograph,” said Aziz gravely.

“It is beyond the power of most men. It is because you behave well while I behave badly that I show it you. I never expected you to come back just now when I called you. I thought, ‘He has certainly done with me; I have insulted him.’ Mr. Fielding, no one can ever realize how much kindness we Indians need, we do not even realize it ourselves. But we know when it has been given. We do not forget, though we may seem to. Kindness, more kindness, and even after that more kindness. I assure you it is the only hope.” His voice seemed to arise from a dream. Altering it, yet still deep below his normal surface, he said, “We can’t build up India except on what we feel. What is the use of all these reforms, and Conciliation Committees for Mohurram, and shall we cut the tazia short or shall we carry it another route, and Councils of Notables and official parties where the English sneer at our skins?”

“It’s beginning at the wrong end, isn’t it? I know, but institutions and the governments don’t.” He looked again at the photograph. The lady faced the world at her husband’s wish and her own, but how bewildering she found it, the echoing contradictory world!

“Put her away, she is of no importance, she is dead,” said Aziz gently. “I showed her to you because I have nothing else to show. You may look round the whole of my bungalow now, and empty everything. I have no other secrets, my three children live away with their grandmamma, and that is all.”

Fielding sat down by the bed, flattered at the trust reposed in him, yet rather sad. He felt old. He wished that he too could be carried away on waves of emotion. The next time they met, Aziz might be cautious and standoffish. He realized this, and it made him sad that he should realize it. Kindness, kindness, and more kindness—yes, that he might supply, but was that really all that the queer nation needed? Did it not also demand an occasional intoxication of the blood? What had he done to deserve this outburst of confidence, and what hostage could he give in exchange? He looked back at his own life. What a poor crop of secrets it had produced! There were things in it that he had shown to no one, but they were so uninteresting, it wasn’t worth while lifting a purdah on their account. He’d been in love, engaged to be married, lady broke it off, memories of her and thoughts about her had kept him from other women for a time; then indulgence, followed by repentance and equilibrium. Meagre really except the equilibrium, and Aziz didn’t want to have that confided to him—he would have called it “everything ranged coldly on shelves.”

“I shall not really be intimate with this fellow,” Fielding thought, and then “nor with anyone.” That was the corollary. And he had to confess that he really didn’t mind, that he was content to help people, and like them as long as they didn’t object, and if they objected pass on serenely. Experience can do much, and all that he had learnt in England and Europe was an assistance to him, and helped him towards clarity, but clarity prevented him from experiencing something else.

“How did you like the two ladies you met last Thursday?” he asked.

Aziz shook his head distastefully. The question reminded him of his rash remark about the Marabar Caves.

“How do you like Englishwomen generally?”

“Hamidullah liked them in England. Here we never look at them. Oh no, much too careful. Let’s talk of something else.”

“Hamidullah’s right: they are much nicer in England. There’s something that doesn’t suit them out here.”

Aziz after another silence said, “Why are you not married?”

Fielding was pleased that he had asked. “Because I have more or less come through without it,” he replied.

“I was thinking of telling you a little about myself some day if I can make it interesting enough. The lady I liked wouldn’t marry me—that is the main point, but that’s fifteen years ago and now means nothing.”

“But you haven’t children.”


“Excuse the following question: have you any illegitimate children?”

“No. I’d willingly tell you if I had.”

“Then your name will entirely die out.”

“It must.”

“Well.” He shook his head. “This indifference is what the Oriental will never understand.”

“I don’t care for children.”

“Caring has nothing to do with it,” he said impatiently.

“I don’t feel their absence, I don’t want them weeping around my death-bed and being polite about me afterwards, which I believe is the general notion. I’d far rather leave a thought behind me than a child. Other people can have children. No obligation, with England getting so chock-a-block and overrunning India for jobs.”

“Why don’t you marry Miss Quested?”

“Good God! why, the girl’s a prig.”

“Prig, prig? Kindly explain. Isn’t that a bad word?”

“Oh, I don’t know her, but she struck me as one of the more pathetic products of Western education. She depresses me.”

“But prig, Mr. Fielding? How’s that?”

“She goes on and on as if she’s at a lecture—trying ever so hard to understand India and life, and occasionally taking a note.”

“I thought her so nice and sincere.”

“So she probably is,” said Fielding, ashamed of his roughness: any suggestion that he should marry always does produce overstatements on the part of the bachelor, and a mental breeze. “But I can’t marry her if I wanted to, for she has just become engaged to the City Magistrate.”

“Has she indeed? I am so glad!” he exclaimed with relief, for this exempted him from the Marabar expedition: he would scarcely be expected to entertain regular Anglo-Indians.

“It’s the old mother’s doing. She was afraid her dear boy would choose for himself, so she brought out the girl on purpose, and flung them together until it happened.”

“Mrs. Moore did not mention that to me among her plans.”

“I may have got it wrong—I’m out of club gossip. But anyhow they’re engaged to be married.”

“Yes, you’re out of it, my poor chap,” he smiled. “No Miss Quested for Mr. Fielding. However, she was not beautiful. She has practically no breasts, if you come to think of it.”

He smiled too, but found a touch of bad taste in the reference to a lady’s breasts.

“For the City Magistrate they shall be sufficient perhaps, and he for her. For you I shall arrange a lady with breasts like mangoes. . . .”

“No, you won’t.”

“I will not really, and besides your position makes it dangerous for you.” His mind had slipped from matrimony to Calcutta. His face grew grave. Fancy if he had persuaded the Principal to accompany him there, and then got him into trouble! And abruptly he took up a new attitude towards his friend, the attitude of the protector who knows the dangers of India and is admonitory. “You can’t be too careful in every way, Mr. Fielding; whatever you say or do in this damned country there is always some envious fellow on the look-out. You may be surprised to know that there were at least three spies sitting here when you came to enquire. I was really a good deal upset that you talked in that fashion about God. They will certainly report it.”

“To whom?”

“That’s all very well, but you spoke against morality also, and you said you had come to take other people’s jobs. All that was very unwise. This is an awful place for scandal. Why, actually one of your own pupils was listening.”

“Thanks for telling me that; yes, I must try and be more careful. If I’m interested, I’m apt to forget myself. Still, it doesn’t do real harm.”

“But speaking out may get you into trouble.”

“It’s often done so in the past.”

“There, listen to that! But the end of it might be that you lost your job.”

“If I do, I do. I shall survive it. I travel light.”

“Travel light! You are a most extraordinary race,” said Aziz, turning away as if he were going to sleep, and immediately turning back again. “Is it your climate, or what?”

“Plenty of Indians travel light too—saddhus and such. It’s one of the things I admire about your country. Any man can travel light until he has a wife or children. That’s part of my case against marriage. I’m a holy man minus the holiness. Hand that on to your three spies, and tell them to put it in their pipes.”

Aziz was charmed and interested, and turned the new idea over in his mind. So this was why Mr. Fielding and a few others were so fearless! They had nothing to lose. But he himself was rooted in society and Islam. He belonged to a tradition which bound him, and he had brought children into the world, the society of the future. Though he lived so vaguely in this flimsy bungalow, nevertheless he was placed, placed.

“I can’t be sacked from my job, because my job’s Education. I believe in teaching people to be individuals, and to understand other individuals. It’s the only thing I do believe in. At Government College, I mix it up with trigonometry, and so on. When I’m a saddhu, I shall mix it up with something else.”

He concluded his manifesto, and both were silent. The eye-flies became worse than ever and danced close up to their pupils, or crawled into their ears. Fielding hit about wildly. The exercise made him hot, and he got up to go.

“You might tell your servant to bring my horse. He doesn’t seem to appreciate my Urdu.”

“I know. I gave him orders not to. Such are the tricks we play on unfortunate Englishmen. Poor Mr. Fielding! But I will release you now. Oh dear! With the exception of yourself and Hamidullah, I have no one to talk to in this place. You like Hamidullah, don’t you?”

“Very much.”

“Do you promise to come at once to us when you are in trouble?”

“I never can be in trouble.”

“There goes a queer chap, I trust he won’t come to grief,” thought Aziz, left alone. His period of admiration was over, and he reacted towards patronage. It was difficult for him to remain in awe of anyone who played with all his cards on the table. Fielding, he discovered on closer acquaintance, was truly warm-hearted and unconventional, but not what can be called wise. That frankness of speech in the presence of Ram Chand, Rafi and Co. was dangerous and inelegant. It served no useful end.

But they were friends, brothers. That part was settled, their compact had been subscribed by the photograph, they trusted one another, affection had triumphed for once in a way. He dropped off to sleep amid the happier memories of the last two hours—poetry of Ghalib, female grace, good old Hamidullah, good Fielding, his honoured wife and dear boys. He passed into a region where these joys had no enemies but bloomed harmoniously in an eternal garden, or ran down watershoots of ribbed marble, or rose into domes whereunder were inscribed, black against white, the ninety-nine attributes of God.