E M Forster’s A Passage To India and the unrequited love at its beating heart

Arctic Summer is a fictionalised biography of Forster and it will, hopefully, help rekindle an interest in his writings: Outlook India

Arctic-SummerThe idea of A Passage to India was inspired by an aristocratic young Ind­ian student at Oxford, Syed Ross Masood, whom Forster tutored in Latin. It was the charming and exotic Ross who, through his conversations, had fired his imagination, and planted in his mind the thought of writing a novel on the dichotomies of the Raj, the collision between the angularities of the English and the emotionalities of India. But having begun the novel, Forster soon found that it had dried up inside him. Central to this block, Galgut suggests, was an unrequited love: Forster, who was gay, had fallen deeply in love with Ross, who responded with friendship and caring, but was unable to offer him erotic love.

Forster followed Ross to India, then spent a few years in Egypt, where he had an affair with a tram conductor. He then made a second trip to India, where he worked as secretary to a minor maharaja, explored the country, caught up with Ross once again, and, incidentally, had an affair with Kanayya, a local barber. Somewhere along the way, something happened in Forster’s interior life—some kind of falling into place—and, with that, after all those many dry years, his novel about English angularities (read Forster) versus  Indian emotionalities (read Ross) began to reflow. Parallel to this deeply personal divide, of course, was the bitter racial and political divide of 1920s India, which Forster experienced up close.

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