Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Passage to India

Thanks to the Maharani for hosting a marvelous BC last month, and a full house to boot (no surprise, given the culinary expectations!). We dove right into the theme with samosas and two kinds of chutney for dipping, followed by the Maharani's family recipe for chicken curry, saag paneer, naan-- plus, some sort of gluten-free options (how trendy that will seem by next year) and it was all lish! (And re-created last week in Sun Valley--still lish!) Then, thanks to a minor scheduling snafu, we feasted on two kinds of dessert, never a bad thing... cheesecake and homemade ginger cookies.  So excited for another feast tomorrow.

A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster, is such a venerable classic that El Jefe almost-- with an emphasis on "almost"-- hesitates to post a rating. But in the interest of not pulling a J.P., let's fess up and admit that the book scored a 6. Cringe! In a truly surprising display of cultural disloyalty, the Maharani led the charge with a "5," soon to be followed by a cascade of other "5s" by Ms. K., Logan's Run, and Red. El Jefe and the Doctor (rarely do they break ranks) salvaged a bit of dignity for Mr. Forster's masterpiece by bringing the rating up a notch. Lying at the heart of these lackluster numbers is the simple truth that A Passage to India was written in another time and place, with the pacing and languor of another time and place. It just couldn't keep readers' interest in (so cliche El Jefe can barely type) "today's fast paced world," where attention spans are short(er), there are a lot of entertaining books to choose from (funny we can't seem to find any lately) and people expect more easily accessible content. This book took patience. You had to suspend your skepticism and initial boredom and just roll with it. Very hard to do when, 150 pages in, still nothing has happened, it's unclear who the main characters are, and the whole thing is just, well, all narrative and no plot. Yet clearly this novel would not have found a place in the pantheon of literature if that were the end of it. The alternative viewpoint is that this is a poignant, colorful and beautifully-rendered story about nothing less than humanity itself. Yes, it portrays Anglo-India in a particular moment in history, yes it provides an insider's view on another culture, but beyond (or maybe underneath) all that, this was a story about individuals striving to figure out their existence relative to each other. It's too bad the Maharani's mom couldn't be there, as it would have been interesting to get her take on Forster's portrayal of English colonization and, as was pointed out, its lasting effects on Indian culture and behavior (such as a tendency to be overly deferential or purposefully simplistic). We saw some of these traits in Aziz, who alternatively came across as inadvertently bumbling and intentionally deceitful (such as inviting people to his home when he had no intention of hosting them, or telling lies regarding things he knew weren't true just because he wished they were). But overall, the group thought Aziz was a worthy character and El Jefe would defend the worthiness of this book as well, despite the poor rating. Patience, dear readers!  

Our next meeting is, ahem, later today at Chez Fox. Until next time, read early and often. xoej

 Movie adaptation directed by David Lean (1984), L to R: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft (a.k.a. Esmiss Esmoor), James Fox

 The Marabar Caves

This is what we're used to nowadays

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