E. M. Forster dissects social attitudes prevalent in the Raj during the glory days of Empire. Not the liberal attitudes of London, but the social attitudes present in far-flung colonial outposts where the iron fist must prevail. Adela Quested journeys to India to marry the magistrate of a small Indian town, a certain Ronny Heaslop. She wonders what it would be like to see the real India and Indians but the British are adamant about the colour bar, refusing to mix with the Indians socially unless absolutely necessary. Adela, of course, refuses to obey and visits the Marabar caves, a tourist attraction just outside the city. A panic attack ensues and the Indian guide, Dr. Aziz is accused of raping the Englishwoman.
Dr. Aziz is eventually acquitted but is embittered by the automatic assumption of guilt on his behalf. Adela returns to England in shame and the British try to bury the incident as a shameful episode best forgotten quickly. Forster’s prose is perfect in creating the atmosphere that surrounds such a situation. With a minimum of fuss and without a wasted word, he conveys emotions precisely and meaningfully with the right word in the right place. Contrast “muddle” with “mess”, for example and you have a glimpse of the precision that marks Forster’s oeuvre.
All in all, a great book, one that should be enjoyed thoroughly.