Aziz did not go to the Bridge Party, but instead he dealt with several surgical cases. It was the anniversary of his wife's death; they married before they had met and he did not love her at first, but that changed after the birth of their first child. He feels that he will never get over the death of his first wife. Dr. Panna Lal returns from the Bridge Party to see Aziz and offers a paltry excuse for why he did not attend. Aziz worries that he offended the Collector by absenting himself from the party. When Aziz returns home he finds an invitation from Mr. Fielding to tea, which revives his spirits.
Forster uses this chapter to give more biographical information about Dr. Aziz that illustrates the differences between western European and Indian culture. This chapter serves as a reminder that the differences between east and west are a constant preoccupation for Dr. Aziz, who adopts some western traditions while eschewing others. Forster also demonstrates Aziz's concern that he has offended his English superiors by not attending the Bridge Party, showing once again how Aziz wishes to please the ruling Anglo-Indians.
Forster portrays Dr. Aziz as a person who is prone to bouts of depression and anxiety. His mood can shift suddenly and violently from morose to elated based on external circumstances. One detail that Forster mentions in this chapter will be significant later: the photograph of Dr. Aziz's wife will be an important object in the novel in terms of the plot at two different points in the story.
Mr. Fielding arrived in India late in his life, when he had already passed forty, and was by that time a hard-bitten, good-tempered fellow with a great enthusiasm for education. He has no racial feelings, because he had matured in a different atmosphere where the herd instinct did not flourish. The wives of the English officers dislike Fielding for his liberal racial views, and Fielding discovers that it is possible to keep company with both Indians and Englishmen, but to keep company with English women he must drop Indians. Aziz arrives at Fielding's house for tea as Fielding is dressing after a bath; since Fielding cannot see him, Aziz makes Fielding guess what he looks like. Aziz offers Fielding his collar stud, for he has lost his. When Fielding asks why people wear collars at all, Aziz responds that he wears them to pass the Police, who take little notice of Indians in English dress. Fielding tells Aziz that they will meet with Mrs. Moore and Adela, as well as Professor Narayan Godbole, the Deccani Brahman. Mrs. Moore tells Mr. Fielding that Mrs. Bhattacharya was to send a carriage for her this morning, but did not, and worries that she offended her. Fielding, Aziz, Mrs. Moore and Adela discuss mysteries. Mrs. Moore claims she likes mysteries but hates muddles, but Mr. Fielding claims that a mystery is a muddle, and that India itself is a muddle. Godbole arrives, a polite and enigmatic yet eloquent man, elderly and wizened. His whole appearance suggests harmony, as if he has reconciled the products of East and West, mental as well as physical. They discuss how one can get mangoes in England now, and Fielding remarks that India can be made in England just as England is now made in India. They discuss the Marabar Caves, and Fielding takes Mrs. Moore to see the college. Ronny arrives, annoyed to see Adela with Aziz and Godbole. Ronny tells Fielding that he doesn't like to see an English girl left smoking with two Indians, but he reminds him that Adela made the decision herself.
Mr. Fielding is in many respects the key character in A Passage to India, for it is he who can bridge the gap between the English and the Indians. He is the one character that has some sense of social autonomy, yet this autonomy comes at a price; he is in some ways an outsider among the English, particularly among the women. Forster again reminds the reader that it is the Englishwomen who are most likely to shun him for his association with Indians. This also reinforces the theme that belonging to a racial category in India comes at a price. For Fielding to have the ability to move among the races in India, he must sacrifice certain privileges that are normally afforded the English. Fielding does not symbolize any particular race or social group in India, thus will come to stand for different ideas of liberalism and justice.
Forster examines both the state of India and of Anglo-Indian relations in this chapter. For all of the characters, India is in some sense a muddle, for it uneasily combines eastern and western traditions without fully integrating them. As Aziz shows with his mention of police harassment of Indians in traditional dress, the combination of eastern and western can be imposed on India unwillingly rather than chosen independently. When they discuss how India can be made in England as England has been made in India, Fielding's remark reveals the true intention of the colonial regime: they intend to replicate England on Indian soil, unaware that all traditions will not transfer. However, Professor Godbole demonstrates that an integration of eastern and western society may occur successfully. Forster claims that he has reconciled the products of East and West, yet this conciliation of the two traditions is primarily an internal phenomena. Professor Godbole symbolizes the harmony that may occur in India.
For Adela, Ronny's self-complacency and lack of subtlety grow more vivid in India than in England. Adela tells Ronny that Fielding, Aziz and Godbole are planning a picnic at the Marabar Caves for her and Mrs. Moore. Ronny mocks Aziz for missing his collar stud, claiming that it is typical of the Indian inattention to detail. Adela decides that she will not marry Ronny, who is hurt by the news but tells her that they were never bound to marry in the first place. She feels ashamed at his decency, and they decide that they shall remain friends. Ronny suggests a car trip to see Chandrapore, and the Nawab Bahadur offers to take them. There is a slight accident, as the car swerves into a tree near an embankment. Adela thinks that they ran into an animal, perhaps a hyena or a buffalo. When Miss Derek finds them, she offers to drive all of them back into town except for Mr. Harris, the Eurasian chauffeur. The Nawab Bahadur scolds Miss Derek for her behavior. Adela tells Ronny that she takes back what she told him about marriage. Ronny apologizes to his mother for his behavior at Mr. Fielding's house. Mrs. Moore is now tired of India and wishes only for her passage back to England. Ronny reminds her that she has dealt with three sets of Indians today, and all three have let her down, but Mrs. Moore claims that she likes Aziz. The Nawab Bahadur thinks that the accident was caused by a ghost, for several years before he was in a car accident in which he killed a drunken man.
Forster sets Ronny Heaslop as symbolic of the detrimental effects of English colonialism on India. He is not subtle about his contempt for the Indians whom he considers inferior, even when that supposed inferiority has no actual basis. His criticism of Aziz is an important point; he mocks him for missing the collar stud, when in fact it was Fielding who was missing the stud and Aziz who kindly lent him his own. This is the most prominent example of irony that Forster employs. Ronny criticizes Aziz for inattention to detail while he himself is inattentive to the fact that Aziz is missing his collar stud because Fielding, an Englishman, was missing his own. Forster creates several scenes that complement this in which Ronny misinterprets the actions of the Indians, assuming the worst when there are important mitigating factors. Although Ronny can presumably claim that three different groups of Indians disappointed Mrs. Moore that day, none of these are clear-cut cases.
Adela Quested's rejection of Ronny can be seen partially as a rejection of his racial values. She even notes that his character flaws are more apparent now than when they met in England, indicating that India has contributed to Ronny's colonialist arrogance and sense of superiority. However, although her decision is sensible, Adela is neither decisive nor altogether clearheaded. She rejects Ronny, then later revokes what she said with little motivation for either event. Forster indicates that Adela is in some ways unformed, with few unwavering characteristics. It is this malleable quality that allows her to open up to Indian society, yet it will also subject her to an impending sense of indecision and confusion.
The car accident involving the Nawab Bahadur is yet another example of how the British officials and their wives mistreat Indians, yet it is significant for yet another reason. The actual events of the accident are unclear, and explanations for it range from the mundane to the supernatural. This foreshadows later events in the novel in which different characters approach an ambiguous event from different perspectives, and evokes what is perhaps the most important theme in A Passage to India: the difficulty of interpretation. In some cases, such as Ronny's critique of Aziz for missing the collar stud, a character fully misinterprets a situation, but the car wreck is an altogether different case, for a lack of information means that even the reader cannot accurately determine what actually occurred.
Aziz falls ill with fever, and Hamidullah discusses his illness with Syed Mohammed, the assistant engineer, and Mr. Haq, a police inspector. Rafi, the engineer's nephew, suggests that something suspicious occurred, for Godbole also fell sick after Fielding's party, but Hamidullah dismisses the idea. Mr. Fielding visits Aziz. They discuss Indian education, and Aziz asks if it is fair that an Englishman holds a teaching position when qualified Indians are available. Fielding cannot answer "England holds India for her own good," the only answer to a conversation of this type. Fielding instead says that he is delighted to be in India, and that is his only excuse for working there. He suggests chucking out any Englishman who does not appreciate being in India.
Since Mr. Fielding is the one character who can interact easily with both the English and the Indians, he occupies a distinct moral place in the novel. He is the character who can best articulate what must be done for India and voice Forster's own sentiments on the state of India. Mr. Fielding is receptive to Indian culture and to fair treatment of Indian citizens, but he is not an unequivocal patriot for immediate Indian liberation. He does not share the suspicions and cynicism that mark his Indian friends, who harbor a great distrust for any Englishman in India. Likewise, he will admit to himself that "England holds India for her own good," but is certainly no colonial apologist. Fielding instead ignores the broad issues surrounding English occupation of India to focus on personal experience and events. He suggests that at its base rulership of India requires the rulers to appreciate and adapt to Indian culture.
The discussion of possible conspiracies involving Aziz's invitation to Fielding's home illustrates how Indians are as susceptible to misinterpretation as the English. Their discussion provides an interesting juxtaposition with those of the English, for both groups speak of different cultures with suspicion and paranoia. This indicates that the Indians are prone to making the same mistakes as the English, even if they do not have the social and political power to enforce their particular errors.
Opposite Aziz's bungalow stands a large unfinished house belonging to two brothers. A squirrel hangs on it, seeming to be the only occupant of the house. More noises come from nearby animals. These animals make up the majority of the living creatures of India, yet do not care how India is governed.
Forster uses this chapter as a reminder of the atmosphere of India and its differences from Great Britain, yet also places the events of the novel in a larger perspective. Forster's contemporary India is much closer to nature than the industrialized England. His comments about the various animals who are the majority of India deflates the events of the novel, reminding the reader that so much remains unchanged whether England rules India or India has an independent government.
Aziz shows Fielding a picture of his wife, a custom uncommon in Islamic tradition. Aziz tells him that he believes in the purdah, but would have told his wife that Fielding is his brother and thus she would have seen him, just as Hamidullah and a small number of others had. Fielding wonders what kindness he offered to Aziz to have such kindness offered back to him. Aziz asks Fielding if he has any children, which he does not, and asks why he does not marry Miss Quested. He claims that she is a prig, a pathetic product of Western education who prattles on as if she were at a lecture. He tells him that Adela is engaged to the City Magistrate. Aziz then makes a derogatory comment about Miss Quested's small breasts. Aziz discovers that Fielding was warm-hearted and unconventional, but not wise, yet they are friends and brothers.
The friendship between Dr. Aziz and Mr. Fielding develops in the chapter, as Aziz confides in Mr. Fielding just as he would a close relative. When he shows Fielding the photograph of his wife, this is a significant development, for it means that Aziz considers Fielding to be like a brother. In Islamic tradition, only one very close to Aziz and his wife would be able to view her, and in all other circumstances she must remain covered. That Aziz shows Fielding the photograph shows the high regard in which he holds Fielding; this object is a symbol of their intimate friendship.
Forster uses this chapter to illustrate the insufficiencies of three of the novel's major characters. Fielding gives another view of Miss Quested, whom he considers a prig and a dilettante with only academic knowledge, while Aziz realizes Fielding's own intellectual limitations. Forster also shows one of Aziz's major character flaws. He is sexually condescending, disparaging Adela for her small breasts and unattractive appearance. Forster juxtaposes Aziz's criticism with Fielding's: the former dislikes her for her appearance, while the latter dislikes her because of her intellect. Forster thus demonstrates the limitations and insufficiencies of these three major characters that will prove significant throughout the novel, determining the course of action that each character takes.