Aziz gets slightly sick three days after the tea party. He pretends to be more ill than he actually is, and stays in bed musing about life and the nature of Indians. He longs to see Fielding again, but would be ashamed if Fielding were to see his shabby home. Aziz finds himself longing for a women, and he considers going to Calcutta to find a brothel. He knows that Major Callendar and the other Englishmen would be horrified by this idea, as they like to pretend that men are “made of ice.”
Aziz contemplates the rigid officiality of the British, who would never dare bring up sexuality in “polite society.” We will later see that this kind of repression leads to hypocrisy, which Forster describes as the Englishman’s special curse or “demon.”
Aziz suddenly notices that his ceiling is covered with flies, and he calls in his servant Hassan to deal with them. Hassan is confused and ineffective, but goes off to try and solve the problem. Aziz goes on thinking about women. He is very practical concerning sex, but he knows that he mustn’t cause a scandal with the English or bring shame to his children. Unlike an Englishman, Aziz doesn’t consider the conventions of society as necessarily moral, but only as conventional. So he sees no problem with visiting a brothel – he just knows that he must do it secretly.
Forster draws an important distinction here—Aziz, an Indian, can recognize that society’s rules don’t encompass all of morality, whereas someone like Ronny, an Englishman of the “public school” mindset, holds social convention as the highest good and never questions them. The greatest sin for Ronny would then be stepping out of line with the crowd, not something objectively immoral.
Hamidullah enters Aziz’s house to inquire about his health. With him are Syed Mohammed (an engineer), Haq (a policeman), and Rafi, Syed Mohammed’s young nephew. Rafi says that Professor Godbole has also gotten sick after having tea with Fielding, and all the visitors briefly consider the possibility that Fielding poisoned them. They then grow suspicious that the sickness is cholera, and Mr. Haq says that “all illness proceeds from Hindus,” blaming Professor Godbole if an epidemic should break out.
Forster is generally less critical of the Indians than the British, but here he begins to show the divisions and prejudice that are still present in Indian society. Aziz and his upper-class Muslim friends look down on Hindus and use racist language similar to that which the English apply to all Indians.
Aziz grows sentimental hearing Hinduism criticized and Islam praised, and he interrupts the conversation to recite a poem. The beauty of the words makes all their squabbling seem petty, and for a moment the men feel that India is united as a Muslim country. Only Hamidullah has any understanding of poetry, but the other men are at least reminded of something larger and more beautiful than themselves.
Again Forster shows that emotion and imagination are present and important in Indian culture—no one would ever spontaneously recite poetry at the English club. Aziz’s initial dream of a united, Muslim India is naïve and unrealistic considering the vast and muddled country Forster has portrayed.
Hamidullah is on his way to a nationalist committee of Indian notables, which will meet later that day. The committee contains Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, a Jain, and a Native Christian. Hamidullah sadly reflects on the fact that the committee is only peaceful and constructive when they are disparaging the English. Hamidullah thinks nostalgically of his friendship with the Bannisters in England, where there was no need for politics. He is glad that his friend Aziz also takes no interest in politics, “which ruin the character and career, yet nothing can be achieved without them.”
Here Forster specifically addresses the many divisions within India itself. Hamidullah seems to deliver Forster’s view that England is still necessary as an outside force to hold India together, and that without British colonialism India would fall apart. Aziz is still living a privileged life and has no need for politics yet, as the politics of colonialism has not affected his life very strongly yet.
The visitors affectionately wish Aziz better health and announce that they are leaving, but they remain seated. Dr. Panna Lal arrives to check on Aziz. He is a Hindu, and is nervous about entering the room full of devout Muslims, but he is under Major Callendar’s orders. Dr. Lal dislikes Aziz, and recognizes that Aziz is exaggerating his illness when he takes Aziz’s temperature, but Lal decides to cover for his colleague in case he should want a day in bed himself in the future.
The division between Hindus and Muslims is immediately exhibited here, but so is the uniting force of British oppression—Dr. Lal hates Aziz and would like to report him, but he knows that they both have the same British superior, and so Lal allies himself with his enemy (Aziz) against the greater enemy (Callendar).
The men question Dr. Panna Lal about Professor Godbole’s condition, and he finally admits that it is nothing serious. The men then scold Rafi for spreading rumors of cholera. Ram Chand, Dr. Lal’s argumentative driver who came in with Dr. Lal, takes advantage of this to insult Syed Muhammed, who is Rafi’s uncle, and the two men soon start yelling at each other. Fielding enters the room unnoticed in the middle of the argument. When the Indian men realize he is there, everyone is ashamed.
The division and squabbling becomes clearly evident in this scene. Aziz and his educated Muslim friends stir up suspicions about Hindus, and then the Hindu Ram Chand insults the Muslims. Forster uses this scene as an example of what he imagines India would become without a British presence there.
Aziz is embarrassed of his company and his dirty room, but he also tries to make sure Rafi is still comfortable after being scolded. The men soon start talking familiarly with Fielding, and they discuss religion. They are shocked to hear that Fielding doesn’t believe in God. Hamidullah asks if there are many atheists in England, and Fielding admits that there are, and then goes on to say that morality has probably declined as a result. Hamidullah then asks why England is justified in ruling India, if England is the less moral country. Fielding admits that he is unsure if England is justified. He says that he personally is in India because he needed a job.
Once again Fielding appears as the only Englishman willing to speak familiarly with the Indians, and they are grateful for his friendliness. Fielding’s philosophy of “traveling light” doesn’t bother itself with justifying the British Raj, but only his own place within the system. This view is similar to Forster’s—Forster harshly criticizes colonialism, but doesn’t advocate its abolition. Instead he focuses on the power of personal relationships within the colonial system.
The Indians enjoy being familiar with Fielding, and Fielding is intoxicated with his own candor and honesty in speaking to them. He is unwilling to give the traditional answer that Englishmen always give – “England holds India for her good.” He is only willing to say that he is happy to be in India, however unfair that might be in the larger moral scheme of things. The Indians are shocked by Fielding’s frankness, even though they don’t disagree with him. They are used to saying something different from what they mean.
Forster restates his opinion about the Indian quality of focusing on the idea or emotion behind one’s words, rather than the words themselves. They are surprised that Fielding does not give the traditional English defense for colonialism, even though he clearly finds it a problematic system.
The group finally breaks up, as Dr. Panna Lal has other appointments. All the visitors file out. Fielding is slightly disappointed by his visit, and he is reminded of how the Englishmen at the club view him – that he is “making himself cheap” by associating with Indians as friends.
Fielding becomes more of a major character now, and again we see him as an Englishman who stands apart from the crowd, although the price of this is the loss of his compatriots’ respect.