In EM Forster’s dramatic novel, set in an India which is still under British rule, young English girl Adela Quested has accused her Indian guide Dr. Aziz of molesting her in the Marabar Caves. The whole of Anglo-Indian society is gripped by the case, with the British contingent desperate for Aziz to be found guilty and punished. As we join the story, we are in the middle of the fevered court case when Adela starts to admit to doubts about what may have happened…
“You went alone into one of those caves?”
“That is quite correct.”
“And the prisoner followed you.”
Her vision was of several caves. She saw herself in one, and she was also outside it, watching its entrance, for Aziz to pass in. She failed to locate him. It was the doubt that had often visited her, but solid and attractive, like the hills, “I am not——” Speech was more difficult than vision. “I am not quite sure.”
“I beg your pardon?” said the Superintendent of Police.
“I cannot be sure …”
“I didn’t catch that answer.” He looked scared, his mouth shut with a snap. “You are on that landing, or whatever we term it, and you have entered a cave. I suggest to you that the prisoner followed you.”
She shook her head.
“What do you mean, please?”
“No,” she said in a flat, unattractive voice. Slight noises began in various parts of the room, but no one yet understood what was occurring except Fielding. He saw that she was going to have a nervous breakdown and that his friend was saved.
“What is that, what are you saying? Speak up, please.” The Magistrate bent forward.
“I’m afraid I have made a mistake.”
“What nature of mistake?”
“Dr. Aziz never followed me into the cave.”
The Superintendent slammed down his papers, then picked them up and said calmly: “Now, Miss Quested, let us go on. I will read you the words of the deposition which you signed two hours later in my bungalow.”
“Dr. Aziz never——”
“I stop these proceedings on medical grounds,” cried the Major on a word from Turton, and all the English rose from their chairs at once, large white figures behind which the little magistrate was hidden. The Indians rose too, hundreds of things went on at once, so that afterwards each person gave a different account of the catastrophe.
“You withdraw the charge? Answer me,” shrieked the representative of Justice.
Something that she did not understand took hold of the girl and pulled her through. Though the vision was over, and she had returned to the insipidity of the world, she remembered what she had learnt. Atonement and confession—they could wait. It was in hard prosaic tones that she said, “I withdraw everything.”
“Enough—sit down. Mr. McBryde, do you wish to continue in the face of this?”
The Superintendent gazed at his witness as if she was a broken machine, and said, “Are you mad?”
“Sahib, you will have to withdraw; this becomes a scandal,” boomed the Nawab Bahadur suddenly from the back of the court.
“He shall not,” shouted Mrs. Turton against the gathering tumult. “Call the other witnesses; we’re none of us safe——” Ronny tried to check her, and she gave him an irritable blow, then screamed insults at Adela.
The Superintendent moved to the support of his friends, saying nonchalantly to the Magistrate as he did so, “Right, I withdraw.”
Mr. Das rose, nearly dead with the strain. He had controlled the case, just controlled it. He had shown that an Indian can preside. To those who could hear him he said, “The prisoner is released without one stain on his character; the question of costs will be decided elsewhere.”
And then the flimsy framework of the court broke up, the shouts of derision and rage culminated, people screamed and cursed, kissed one another, wept passionately. Here were the English, whom their servants protected, there Aziz fainted in Hamidullah’s arms. Victory on this side, defeat on that—complete for one moment was the antithesis.