Cultural awareness

Edward Morgan Forster & Syed Ross Masood, 1911 (King’s College, Cambridge-EMF/27/305)

“Although he was English all the way through, a great many English attitudes felt foreign to him.
For this reason, what Morgan found most interesting in his new friend was the strangeness of him, the exoticism imported into his drawing room. The most familiar topic, seen through Masood’s eyes, became unpredictable, unusual. And what was ordinary to Masood seemed to Morgan remarkable.”

“He was also the centre of a small coterie of admirers, most of them Indian, who lolled about in his rooms like the retinue of some indolent Emperor. Morgan went almost unnoticed in this company, sinking below the level of visibility, like a child or a spy. Often the talk around him was conducted in Urdu, only occasionally and laconically translated by Masood. But sometimes they all spoke in English, though the topics they discussed were almost a foreign language in themselves: customs in India, historical figures Morgan had never heard of, cities he had never seen.”

“You so-called white people,” he was told, “are too afraid of your emotions. Everything is arranged coldly on shelves. In India we show how we feel, without being ashamed.”
“Why so-called?”
“Because your colour is far from white. More a pinko-grey, I’d say. Look.”
When he and Masood put their arms together, to compare, he saw that it was true. He had never thought of his skin in this way before. His friend’s colouring was infinitely more attractive.”

“It is only strangers who thank. Thanks are not given by friends. You are like family to me. Do you thank your mother for what she does for you? No, it is merely expected. No thanks are necessary.”
“I do thank my mother. The English like to say thank you all the time.”
“But I am not English. And when you are with me, you are not English either.”
The absurdity of this notion didn’t blunt its feeling, and a tiny point of gratitude stayed lodged in Morgan on the journey home.”

“For the most part, he felt a physical distaste for the natives. But at the same time, these feelings were repellent to him. They reminded him of nothing so much as the English in India. Who could have known that it was in him, too, this racial arrogance, this contemptible contempt? It was worse than any mud, and it unsettled him badly.”

“He was an artist, and artists didn’t fight. They didn’t harm other people. Though what they did do wasn’t always clear, least of all to themselves.”

“Friendship is your Empire, Morgan”

Damon Galgut - Arctic Summer (Atlantic books-2014)