‘I still sit about quietly, still have no telephone and though I have a gramophone, it does not revolve as quickly as it should.’
E.M. Forster was among the great novelists of the 20th century. He was born on 1st January 1879 and died on 6th June 1970 at the age of 91. He visited India thrice—1912-13, 1921 and 1945.
I got to know him intimately at Cambridge in the early 1950s. His best known novel is, A Passage to India. It was published in 1924 and is still selling all over the English speaking world. The film, I found, hugely disappointing. Forster would have been outraged. Fortunately, it appeared after his death.
Here I include two of his letters to me:
2nd May 1957,
My dear Natwar,
I was greatly touched by your letters, and by their proof of your affection for me. Yes—I am a good age by this time, and life is uncertain for me, as of course, it is for everyone. But it is a great consolation to know, while one is still alive, that one is liked and valued, and the mistake about my death has procured me this. The novelist, Joyce Carey, died the day you heard the rumour and I thought there might have some confusion between us: but you say the man’s name was actually Forster; there was a classical scholar of the name, I know.
Your accounts of the spoil-sport state fascinate me. When I try to conjecture the immediate future of this energetic planet, I am divided between interest and gloom. All the values I appreciated are disappearing and I don’t want to outlive them: at the same time it has been fascinating to watch the growth of man’s physical powers during the past half century—after milliards of preparation during which so little changed.
Oh dear, I did not mean to write a letter like this, or quite like it. I am going to Austria next month for a fortnight. This is my proximate festivity, with two friends. I fly to Zurich: then train to Innsbruck, Salzburg and Linz: thence down the Danube to Vienna whence we fly back to London.
I like your unshaven photograph so much and it is on the mantel shelf. Thanks also for the one with Mrs. Hutheesing.
I miss Harsha. Also you! The Indian I see most of it is a Maratha, who is apprenticed at Pye’s, and knows a great deal about music. P.S: I am writing in London actually. I have been to the R.A. banquet, and am still sleepy from it. Much love and I should think you now might achieve calling me Morgan.
6th January 1961
My dear Natwar,
Many thanks for your flattering but affectionate article in “The Times of India”. I like it so much. I have also had some welcome letters from you lately, and have been intending to write to you, but all the news there is about me, you seem already to know. I still sit about quietly, still have no telephone and though I have a gramophone, it does not revolve as quickly as it should: probably needs cleaning. My chief expedition last year was to Germany—driving from Holland to Austria via devious and unfrequented roads, very leafy and soothing. Some of the architecture—e.g. Viezehnheiligen is earth shaking. I was quite unprepared for it. This year—all being well I go to Italy in June and France in September. So, let us hope that all continues well and that there is a France and Italy to go to.
Do let me know when you are over here, as I suppose you may be, and have the time to meet me in Cambridge or London. It will be so nice to be talking together again. I see Harsha when he is around—always a pleasure but I never know when it will be.
Well, I will end now, with affectionate wishes and love from Morgan. The story of the comparison between Charles Morgan and myself is not apocryphal. I am the sole, the reliable authority for it. But it has been apocryphally extended.
I forgot to mention the Queen—the poor things are always on the move in these days: but she should find India something special.