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In most of my spare time last week I was rereading and working on a review of River of Gods, for Foundation. During this period I was, well ... 'tediously obsessed' would not be too strong a way of putting it. However, I thought the following conversation with immortalradical might be of interest to those who've read the book, as a little light (!) bank holiday reading, and he agreed, so here it is. It started with me quoting a particular passage:
How Thomas Lull knows he is un-American: he hates cars but loves trains, Indian trains, big trains like a nation on the move. He is content with the contradiction that they are at once hierarchical and democratic, a temporary community brought together for a time; vital while it lasts, burning away like early mist when the terminus is reached. All journey is pilgrimage and India is a pilgrim nation. Rivers, grand trunk roads, trains; these are sacred things across all India's many nations. For thousands of years people have been flowing over this vast diamond of land. All is riverrun, meeting, a brief journey together, then dissolution.

Western thought rebels against this. Western thought is car thought. Freedom of movement. Self-direction. Individual choice and expression and sex on the back seat. The great car society. Throughout literature and music, trains have been engines of fate, drawing the individual blindly, inexorably towards death. Trains ran through the double gates of Auschwitz, right up to the shower sheds. India has no such understanding of trains. It is not where the unseen engine is taking you; it is what you see from the window, what you say to your fellow travellers for you all go together. Death is a vast, crowded terminus of half-heard announcements and onward connections on new lines, new journeys. Changing trains. (p200)

NH: I think that, right there, is the aesthetic of this novel. Indian vs. Western; community vs. individual; interaction and experience and change as emergent properties of the world.

DH: This was actually one of my mild problems with the novel: that distinction (Indian as community, Western as individual) seems to me horribly simplistic and even facile. It works OK, but can never quite escape the fact that it doesn't quite convince. Fortunately, the other good things in the book mitigate this slightly artificial opposition.

NH: Well, it works for me because it's never stated that baldly in the novel proper. And I think I stated it the wrong way around; really it's 'community vs individual' and then umpteen variations on that theme, only one of which is Indian vs. Western.

DH: Perhaps. 'Indian versus Western' as a variation on 'community versus individual' is still a little simplistic, though. What I like about the rest of the novel is the way in which it defies such reductive distinctions. It may even be that you're imposing that opposition on the text, whereas in fact what's there is a much more complex debate about a much more nebulous concept--identity.

NH: There's a continuum, certainly. The way the gen-3 aeais (or the city-states of India) overlap and are interdependent, for example. But I think too much is made of the fact that everyone exists in their own world, in either literal or metaphorical fashion, and that what we understand as the world is in fact a patchwork of everyone's experiences, with nobody seeing the whole picture, to discount the opposition entirely. People at one end, the world at the other, everything else in between. Or something.

DH: But that's not individual versus community, is it? Because, in a very real sense, there is no community beyond what individuals imagine into existence. Which is why I suggested the novel is actually about 'identity' and its creation: do we concern ourselves only with our own identity, or do we seek to create a broader and wider identity into which we can fit more than our own selfish desires? Do we settle for the life of the vacuous runaway comedian or aspire to be the director of own business-with-a-social-conscience? (A poorly thought-out analysis, but it's been a while. :P)

Most of the characters have in one way constructed an identity for themselves, and also had one constructed for them (Tal's mixes being his private space away from the expectations society has of him, for example). So, again, I'm not sure we are looking at a book about individual versus community, but about individuals seeking to create identities for themselves, for the consumption of others, and for society as a whole. It's this latter creation that is hardest to maintain, and, it can be argued, with which India has more experience, both in constructing and watching crumble.

NH: You say 'imagine', but I'm not convinced that's the right word. Social groups exist; that everyone in them has a different perception of what a given grouping represents or how it works doesn't mean the group has no external reality. In the book, this comes out through M-star theory--every possible universe is real, cyberspace as much as any other.

It also feels to me a little like you're just defining 'identity' in a way that allows you to not use 'community'! But you're right about the importance of Tal, he's probably the character who most clearly illustrates the dichotomy--the whole concept of nutes 'Stepping Away', and then finding that actually, they can't separate themselves from the world. It's a shame yt's arguably the least well-drawn character, because I think yt might be quite key.

And your observation that most of the characters have the identities they have constructed for themselves and identities others have constructed for them is excellent, and I must think on it more.


DH: You're right that social groups have external reality, and your point about M-Star Theory is an excellent one. I agree--'imagine' is not the right word, and I knew that when I used it (hell, I've had an argument with Jeff Vandermeer about a similar usage of the word!), but 'community' in River of Gods certainly does not come into being on its own. It has to be not just created but maintained by those who seek to define it. Like a bonsai tree, but big. Erm ... Yes. Like I said my original review, there's something of both Forster and Rushdie here--an admiration for, and an exasperation with, India's insistence on denying categorisation.

Communities clearly exist in River of Gods, from the religious through to the scientific and political. I take issue not with the existence of community in the novel, but your idea that it is held in opposition to the individual. As you note using the example of Tal, I rather think that they are presented as in symbiosis, and it is the responsibility of each of the characters to recognise that they are both figures in their own right and components of something larger. I'm unconvinced that either the West or India has a monopoly on solving this equation--in fact, India may have more difficulty (but therefore, as I say, more experience) with it.

It isn't Western versus Indian, individual versus community ... it's Western + Indian, individual + community.

NH: One of the things I really like is the way the whole debate is linked into the concept of the singularity. It's one of the most satisfying and freshest dissections of what is, let's face it, rapidly becoming a cliche, that I've read. At one point Lull points out that 'intelligence is not an absolute thing, it's always environment-specific', which is absolutely goddamned spot-on right. Aeais are different, they will think differently than we do. And it makes a good abstract demonstration of the human tendency to lash out when scared or confused.

It's interesting that to set up this conflict McDonald has to leave out one of the most common tropes of cyber-fiction, though: uploading. There's one brief mention of it as a quite esoteric thing, but it can't be too common because then there would be competition (although there is one character going the other way, of course). And to loop back to the previous discussion, can you have synthesis of worldviews (humans as singular, aeais as multiple) without that linking factor? If there's no way through, aren't you stuck with an opposition?


DH: But to have synthesis you have to first have thesis and antithesis, and I still refute the idea that the book holds individual and community in that opposition. There's no need for that sort of solution to the problem if the problem doesn't exist in that form in the first place.

Like every other book about India, River of Gods features religion heavily. Like humans and aeais, there's no way Muslims and Hindus can ever come together and create peace and harmony. Rather, they have to each create an identity for themselves that does not put them into direct competition and confrontation. It's a typical Indian novel--one that looks not for one solution to the problem of community, but many. Because life is complicated like that--more complicated that the academic simplicity of Platonic dialectic.

NH: Put like that, it's a rather pessimistic book, isn't it? And more to the point, only one solution actually works, which is for the aeais to bugger off to their own universe.

DH: No, not unless you believe in the desirability of uniformity. Of course certain types of person cannot cross-polinate - diversity is the spice of life. ("The temple of another creed, Hindu, Christian or Greek, would have bored him and failed to awaken his sense of beauty." Dr. Aziz, A Passage to India)

So the aeais' solution is to create a community for themselves, and for humans themselves to imagine and respect that community, yes. But you're completely missing the point that the humans have created such communities, too--they're just less explicitly apart from each other. The nutes have their own clubs and rules, the Muslims their own places of worship and political groupings, the rich their own suburbs and style of architecture. India has traditionally been used as a way to examine chaos and collision ("India is a muddle"--Mr Fielding, A Passage To India), and the genius of River of Gods is that it that it translates this idea into science fiction. But you can't examine the aeai solution in isolation.

NH: It's not about believing in the desirability of uniformity, it's about whether dialogue is possible or not. What happens is not that the aeai create their own community that is respected by humans--what happens is that the humans have singularly failed to respect the community of aeai, so the aeai make one that the humans literally cannot access. They go where humans cannot, to escape. Similarly Parvarti becomes convinced that Hindu/Muslim coexistence is impossible and that she has to leave.

DH: But the position of the novel being largely that, in diverse communities such as this, you have to allow its sections that sort of space. I'm not sure there was a community of the aeai before they created one for themselves--which is again the point about each of us having to create an identity for ourselves. But this isn't a book about aeais--it's a book about human responses. And some of the most crucial plots concern humans beginning to understand what is happening to the aeais, and beginning to recognise the nature and necessity of what they are doing (Lull especially). It's as important that our identities are created or at least acknowledged by others as it is that they are created by ourselves.

I don't think that 'coexistence' and 'dialogue' are the same thing. But novels about India of this sort do tend to be more resigned to the necessity of division. I don't think that's necessarily pessimistic, or precludes the possibility of dialogue, negotiation, and even a wider unity. Although, in creating an India already segmented from the one we know today, I don't think the novel is telling us that unity is very close--partly, I think, because we still haven't grasped the 'necessity of division' thing.

NH: You may question whether there was a community of the aeai before they created one, but Lull more or less guesses that competition wasn't inevitable in the passage mentioned above, and Jivanjee confims it to Najia later. It's the Hamilton acts and the Krishna cops that broke the status quo; perceived the aeais as a threat to be destroyed, and then suddenly there are only three left and they have to look for solutions.

Obviously you're right, this setup is there to mirror the human concerns, not the other way around--but it's clearly one of the central metaphors of the book, and it seems to me that the aeais' form of coexistence is one that refuses dialogue. Remember, it's Aj's reaction to what it is to be human that triggers the final exodus. Maybe that's realistic, rather than pessimistic, but it's certainly not optimistic.

Can you expand on what you mean when you say that we haven't grasped the necessity of division?


DH: Well, competition not being inevitable has nothing to do with whether or not people perceive it to be inevitable: if they wanted to, the Muslims and the Hindus could probably come to some accord, but their own beliefs and perceptions of themselves are more important than their desire for a wider unity (if they have one). The fact that the aeais have become persecuted and ghettoised does not necessarily mean that they had a community before--what it means is that they were part of a wider community until such time as someone thought they were Different and therefore needed separating out. Indeed, what gave them their identity as a group that shared and interest was the way in which they were persecuted by the other group, which neatly brings me to the expansion you wanted.

India is very diverse and difficult to govern. So, what do humans decide to do? Split it up into competing factions. Aeais are different to humans and have different ways of thinking. So, what do humans decide to do? Persecute them. Hindus have different religious beliefs to Muslims, so what do Muslims decide to do? Hate them. Time and again, the instinctive response to disagreement in the book is not dialogue but further stratification. We can create as many identities for ourselves as we like, but until we also acknowledge and understand those identities that others create, our 'communities' will indeed deliberately set out to isolate themselves from each other.

NH: Well, exactly. And you're saying this is not a pessimistic outlook? So much for multiculturalism...

DH: Multiculturalism is a very Western concept, though, and one that is rooted in a culture that doesn’t hold religion as important as India’s culture does. Can Muslims and Hindus come together without diluting their competing beliefs (and if not, why should they?)? And can aeais and humans come together in a form other than the cyborg (which is, naturally, not quite human and not quite aeai)? We create identities and our identities have rules – otherwise they would not be identities, and our communities would be formless. This is a book that says 'This is what happens. Why?' In providing us with some reasons, it suggests that there are solutions. As I said in our very first discussion, this is no Stand on Zanzibar--because it embraces change as desirable, it can't be accused of saying 'and so shall it always be'. It just says, ‘So it is for now’.




He's a smart man, that Mr Hartland, and will undoubtedly be pleased to hear that I've ordered A Passage to India from Amazon. His original review (from which it seems I inadvertently stole an entire phrase) is here. I should also say that many of my thoughts on the book were shaped by greengolux' review at The Alien Online.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Interesting stuff. Cheers :)
I am beginning to think that I should perhaps read the book. It is languishing on my shelf atm....
Beginning to think? You mean I'm going to have to talk it up even more? :-o
*g*

No need really. I just read through the spoilers bit. And there are parts in there I'd like to contradict, except they just might make sense after I read the book. So I am off to read RoG. Luckily, I am bookless atm, and don't need to finish anything before starting this one.
sigh. by the time my copy gets here no one is going to want to talk about it any more.
Pfft. It is instant_fanzine's choice for May, after all ... :)
Pfft. Give it a month, and Niall will be more than ready to enthusiastically discuss it (at length) again :-)
good point, he was the one who ordered me to buy it, after all.
The more literary of the dorkboys have a habit of doing that kind of thing.
Standing right here!
And?
... I just don't have a comeback to that.
*wins*
I've ordered A Passage to India from Amazon

WELL DONE. YOU ARE LEARNING.

That is all.
The order can always be cancelled, you know.
Well, I wouldn't want you coming out in a nasty mimetic rash.
The defence would note that two of the last three books I've read were non-sf. And the next thing I read is going to be that book you were claiming is better than Air.
Given the distinct lack of gratuitous wire fence ripping, I expect you to disagree with me.
Wire fence ripping is never gratuitous. That ... is why you fail.
...
I am posting this in response to Dan's comment - that way both of you should receive the notification. :)

Okay, I read the book [whee!] and I still disagree with some of the stuff you have said [I did hunt out Dan's review, and quite agreed with it]:

Let me start by saying that I didn't see the book the way Niall sees it - a text which examines the relationship between individual and community. I thought the book examines life and identity, perceptions and reality, while the characters searched the answers for their own particular questions. And since most of the book is placed in India, it ended up being, in large part, an examination of the Indian life and identity.

Disagreeing with Dan next [see, I'm nothing if not fair ;)], I found the distinction in Thomas Lull's thoughts [in the passage quoted above] neither facile nor artificial. I thought it was an apt observation and a good simile. While I would be loth to suggest that the West lacks the notion of community, or that India knows nothing about individualism, the fact is that the Indian notion of community is owerpowering and stifling, stifling to the extent that you invariably feel that you don't have your life to yourself. Sort of like Indian trains, where you never have a seat to yourself, not even if your seat is meant for just one person.

But you're right about the importance of Tal, he's probably the character who most clearly illustrates the dichotomy--the whole concept of nutes 'Stepping Away', and then finding that actually, they can't separate themselves from the world. It's a shame yt's arguably the least well-drawn character, because I think yt might be quite key.

Hmm, I didn't think Tal was the key to anything, but then again I didn't see the central theme of the book as a conflict between the individual and the society. And compared to the information available about hijras, given the code of silence which governs their society, I thought Tal was rather well-drawn. :)

Oh, and I really do doubt that the nutes would equate 'stepping away' with being separated from the world. The bits about Nanak, and Tal's memories about the procedure, are so similar to the initiation ceremonies of the hijras that one'd assume that the psychological aspects would have been covered too. Y'see, the entire concept of 'stepping away' involves the creation of their own particular society, but it doesn't involve the belief that this society is severed from the world at large. No one ever is, and if a society has existed for long enough, that becomes one of its basic truths/understandings.

I found the novel bleak rather than pessimistic. It is probably the drought, but no one is talking in terms of unity. Which seems a bit strange as that is the one thing which is drummed into our heads right from school - the concept of 'unity in diversity', a concept crucial to the survival of India. The mood in the novel is the same as the national mood in the months of May and June - people are irritable and unwilling to compromise. But once the monsoon breaks, tempers cool down. Maybe that happened in 2047 too. ;)

But, ultimately, it is the author's choice. Perhaps he really feels this way, perhaps the plot demanded this. But India is often softer than that.

Now onto statements that baffle me:

Similarly Parvarti becomes convinced that Hindu/Muslim coexistence is impossible and that she has to leave.,

When does this happen? I thought she just develops a case of guilt and cold-feet.

Multiculturalism is a very Western concept, though, and one that is rooted in a culture that doesn’t hold religion as important as India’s culture does.

What does the religiosity of the Indian populace have to do with multiculturalism? In fact, I would have thought that if there is any link, it works in the opposite direction.






I found the distinction in Thomas Lull's thoughts [in the passage quoted above] neither facile nor artificial

Good. Because neither did I - I like that passage, too. I like it because of exactly what you say - though both cultures have their sense of community, the West tends to also like to maintain privacy within that (thus the hermetically sealed car). Rather, I was suggesting that, if the book is open to Niall's interpretation (one that we both find a little wanting), then it's guilty of a facile opposition - that individual versus community one. And, to a small extent, I think it is open to that interpretation ... but like you I think Niall over-emphasises it.

the entire concept of 'stepping away' involves the creation of their own particular society, but it doesn't involve the belief that this society is severed from the world at large.

Exactly the notion I was trying to express - and you did so far better! Thanks. :)

Which seems a bit strange as that is the one thing which is drummed into our heads right from school - the concept of 'unity in diversity', a concept crucial to the survival of India.

But isn't it true that Indian writers - or writers on India - have often suggested that this 'unity' is only really sticking plaster? Like I said in my original review, what River of Gods does is marry Forster's awe with Rushdie's exasperation, the product of that union being a Farrell-like eruption from beneath a deceptively serene surface. I often feel that books about India tell you more about other books about India than they do about, erm, India. :P

When does this happen? I thought she just develops a case of guilt and cold-feet.

Isn't it the case, though, that she's made to feel unwelcome, mostly because of her background? There's a fusion of the social and relgious into a wall she can't climb, isn't there? It's been a while since I'd read it, mind.

Multiculturalism is a very Western concept, though, and one that is rooted in a culture that doesn’t hold religion as important as India’s culture does.

I think what I was trying to get at was what you said above. I'm talking here about Multiculturism The Concept, rather than multiculturalism, the-thing-that-has-been-a-fact-of-civilized-life-since-time-immemorial. Multiculturalism The Concept often seems to me to mean 'everyone getting along' rather than 'everyone following their own culture to the letter'. Rightly or wrongly, Multiculturalism requires some compromise. Now, obviously India is a multicultural nation ... but what I was trying to suggest was that, because its religiosity is that much more pronounced, the Western understanding of Multiculturalism is perhaps not the best one to use.
Good. Because neither did I

Ah, my bad. Sorry. :)

But isn't it true that Indian writers - or writers on India - have often suggested that this 'unity' is only really sticking plaster?

Oh yes, that is a rather popular theory, and one which keeps on surfacing every few months. It is also a theory we associate with the Marxist scholars here, and it gives an added fillip to the Hindutva loonies. Personally, I have never been too convinced that the theory is anything more than theory. Culturally, we have been used to considering the landmass from the Himalyas to Kanyakumari as one land. I have often thought that this idea of India is one of the greatest unifying forces for the madhouse. And I don't see that changing any time soon.

Like I said in my original review, what River of Gods does is marry Forster's awe with Rushdie's exasperation, the product of that union being a Farrell-like eruption from beneath a deceptively serene surface. I often feel that books about India tell you more about other books about India than they do about, erm, India. :P

*g*

Now this is where I admit to not having read Rushdie - I find the chap an awful writer and an unmitigated bore. I would have called it a synthesis of Foster's awe and Naipaul's exasperation, an attitude I can easily identify with for nothing else does justice to India. ;)
What you say about books about India is something I haven't really noticed before. Perhaps it is because I am an Indian, and tend to focus on what the authors got right, and what they got wrong.

I don't know if you have read any of the books I am going to mention but these are the ones which have stuck in my mind as well-written books about India - _Freedom at Midnight_, _May you be the mother of a hundred sons_[Elizabeth Bumueller's tract on women of India], and Naipaul's _India, A Million Mutinies Now_. [Niall- the-contextual-reader might be interested too]. And then I always tell people interested in learning more about India to read that ultimate tool of social control, _Ramayana_ [not Banker's version, please].

Isn't it the case, though, that she's made to feel unwelcome, mostly because of her background? There's a fusion of the social and relgious into a wall she can't climb, isn't there?

Oh yes, Parvati is made to fel unwelcome because of her background but that is a class barrier, not a religious one. She is from small-town India, not used to the metros or life therein, and therefore looked down upon as naive and 'not with it'. The group she wants to join has both Hindus and Muslims, but these women are used to the social power play and reluctant to let a nobody join in. A normal enough attitude, one which I faced when I first came to Delhi from small-town Haryana [well at least until they realised that I wasn't a stranger to Delhi], one which is beaten to death by Bollywood. Think Pride and Prejudice and way Darcy's friends and relatives react to the Bennet sisters.

Personally, I have never been too convinced that the theory is anything more than theory.

I'm not at all surprised. My non-fiction reading on India is actually pretty limited, which is why I still haven't read the Naipaul you mention or the Collins and Lapierre. But as I say, I do tend to think of literature set in India as taking place in some alternate universe which allows India to be used as some grand metaphor rather than treated as an actual country. Might be an interesting topic for postgraduate research, actually. Or, you know. Not.

Think Pride and Prejudice

Surely Bride and Prejudice? (As you say, Bollywood is indeed no stranger to that sort of plot! ;P)
*chuckle*

I wouldn't ask anyone to think of Bride and Prejudice, especially not while discussing good books. That movie was painful to watch and I avoid all memories....

There are days when I think that India is more of a metaphor than a country....
Let me start by saying that I didn't see the book the way Niall sees it - a text which examines the relationship between individual and community. I thought the book examines life and identity, perceptions and reality, while the characters searched the answers for their own particular questions.

Well, I think it does all of those things too. It was just on this reading, the individual/community stuff jumped out at me most. On another reading, I'm sure something else would--it's one of the reasons I rate the book so highly. It's messy like that.

And compared to the information available about hijras, given the code of silence which governs their society, I thought Tal was rather well-drawn. :)

I dunno. I just got 'camp man' most of the time, I'm afraid.

Oh, and I really do doubt that the nutes would equate 'stepping away' with being separated from the world. The bits about Nanak, and Tal's memories about the procedure, are so similar to the initiation ceremonies of the hijras that one'd assume that the psychological aspects would have been covered too. Y'see, the entire concept of 'stepping away' involves the creation of their own particular society, but it doesn't involve the belief that this society is severed from the world at large. No one ever is, and if a society has existed for long enough, that becomes one of its basic truths/understandings.

Absolutely, but I don't think the nutes--the true nute society that exists in the book--has existed long enough to reach that understanding. I got a strong feeling that Tal felt that being agendered meant yt didn't have to worry about a lot of the emotional trials of life. It's why he's so very very shocked by what happens with Khan, I think.

Similarly Parvarti becomes convinced that Hindu/Muslim coexistence is impossible and that she has to leave.,

When does this happen? I thought she just develops a case of guilt and cold-feet.


That's part of it, certainly, but I think her growing anxiety about being a Hindu among Muslims is also part of it. e.g. p509 (hardback):
Krishan buys newsprints from the stall--not many for what Parvati reads in them makes her afraid to be on the platform among the Muslims, despite the groups of soldiers that pass up and down. She feels the weight of their looks, hears their hisses and mutterings.
There's more, I think, but I didn't note down all the pages.

P.S. I pointed out the numbers to him last night (couldn't remember your other quibbles off the top of my head), and he looked very guilty and said yes, he already knew and he was sorry. :)
I am feeling a little guilty about my quibbles now - McDonald has a done a great job, and I don't want him to think otherwise... :)

Fair enough point about the individual/community sub-text. I'll look for it during the next re-read. I really didn't see it this time, but that could be just because I haven't noticed this thread ever since I figured out my personal solution to the issue. :)

About the nutes, I don't see the society as a new one. Sure some of the stuff is new [complete absence of genitalia, the sub-dermal points are the ones that spring to mind], but it is very obviously still nothing more than a continuation of the hijra society [the reluctance to talk about the past, to mention what gender they were before they stepped away, the social attitudes of both the nutes and the gendered]. I thought his dealings with Khan were first the result of the shock of finding ytself attracted to a man, and then of the affront to yts dignity whn Khan tried to buy yt off. [I wanted to recommend a book I read last year - a study of the history and culture of hijras. But I can't remember the name right now. If you are interested, lemme know and I'll hunt the name out for you]

Something similar about Parvati - in a situation like that, there is no Indian who wouldn't be scared. Riots are rather common after an assassination, and no one likes the idea of being the trigger, or a statistic. So the leaving is not because she is convinced that Mindu-Muslim co-existence is impossible [in fact we don't know what she thinks about the Hindu-Muslim issue, or if she even thinks of it at all], but because she recognises, as any other Indian would, the potential of violence in that situation, in that moment.

Hmm, the point about Parvati would be easier to understand if you could lay your hands on Govind Nihlani's TV series _Tamas_. It is a BBC4 production, and it is based on Bhishm Sahni's novel about the Partition. There are many characters who oppose the Two-Nation theory but who recognise an incipient riot when they see one. Y'see, ever since the end of the nineteenth century, certain political situations have been conducive to communal riots. We have learnt to recognise the signs. And they were all present in McDonald's Bharat: the lunatic fringe of the hindu right, political upheaval, times of scarcity...

I would have pointed out the lines from the text [McDonald cleverly weaves in editorial comments and her thoughts] but I lent the book to my brother's fiancee. :)
That's part of it, certainly, but I think her growing anxiety about being a Hindu among Muslims is also part of it. e.g. p509 (hardback):

That is after the fact and when she is confronted with a specific dangerous situation. I didn't see anything in the text to suggest that problems with Hindu/Muslim coexistence were the reason for her leaving. As rparvaaz says, her social problems were class rather than religion based.
I'll be interested to see what you make of Forster, as he's one of my favourite writers. Although I've never much liked A Passage to India, and feel that the subcontinent offers too broad a canvas for Forster's fairly delicate touch with social observation. Given your comments on Jane Austen, I suspect you may prefer Passage to A Room with a View or Howard's End, though.
Well, the only Forster I've read is 'The Machine Stops' (for obvious reasons :) so it'll be interesting to see!