WHY refer to E.M. Forster as "Forster Chacha"? By way of explanation, 'chacha' means 'uncle' in Urdu and that was how my late father Syed Enver Masood and his late younger brother Syed Akbar Masood addressed Forster all their lives. They were the sons of Sir Syed Ross Masood, Forster's greatest Indian friend to whom he dedicated his masterpiece, A Passage to India. The closeness between Masood and Forster and its importance—both personally for Forster as well as its literary consequences—are well known. In a moving tribute to Masood published in Two Cheers for Democracy, Forster acknowledged his debt to him in these words: "My own debt to him is incalculable. He woke me up out of my suburban and academic life, showed me new horizons and a new civilisation and helped me towards the understanding of a continent. Until I met him, India was a vague jumble of rajahs, sahibs, babus, and elephants and I was not interested in such a jumble: who could be? He made everything real and exciting as soon as he began to talk and 17 years later when I wrote A Passage to India I dedicated it to him out of gratitude as well as out of love, for it would never have been written without him..."
Forster Chacha was the guardian of Enver and Akbar Masood throughout their schooling in England. Indeed, although so English in many ways, he had a unique sympathy and understanding for both India and Indians. In 1919 when he first visited India and stayed with Masood, he felt happy and fortunate to have landed so quickly in the midst of Indian life and he became well-acquainted with Masood's wide circle of friends. Masood encouraged Forster to write about India and predicted that because of Forster's rare understanding of the Indian spirit, the book would be a masterpiece.