Today's Reading

Perveen found Freny's approval flattering. "I am glad we've met, too. Now, when you enrolled in the college, was there a handbook or a contract you and your parents signed? Documents like these might list information about grounds for suspension and expulsion."

"No handbook was given. I don't recall a contract, but if there is one, my father must have it." Wrinkling her forehead, she said, "I can't ask him for it."

Perveen didn't want to trigger a family argument. "Then ask another student if he or she has a contract. Read it yourself or bring it to me."

"I will do that, Perveen-bai." Freny accepted the business card that Perveen handed her from the crystal dish on the silver tea table.

"Taking a political stance is a serious matter. For many decades Indian students who protest have been beaten up, jailed, and some even executed." Observing Freny's eyes widen, Perveen added, "You would not get a death sentence for missing a day's school, but please do not undertake a political action only for the sake of impressing your peers."

"Truly, I would vomit if I had to look at that prince. I would shame myself!" Freny declared. "I am just worried that we could have our lives changed for staying away. I was told that two years ago, some students were expelled for being Communists."

Perveen considered Freny's plight. How to avoid honoring the prince, yet not be punished by the authorities? "Did you ever think that you could stay in bed on Thursday with a stomachache, and neither your parents nor the school would know the reason?"

Freny shook her head. "That would not be truthful. You know about asha."

She was talking about the cornerstone of the Parsi theology: the principle of rightness. To be a good Parsi was to tell the truth. This was one of the reasons that Parsi lawyers were trusted by Indians of all faiths.

"Yes, I understand asha—and neither of us can guess how your body and spirit will be on Thursday. Illness is a solid reason for absence."

"Trouble comes after lies. I will not do it again."

After Freny's short declaration, Perveen sat in silence, hearing the gentle ticking of the grandfather clock in the room's corner. In the pause, she understood that she'd been trying to sway a young person who had a powerful conscience. "Freny, you must do what you believe—and each student should as well. Considering how the Student Union's leaders asked you to speak with a lawyer, at least some share the same worries as you."

"Yes. If we are thrown out, we might never get another college scholarship or money for education from our parents. We would ruin everything for them, and for ourselves." The words rushed out. "I thought if I came here, you would give me the answer. I was hoping you would say no, you will be safe and able to continue in your studies. But you haven't said that to me."

"I don't have enough information—and I cannot guess how Mr. Atherton will react." Perveen was sorry she didn't have something solid to tell Freny. "The prince doesn't come for three days. There's still time to discover if anyone has a contract. And I'll gladly look at it for you."

"Thank you." Freny turned over the book she'd been holding and moved it toward the satchel.

Glancing at the book, Perveen saw it was Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. She had not read the popular novel, but Alice had said it was a scathing rebuke of European colonialism in Africa. "Is that for your literature class?"

Freny tucked the book tenderly into the bag. "No. This is for world history. Mr. Grady often assigns us novels and newspaper articles because he thinks they hold truths that history books don't. The thing is, there are so many different writers of these materials, which one is telling the trustworthy account?"

"That is an interesting observation. I would be happy to speak with you again—but send a note or make a telephone call first. I usually have several appointments a day, and sometimes I am out of the office."

Freny regarded her with admiring eyes. "Are you defending the innocent in the Bombay High Court?"

"Not yet. The Bombay High Court refuses to recognize women lawyers as advocates."

Freny's eyebrows went up. "Does that mean there is no court in India which allows women to speak on behalf of clients?"

"Outside of the high court, I'm not sure." Perveen saw the disappointment in her face and added, "Perhaps there will be a chance for me to find out."

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