Today's Reading

The room had enough seating for four, but instead of taking one of the Queen Anne wing chairs, Perveen sat a few feet from the student on the settee itself. Her hope was to put the stiff-seeming girl at ease. "My name is Perveen Mistry. I feel a little too young for ma'am, and esquire is mainly used in the United States for lawyers. May I have your good name?"

"It is Freny." As she spoke, the girl edged away slightly. "I still don't know what to call you. Memsahib is a term mostly used for the British, so I won't call you that. I don't like ma'am much, either."

Perveen thought about the typical honorific used for Parsi women. "If you'd like, you may call me Perveen-bai."

Freny nodded. "Perveen-bai, I am representing Woodburn College's Student Union. We are seeking a legal consultation."

Activism was on an uptick throughout Bombay. In recent months the famous lawyer Mohandas Gandhi had been gaining adherents with his calls for protest against British rule. Perveen longed to assist freedom fighters, but she was a solicitor, so her work was mostly contracts. "I am honored you thought of Mistry Law. Would you like to tell me your concern?"

Freny looked intently at Perveen. "We want to know if we have the right to stay away from college without being punished."

Perveen mulled over the words. "I don't think I understand. Students are expected to attend classes as a condition of enrollment. Do you have a conflict with one of the lecturers?"

"Not at all. I'm in my second year, and I love my college." She gave the book in her hands a squeeze. "Actually, we students would not be missing instruction on the day I'm thinking about, because classes that day are canceled."

For this, the girl had come to Mistry Law? Trying not to sound irritated, Perveen said, "In your case, I think you would be forgiven a day off. Students often miss college for reasons of illness and family matters."

"But it's not that. It is political." She pronounced the last word carefully, stressing its importance. "We want to be absent from college on the day the Prince of Wales enters Bombay. Did you know that Gandhiji has called a hartal?"

"Yes. I've seen the placards advising people to boycott the prince." Perveen had noticed these renegade announcements next to the "Welcome Prince of Wales" signs posted by the government all over town. On Thursday, Edward would disembark at the Port of Bombay and begin a four-month tour of India. The arrival of the twenty-seven-year-old prince seemed like a promise of many more decades of British rule.

Freny leaned forward and spoke with hushed excitement. "We students put up some of the placards. We don't want people attending the parade. However, the college principal said everyone must be present on the day of the prince's arrival. Workers are building a special viewing stand in front of the college. We're supposed to applaud that loathsome prince when he parades along the Kennedy Sea-Face."

Freny's passionate speech left no question of her conviction. But what would the consequences be if she held back from school? "Does your Student Union have a faculty advisor?"

"Yes. Mr. Terrence Grady." Freny's lips turned up at the corners.

Perveen hoped that Freny didn't have a crush. "Does Mr. Grady report about your club to the administration?"

"I don't think so," Freny answered after a moment. "He is an Irishman, and many Irish are not at all keen on being part of Britain. Mr. Grady confessed that because he's an employee, he must come to school that day. He knows about the Student Union's desire to stay back and urged us to follow our conscience."

Perveen's shoulders relaxed and she said, "He sounds like a fair man. What can you tell me about the college principal?"

"His name is Horace Virgil Atherton." She spoke the name in staccato syllables, showing none of the warmth she'd had for Mr. Grady. "He's a temporary principal who joined in October. Our regular principal is away on furlough. During the Christian scripture hour, before the chaplain speaks, Mr. Atherton sometimes addresses us. I've only heard him say things like we must stop crowding and pushing past each other in the galleries and stairs. Nothing about philosophy or the nature of education."

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