Today's Reading

Perveen snorted. "Your principal sounds better suited to supervising primary school. What reason does he have to talk about hallway behavior?"

Freny rewarded her with an appreciative smirk. "He thinks there is too much hustle and bustle, and someone could fall down. He said the college's females could be injured, which was very annoying to my friends and me. We aren't made of porcelain."

"No. Bombay women are at least as strong as coconuts!" After Freny laughed, Perveen added, "Why are you in a Christian scripture class?"

"It's not a mandatory course. However, roll call is taken at the start of that scripture class. So everyone goes, regardless of faith."

"Are you saying that in order to be marked present, you must sit through a religious service?" Perveen paused, wondering if there were grounds for some kind of suit. "Woodburn College is a missionary institution, isn't it?"

"Indeed. It was founded by Reverend Andrew Woodburn, Church of Scotland, who came to Bombay in 1810."

"How do your parents feel about you having a Presbyterian college education?"

"My father says the college's name carries weight and I will benefit from the other coursework." Smiling wistfully, she added, "He's the head tailor at the Hawthorn Shop. He boasts to his customers that I'm studying at Woodburn College."

A tailor would be proud to send his daughter to one of the city's oldest colleges. And now she understood how perfectly suited his name was. "Your father must be a tolerant person."

"I would not say that." Freny pointed directly at one of the wing chairs and chuckled. "My father would be annoyed by that chair."

Perveen was mystified. "Why?"

"The red banding is torn. There, on the leg."

Perveen followed her gaze to the chair, which she hadn't ever inspected in such a close fashion. "Goodness, you're right. That's my father's favorite chair. Perhaps he snagged it with his shoe. He crosses his leg and taps his foot sometimes. Back to our topic—does your father know about your support of independence?"

Freny looked down at her book, as if the answer might lie within. When she raised her face, her expression was sober. "I wanted to tell him, but it was difficult. He thinks I'm too young to understand."

Perveen nodded in sympathy. "Fathers are like that. Are you saying that he doesn't know that you're one of the leaders in the group?"

Freny shook her head vehemently. "I'm not a leader. There are only two of us in the group who are female."

"You say you aren't a leader, but it's a significant responsibility to gather a legal opinion for the group," Perveen challenged. "Be proud of yourself."

"I can't. I only thought helping them was the right thing. I don't want anyone to be hurt." Straightening the book in her lap, Freny added, "And I think, just by visiting you, it might improve things."

Perveen didn't want Freny to consider her a miracle worker. "In what way could they improve?"

"Several of the boys have taunted me"—she took a deep breath—"about my father working on his knees for British and Anglo-Indians."

"Tailors must go on their knees to hem trousers!" Perveen felt great sympathy, because the Cuttingmasters were a working-class family who had surely overcome obstacles to send a daughter to college.

"Dinesh, who is the most outspoken boy in the Student Union, said that all Parsis love the English. He was quite friendly when Lalita and I joined, but now tries to keep me out of everything."

Perveen's stomach tightened. "What an ignorant thing to say about our faith. What about Dadabhai Naoroji, grand old man of the freedom movement, and Madame Bhikaji Cama, who is currently exiled in France? And we mustn't forget that a number of Parsi businessmen in South Africa and India have supported Gandhiji for years."

"Dinesh says Parsis are only thinking about money." Freny's rosebud mouth turned downward. "I'm sure they wanted me to speak with a lawyer so I'd be charged any bills."

"This is only a conversation, not a legal service. There will be no charge," Perveen assured her.

"That's very kind." Freny's frown was starting to ease. "Miss Hobson-Jones talked about having a friend who is the first woman solicitor in Bombay. I was very excited for the chance to meet you."

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