The Bluebottle Boys — Chapter 17, Part 3, Edgbaston, late March 1962: Forgiveness & New Beginnings [section 3 of 3]

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“This is all well and good,” Stan sighed, “but it misses the point.

“In India, everybody knows what Holi is – everyone plays by Queensbury Rules and a good time’s had by all. But it’s different here. People don’t know what it is; they feel sullied, under attack, put-upon. And if they don’t understand, if they don’t know, they’ve a right to feel that way.

“I went over the line. I forgot that what matters to people is as important as what happens to them.

“What happened to them might’ve been being included in the fun but what mattered to them was that, in their eyes, they lost dignity. I was inconsiderate – and I’ve made this family – the whole Asian community – look bad by my thoughtlessness. And for that, I seek forgiveness.”

“The Asian community will survive your little escapade, Sanjit; so will this family,” said Dr. Gupta. “And if you’ve learned what you say you have learned, then you well-deserve forgiveness.

“You may need to do a bit of penance yet, and I shall come to that presently, but you’re well ahead of your father, for I’ve yet to learn at my age what you have learnt at ten.

“Since we arrived here almost two years ago, I have been very concerned – perhaps too concerned – with our standing in so many communities: The Asian community, whether here in Warwickshire or anywhere in the West Midlands; my fellow professors at Birmingham University; and my English friends and neighbours. I’ve wanted this family to do nothing that might possibly ever leave any negative impression with any of these groups – to radiate nothing but a positive, exemplary image at all times.

“I’ve applied these standards rigorously to myself, of course, and to your mother. But, I’ve applied them just as rigorously to you – insisting you blend in well at school socially, yet also remain a traditional Indian son. You have done well academically, which I’ve never properly acknowledged, and have done what you could to meet these other demands.

“But my demands are often inherently contradictory; in making them, I fear I’ve placed an almost impossible burden upon you.

“What you did was thoughtless, when seen from an adult’s vantage point.

“But, you are not an adult; you are ten years old. You do not yet have an adult’s judgment, nor should anyone expect it of you.

“You’d no reason to think that what you did could be perceived as anything but innocent fun, for it is what you have always known it to be. You wanted to have your friends in on it – and why would you not, when sharing goes to the very heart of friendship.

“You lay in wait to ambush drunks – perhaps an unfortunate decision, but perhaps it is unreasonable for us as adults to consider drunks reprehensible but also then expect our children to be respectful, and not engage in some gentle, if reproachful, teasing and taunting of their own. What, after all, did you do except engage in alighthearted, humourous version of what you saw us doing?

“And so, my son, I ask your pardon if I have set a bad example in being too judgmental, if I have been too inflexible in my demands upon you, and if my concern for how we appeared to these communities caused me to neglect the most important community of all – our family.”

“You have nothing to apologise for, Pita,” Stan blurted out, “but if you feel you do, then I grant my pardon freely and fully.”

“As do I to you, Sanjit,” Dr. Gupta replied, “but in lifting any continuing punishments, I do impose one condition: It is unfair for your friends to carry their penance burden alone, when you, too, will benefit from it. The children’s Mass that they sing for is no more of their faith than of yours. If you can sing at Christmas and Easter assemblies at school, it cannot be a much greater imposition for you to sing at this Easter service as well. Therefore, if you can be of use there, I’d like you to sing with them at that Mass, as a condition of my forbearance. Will you do this?”

Stan smiled. “If you wish it, Father.”

Dr. Gupta turned to Ian and me. “Go on, then – I think you three have been separated long enough.”

We didn’t need any further encouragement to run upstairs to Stan’s room, but I paused at the base of the stairs, looking back at Rashmi. By then, she was engrossed in a discussion with Paravati, however, and I couldn’t catch her eye. I barreled up the stairs and down the hall after the others.

Ostensibly, we were playing with Stan’s castle, explaining to Ian how our version of siege warfare worked. In reality, Ian and I spent the bulk of the evening talking in muted voices, lest anyone hear in the dining room immediately below, telling Stan of Radio Luxembourg, of Father Fitzgerald, of the Diskery – and especially, of what had really happened in Warstone Lane Cemetery.

 

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