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Chapter 26
A few days after the meeting on the esplanade, I took mycourage into my hands and went to see Father at his office.
"Father?""Yes, Piscine.""I would like to be baptized and I would like a prayer rug."My words intruded slowly. He looked up from his papersafter some seconds.
"A what? What?""I would like to pray outside without getting my pants dirty.
And I'm attending a Christian school without having receivedthe proper baptism of Christ.""Why do you want to pray outside? In fact, why do youwant to pray at all?""Because I love God.""Aha." He seemed taken aback by my answer, nearlyembarrassed by it. There was a pause. I thought he was goingto offer me ice cream again. "Well, Petit Seminaire is Christianonly in name. There are many Hindu boys there who aren'tChristians. You'll get just as good an education without beingbaptized. Praying to Allah won't make any difference, either.""But I want to pray to Allah. I want to be a Christian.""You can't be both. You must be either one or the other.""Why can't I be both?""They're separate religions! They have nothing in common.""That's not what they say! They both claim Abraham astheirs. Muslims say the God of the Hebrews and Christians isthe same as the God of the Muslims. They recognize David,Moses and Jesus as prophets.""What does this have to do with us, Piscine? We're Indians!""There have been Christians and Muslims in India forcenturies! Some people say Jesus is buried in Kashmir."He said nothing, only looked at me, his brow furrowed.
Suddenly business called.
"Talk to Mother about it."She was reading.
"Mother?""Yes, darling.""I would like to be baptized and I would like a prayer rug.""Talk to Father about it.""I did. He told me to talk to you about it.""Did he?" She laid her book down. She looked out in thedirection of the zoo. At that moment I'm sure Father felt ablow of chill air against the back of his neck. She turned tothe bookshelf. "I have a book here that you'll like." She alreadyhad her arm out, reaching for a volume. It was Robert LouisStevenson. This was her usual tactic.
"I've already read that, Mother. Three times.""Oh." Her arm hovered to the left.
"The same with Conan Doyle," I said.
Her arm swung to the right. "R. K. Narayan? You can'tpossibly have read all of Narayan?""These matters are important to me, Mother.""Robinson Crusoe!""Mother!""But Piscine!" she said. She settled back into her chair, apath-of-least-resistance look on her face, which meant I had toput up a stiff fight in precisely the right spots. She adjusted acushion. "Father and I find your religious zeal a bit of amystery.""It is a Mystery.""Hmmm. I don't mean it that way. Listen, my darling, ifyou're going to be religious, you must be either a Hindu, aChristian or a Muslim. You heard what they said on theesplanade.""I don't see why I can't be all three. Mamaji has twopassports. He's Indian and French. Why can't I be a Hindu, aChristian and a Muslim?""That's different. France and India are nations on earth.""How many nations are there in the sky?"She thought for a second. "One. That's the point. Onenation, one passport.""One nation in the sky?""Yes. Or none. There's that option too, you know. These areterribly old-fashioned things you've taken to.""If there's only one nation in the sky, shouldn't all passportsbe valid for it?"A cloud of uncertainty came over her face.
"Bapu Gandhi said – ""Yes, I know what Bapu Gandhi said." She brought a handto her forehead. She had a weary look, Mother did. "Goodgrief," she said.


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