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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 26)

2006-08-22 21:08

  CHAPTER   26

  A few days after the meeting on the esplanade, I took my courage 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 papers after 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 received the proper baptism of Christ.”

  “Why do you want to pray outside? In fact, why do you want to pray at all?”

  “Because I love God.”

  “Aha.” He seemed taken aback by my answer, nearly embarrassed by it. There was a pause. I thought he was going to offer me ice cream again. “Well, Petit Seminaire is Christian only in name. There are many Hindu boys there who aren't Christians. You'll get just as good an education without being baptized. 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 as theirs. Muslims say the God of the Hebrews and Christians is the 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 for centuries! 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 the direction of the zoo. At that moment I'm sure Father felt a blow of chill air against the back of his neck. She turned to the bookshelf. “I have a book here that you'll like.” She already had her arm out, reaching for a volume. It was Robert Louis Stevenson. 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't possibly 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, a path-of-least-resistance look on her face, which meant I had to put up a stiff fight in precisely the right spots. She adjusted a cushion. “Father and I find your religious zeal a bit of a mystery.”

  “It is a Mystery.”

  “Hmmm. I don't mean it that way. Listen, my darling, if you're going to be religious, you must be either a Hindu, a Christian or a Muslim. You heard what they said on the esplanade.”

  “I don't see why I can't be all three. Mamaji has two passports. He's Indian and French. Why can't I be a Hindu, a Christian 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. One nation, one passport.”

  “One nation in the sky?”

  “Yes. Or none. There's that option too, you know. These are terribly old-fashioned things you've taken to.”

  “If there's only one nation in the sky, shouldn't all passports be valid for it?”

  A cloud of uncertainty came over her face.

  “Bapu Gandhi said?

  “Yes, I know what Bapu Gandhi said.” She brought a hand to her forehead. She had a weary look, Mother did. “Good grief,” she said.

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