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Perveen Mistry can’t rest until she sees justice done

November 1921. Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and future ruler of India, is arriving in Bombay to begin a fourmonth tour. The Indian subcontinent is chafing under British rule, and Bombay solicitor Perveen Mistry isn’t surprised when local unrest over the royal arrival spirals into riots. But she’s horrified by the death of Freny Cuttingmaster, an eighteen-year-old female Parsi student, who falls from a second-floor gallery just as the prince’s grand procession is passing by her college.

When Freny’s death appears suspicious, Perveen knows she can’t rest until she sees justice done. But Bombay is erupting: as armed British secret service march the streets, rioters attack anyone with perceived British connections and desperate shopkeepers destroy their own wares so they will not be targets of racial violence. Can Perveen help a suffering family when her own is in danger?

Here is an excerpt from Sujata Massey’s new book, The Bombay Prince that talks about Freny’s death.

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The Bombay Prince: Perveen Mistry Investigates || Sujata Massey

“Miss Mistry, come down here,” Miss Daboo beseeched. Perveen knelt down and, feeling queasy, reached out to touch Freny’s wrist. It was still warm, yet the veins on the inside of her wrist seemed deflated. She could not detect a pulse. Perveen’s mother, Camellia, and sister-in-law, Gulnaz, were the kind of women brave enough to volunteer in hospitals. They might know another spot to look for a pulse. All Perveen could think of was the heartbeat.
Freny had fallen on her right side, so it was possible for Perveen to slide her hand under the khadi cloth and over the left side of Freny’s white cotton blouse.

“Don’t be obscene!” Miss Daboo muttered in Gujarati, and Perveen belatedly realized there were men watching her. Having felt no sign of life, she pulled back her hand.

“We must pray. God can work miracles.” Another Englishman had appeared. He looked to be in his fifties, with a long face made even paler by its contrast with his black robe. Right behind him was a breathless Principal Atherton.

The principal and the college chaplain had taken long enough to arrive at a scene of crucial emergency. But perhaps the police had occupied Principal Atherton’s time getting details about Dinesh Apte. And why weren’t they with him now?

The answer came: The college’s leadership didn’t know Freny was dead. Only she and Miss Daboo knew the truth. Or maybe— Lalita also did. Surely she would have tried to help her friend sit up. Surely

Mr. Atherton spoke between gasps. “I’ve just heard—about the accident—from the reverend.” Two more breaths. “Who is she?”

“Her name is Freny Cuttingmaster,” Alice said. “She’s a second-year student.”

“And what about you? Are you a nurse?” Mr. Atherton’s face was reddened, no doubt from agitation and heat.

“Sorry, I am not.” Perveen looked away from him and back at Freny. She thought of saying she was a lawyer, but it didn’t seem the right place.

“Miss Perveen Mistry, my old friend from Oxford, is here at my invitation,” Alice said quickly. “Miss Mistry, this is Mr. Ath- erton, our principal, and our chaplain, Reverend Sullivan.”

Principal Atherton pressed his lips together disapprovingly. “I am not—entertaining interviews for women faculty. This is an emergency—”

“I’m not a teacher; I’m a solicitor with a practice nearby.” Having honestly admitted her field, Perveen didn’t know how long the college administrator would allow her to linger.

“Miss Acharya, is it correct that you were first on the scene?” Atherton had turned his attention to the student, who was clutching Alice.

“Yes. I was a few yards ahead of the others,” Lalita said in a choked voice. “Miss Daboo was with me as well.”

Atherton’s eyebrows drew together. “And where was Miss Cuttingmaster during the procession?”

“Actually, we realized midway through the proceedings she wasn’t in the stands with us.” Lalita’s voice was hesitant, as if she didn’t want to admit she’d known all along the girl hadn’t showed up.

“Yes. She must have had her accident while we were turned watching the prince!” Miss Daboo said.

The excitement of the parade could have masked any cries, even though the college and its garden were just a few dozen yards behind the viewing stand.

“Maybe she fell down. I only hope . . .” Lalita’s voice trailed off.

“What is it you are hoping, my dear?” Reverend Sullivan prompted.

“I hope she’s going to wake up.” Lalita was clenching and unclenching her hands. “Why can’t the nurse come from the infirmary? Didn’t anyone call for her?”

“Leave the response to faculty,” said the reverend.

“I think someone should fetch the police.” As Perveen said it, she couldn’t believe the words had even come from her mouth. The police! The men who’d so recently challenged her were needed to secure the scene and take note of details.

“The police?” Mr. Atherton’s voice faltered. “But Miss Daboo says this is an accident.” He shook his head as he looked at the smooth path and neat green lawn. “I wonder what caused her to fall?”

“It could be that she jumped. This was going to be a day of protest for some.” Reverend Sullivan turned to grimace at the mass of students standing a respectful distance behind. “I know some of you are in the resistance club. If you were aware that she was planning self-destruction, you must tell us now.”

Did the chaplain understand Freny’s life was gone? Perveen looked at his stern, unmoving face until he glared at her.

One of the boys in a Gandhi cap raised a hand and spoke when the chaplain acknowledged him. “Reverend, nobody heard any such talk in the Student Union meetings.”

A blond man in his twenties, who had a shaken expression, put a hand on the shoulder of the student who’d spoken. “That is my impression as well. Arjun, thank you for coming forward.”

“I’ll go for the police,” a student voice said from within the crowd, and three boys took off through the gate.

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What really happened? And what is going to happen next?

Get a copy of Sujata Massey’s The Bombay Prince to find out!

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