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by Charles Lacey

Chapter 5

We sat, Sanwar, Grandad and myself, in our sitting room. I looked at Sanwar and raised my eyebrows. He returned my look, nodding his head slightly. "Grandad," I began, "you remember the story you told us, about when you were young in India, and had a friend, the way Sanwar and I are?"

"Yes... certainly." And just for a moment, an expression came over his face as if he were in pain, and then he looked at us – we were side by side on the settee, not holding hands but close together.

"Grandad... was his name Pradesh? Pradesh Nanutawi?"

Grandad looked steadily at me, his face unreadable, suddenly pale and wide-eyed.

"Yes, it was. How can you possibly know that? I don't believe I ever mentioned his surname."

"And, Grandad, did you ever have an older brother called Arnold? And a sister called Hilda?"

"Great Heavens, Jack, why do you ask me that? Yes, my sister Hilda, poor little thing, died of Influenza in 1919. And my brother Arnold, who was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Warwickshire Regiment, died in 1945 in Japan."

"Grandad, I don't know how to tell you this, but..."

I paused, not sure how to proceed; Sanwar picked up where I had left off. He spoke slowly, measuring each word, watching Grandad carefully. I had seen that intent expression on his face before and loved it; it was so much part of his wonderful personality and meant he was thinking or speaking about something he really cared about deeply.

"Grandad Browne, my own grandfather in India had a childhood friend whom he loved dearly. His name was Arthur. And my grandfather's name is Pradesh Nanutawi."

All the colour drained away from Grandad's face, so that I was quite concerned that he might have another heart attack.

"My God," he said at length, "Is it possible?..."

We looked at him; he looked intently at Sanwar.

"... But yes, it is. Sanwar, do you remember that I once said you reminded me of someone? That someone was my beloved Pradesh. Yes, I can believe that you are his grandson."

Quite suddenly, Grandad began to weep. Tears rolled down his cheeks. Sanwar got up and knelt by his feet, holding his hands. I knelt next to him, my arm around Grandad's shoulders. We were still like that when Mum came in.

Mum got all cross, of course, and scolded us for upsetting Grandad. But Grandad looked at her, and I suddenly understood what real authority was. That look would have stopped a cavalry charge.

"No, Joan, my dear," he said, "Jack and Sanwar have made me more happy than I can express. These are tears of joy."

Then he turned to Sanwar.

"Sanwar, my dear boy... do you think your grandfather would wish to see me again?"

"Yes, Grandad Browne. I know that he would. He said so to me. His very words were, 'If I were able to have just one wish that could be fulfilled before I die, it would be to see Arthur once more.'"

Just then Dad arrived, very much astonished to see the four of us involved in what was clearly a very emotional scene. I was too choked up to say anything coherent; Mum was just bewildered. And so it was left to Sanwar to explain to Dad what it was all about, which he did with his usual precision and clarity.

"Well," said Dad, "What are you going to do about it, Arthur?"

"I don't see myself getting to India, not with this damned leg. And with two heart attacks in the recent past, I doubt very much whether the airline would allow me to travel. Sanwar, do you think your grandfather would be willing to come here?"

"I think he would be very willing, Grandad Browne, but I don't know if he could afford the ticket."

"And, Joan, do you think you would be willing to have Pradesh to stay here, if he comes to England? I know it would be horribly inconvenient…"

Mum sighed. "Yes, Father, I'm sure we could arrange it somehow. Perhaps if Jack agrees he could have the sofa-bed down here for a few days and your friend could have his room."

"Yes, Mum," I put in, delighted at the thought of possibly seeing Mr Nanutawi again, "I'd be happy to do that."

"Or maybe he could stay at the Khuranas' for a few days. I know they haven't much room, but he is Mrs Khurana's father."

Grandad smiled, and it was as if the teenager had come back to life in him and smiled, it was such a happy smile. "Then, Jack, do you get an airline ticket for him, and Sanwar, as soon as the ticket arrives, write to Pradesh enclosing it."

So I rang up the airline – Grandad said he'd pay for the call and all the other expenses, or Mum would have had a seizure – and the next day the ticket arrived. Sanwar wrote to his grandfather.

"Dearest Papaji,

First of all I must thank you again for your kind hospitality while Jack and I stayed with you. It was indeed a wonderful holiday for us both and we hope to visit you again.

I am enclosing a ticket for you to come to England with the same airline which Jack and I used. I have to tell you that there is someone here who very greatly wishes to see you.

Please write back to let us know whether you are able to come, and if so when you will arrive. Jack's father will meet you at the airport and bring you to his house. It would be better for you to stay there as my parents' home is only a small flat.

With greatest love from us both,

Sanwar and Jack."

Ten days later a letter arrived from Pradesh Nanutawi, and three days after that Sanwar and I went to Heathrow with Dad. Mr Nanutawi was just as we remembered him, tall, gracious and dignified. The drive home was uneventful and Mum showed him to his room – which was normally my room, of course; I was going to sleep on the sofa-bed downstairs. I'd thought about asking if I could stay at the Khuranas' flat but Sanwar had to share his room with his little brother and we'd have got no peace at all.

When he had rested a little and had something to eat and drink, Mum showed Mr Nanutawi into the sitting room. Grandad stood up to welcome the visitor, and then froze.

The two white-haired men stood, erect and dignified, as still as if they had been carved in stone, looking wonderingly at each other. Mr Nanutawi was the first to speak. "Arthur?" he said slowly, "can it really be you."

Grandad took a step nearer, holding out one arm. "Pradesh… yes… it is I… but they told me you were dead. My father told me you had died in the hospital."

"They may have believed that. By the time I was well enough to have a visitor you had long been sent to England."

They moved closer, arms extended. As slowly as if it had been in a slow motion film they clasped each other in their arms.

"Pradesh, I am truly sorry. There has never been a day in my life that I did not think of you. Will you – can you – ever – forgive me?"

"There is nothing to forgive, Arthur. You did not know."

"But it was my fault that the tiger attacked you."

With a trembling finger Grandad traced the line of the scars on Pradesh's face.

"Arthur, we did not know that she was already wounded and angry. It is of no matter. Colonel Corbett shot her and she died not long after she attacked me. She was a man-eater. We were both fortunate that she did not kill us also."

They sat on adjacent chairs, holding hands, tears running down their cheeks. Sanwar and I, similarly holding hands, sat on the settee, nearly as moved as our grandfathers. Mum and Dad quietly left us.

Mr Nanutawi was the first to break the silence.

"Sanwar, my beloved grandson, and Jack, whom I hope I may also call my grandson, you have given me the greatest happiness that I could ever have had. There are no words that can express my joy and my gratitude to you. Jack, I hope you too will call me Papaji; it would give me great pleasure to hear you do so."

"Yes, Papaji," I replied, "And thank you."

There was another silence, while I thought what to do or say next. It was Sanwar who made the next move. He turned to me, wrapped his arms around my neck and kissed me tenderly. Grandad and Papaji likewise embraced and kissed. Thank goodness Mum and Dad can't see this, I thought, they'd each have had fifty fits. But it was at that moment I realised fully for the first time, emotionally and intellectually, that I had my lifetime partner in my arms, and he was beautiful, and clever, and loving, and sensitive. I kissed him back and thought, I must have done something very good in a previous life to have been so blessed.

The extra twin bed from what had been the spare room, which was now Grandad's room, had been moved to my room for when Sanwar stayed over. Now, Sanwar and I moved it back. Grandad and Papaji spent most of the time sitting close together, holding hands and looking at one another, talking quietly.

Grandad and Papaji went upstairs then; Papaji needed to move his case from my room and unpack. Sanwar and I walked to his parents' flat and collected Mrs Khurana who, of course, wanted to see her father. The two younger children came too: I carried Muhajid pick-a-back while Sanwar carried his sister.

That night we had a grand celebration at home. Grandad sat at the head of the table, where Dad usually sat, with Papaji next to him. I sat in Mum's place at the other end, with Sanwar next to me.

I don't know just how it came about that Sanwar and I decided that we needed to be completely open about our love for each other; it just happened. My parents knew and although their feelings were still a bit ambivalent they had more or less accepted the situation. Grandad and Papaji and Sanwar's parents all knew and approved.

The biggest problem was that the age of consent had only just been reduced from 21 to 18 and if we made love we'd still be breaking the law. Of course, we did, and broke the law on a regular basis, but we'd agreed that we'd only do it when we were safe at home and that if we were ever challenged we'd simply give a flat denial that we were anything other than close friends. Not only that, but if we did it at home Mum and Dad could get into a good deal of trouble as well, and it could mean Dad losing his job. So we discussed it and decided that we would announce our union on the day after my eighteenth birthday, since Sanwar was older than me by a few weeks. But that meant waiting nearly two years.

In the meantime, there was the matter of our careers to be settled. I think his stay in hospital had probably influenced Sanwar's thinking, but he definitely wanted to become a doctor; ideally a hospital consultant. I was much less clear, but wanted to do something that involved an active life style but was reasonably well paid. I knew I wasn't really the academic type; I worked hard and got fair marks on the whole, but had to admit that where my marks were above average it was mostly due to Sanwar's help. We held a family conference about the possibilities for my career, but without reaching any very helpful conclusions. However, Sanwar was there; I wouldn't have discussed anything important without him by my side. Grandad suddenly said, "Sanwar, what are your plans?"

Sanwar looked at him and said, "I don't know, Grandad Arthur. I would have liked to be a doctor, but the training would be too expensive. I could get a grant for the fees, but I wouldn't have any money to live on. My parents couldn't afford to give me more than a few pounds each month.

Grandad looked keenly at him for a few minutes, then said, "Sanwar, there may be a possibility you haven't thought of yet. Will you do something for me?"

"Of course, Grandad Arthur."

"Get some facts and figures. Find out what the cost would be, then come back to me with your father – and Jack of course – and see if I can think of anything. And Jack, you should give some more thought to your future, too."

Three days later, we had another conference. I still hadn't any further ideas except possibly running a gymnasium, but Sanwar and Sanjay between them had marshalled a formidable array of facts and figures. These they went over with Grandad, who was as shrewd a businessman as ever added up a column of numbers. When they'd finished, Grandad sat back and fitted his fingertips together.

"What it comes to," he said, "is this: Your grant would cover your tuition fees and so forth, but to cover living expenses you would need about another five thousand pounds each year for seven years, perhaps rising a little with inflation.

Sanwar looked at his father, then grasped my hand. "Yes, Grandad Arthur. That's quite correct."

There was a long moment's silence, before Grandad spoke again.

"Sanwar, I think you would make a very good doctor. And you and Jack have given me my heart's desire. Before long I will be going to join Pradesh in India. I don't know when, or even if, I will be back.

"My dear grandsons, I have had the good fortune to have saved quite substantially over a long working lifetime, and I have also recently sold a big house. On the day you are accepted into medical school, write to me and tell me where you will be going. I will set aside fifty thousand pounds for you to use. And Jack, I will set aside the like sum for you. Do you also let me know what you decide to do with your life and the money will be there for you."

And then as we began to protest, he added, "No, don't argue. I have that and plenty more to spare. And what is an old fellow like me going to spend it on? Or save it up for? I have my family, which now includes two wonderful grandsons that I love dearly, and I have my beloved Pradesh. There is nothing more I need beyond a place to live. If I am in India I will be with Pradesh, if in England I will be here. No, my dear, dear boys, let me spend a little upon you. I will see my solicitor tomorrow and get it all drawn up properly in case anything happens to me." He stood up, crossed to the door and went out, closing it behind him.

Sanwar and I looked at each other. Sanjay was in the most extraordinary state, beaming all over his face, with tears running down his cheeks. He'd told me, of course, that he would have liked to train as a doctor, but that they had never been able to afford it, but I'd had no idea just how important it was to him. It was too late for him to start medical training; he was already middle aged. But his eldest son would be doing so, and that was the next best thing. I was completely flabbergasted, of course. With fifty thousand pounds I could buy my own gym, or do almost anything else I cared to. But my first priority would be to support Sanwar through his training, wherever that might be. In the meantime, we still had two years' schooling to get through. I had no doubt that Sanwar would pass every subject he put his mind to with flying colours, and it wouldn't do me any harm to get a few 'A'-levels.

But I was also feeling that our relationship had reached a turning point. Neither of us had any doubt that it would be a lifelong commitment, but we were both fed up with constantly having to pretend that we were just friends. It was an impossible situation. At that time in Britain the age of consent for same-sex relationships was eighteen. So alright, that would mean that from about half way through our final year at school we would be able to be open about our relationship. Until then, what were we to do? If anyone outside our families asked if we were having sex, we'd have had to lie. Not having sex just wasn't an option, though we'd agreed that we wouldn't have full intercourse until we had our own place. But it went against the grain, pretending that we didn't love each other. Moving somewhere like Denmark, where we could be open about ourselves, was an attractive thought, but again not an option. Even Grandad, who could usually find a way through any problem, had no advice to offer.

We talked over and over it, Sanwar and I, but we just couldn't see any way out of our dilemma. The fact remained that what we were doing when we made love was illegal, and if we were to be exposed the consequences could be very severe. Both of our families would suffer; Dad could lose his job. Worst of all, we would probably be forcibly separated. We had just about reached the point of accepting that we would have to keep our love hidden until we were eighteen. Then came the evening Dad got home waving a letter around that he'd found in his pigeon-hole at work.

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