'Pram was going to marry a Ksatriyana. Don't you suppose Indiri's family would have checked the circumstances of Pram's birth before they allowed such a marriage to take place? I tell you they would, and then things would have been much worse for everyone involved.'

'But he could have married her and lived here.'

'Ah, Dr. Frederickson, he could still do that, couldn't he? But I think you will agree that that does not seem likely. You see, what you fail to understand is that Pram is an Indian, and his roots are in India. Pram's adoptive parents are extremely liberal and far- seeing people. Not at all like most people in India, in the United States or, for that matter, in the world. Pram himself failed to learn the great truth that was implicit in his adoption. I know that if Pram were to attempt to return to India and marry Indiri-as he would most certainly have done if I had not told him what I did-he would have been ridiculed and derided by Indiri's family, perhaps even stoned for even presuming to do such a thing. In other words, Dr. Frederickson, Pram has the same options he had before: to marry Indiri or not; to live here or in India. I'm sure Indiri is as indifferent to Pram's origins as his own family is. He is not able to do this because, as you say, the knowledge that he could come from sutra origins is destroying him. You see, in effect, Pram is prejudiced against himself. I had hoped that telling him the truth as I did would give him time to adjust, to prepare himself.'

I suddenly felt sick at the image of a young man doing battle with shadows. Pram had had a glittering treasure within his grasp and had ended with an empty pot at the end of a fake rainbow. And all because of a label he had swallowed and internalized but which, for him, was no more digestible than a stone.

'I didn't know you'd said those things to him,' I said lamely. 'But now he's obsessed with this candala thing.'

'I'm afraid you'll have to take the responsibility for that, Dr. Frederickson.'

'You said it.'

'In anger, without thinking. You felt the need to repeat it.'

I could feel a cloak of guilt settling over my shoulders. I made no attempt to shrug it off for the simple reason that Dev Reja was right.

'It doesn't really matter, Dr. Frederickson. Even without you the problem would still remain. However, now I am curious. What would you have done in my place?'

I wished I had an answer. I didn't. I was in over my head and knew it.

'All right,' I said resignedly, 'what do we do now?'

'What we have been doing,' Dev Reja said. 'Help Pram the best we can, each in our own way.'

'He has a psychiatrist looking after him now. The university insisted.'

'That's good as far as it goes,' Dev Reja said, looking down at his hands. 'Still, you and I and Indiri must continue to talk to him, to try to make him see what you wanted him to see: that a man is not a label. If he is to marry Indiri and return to India, he must strengthen himself; he must prepare an inner defense against the people who will consider his love a crime.'

'Yes,' I said, 'I think I see.' It was all I said, and I could only hope Dev Reja could sense all of the other things I might have said. I turned and walked out of the classroom, closing the door quietly behind me.

Pram's soul was rotting before my eyes. He came to class, but it was merely a habitual response and did not reflect a desire to actually learn anything. Once I asked him how he could expect to be a successful sociologist if he failed his courses; he stared at me blankly, as though my words had no meaning.

He no longer bathed, and his body smelled. The wound on his throat had become infected and suppurating; Pram had wrapped it in a dirty rag, which he did not bother to change. His very presence had become anathema to the rest of his class, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that I managed to get through each lecture that Pram attended. Soon I wished he would no longer come, and this realization only added to my own growing sense of horror. He came to see me each day, but only because I asked him to. Each day I talked, and Pram sat and gave the semblance of attention. But that was all he gave, and it was not difficult to see that my words had no effect; I could not even be sure he heard them. After a while he would ask permission to leave and I would walk him to the door, fighting back the urge to scream at him, to beat him with my fists.

The infected wound landed him back in the hospital. Three days later I was awakened in the middle of the night by the insistent ring of the telephone. I picked it up and Indiri's voice cut through me like a knife.

'Dr. Frederickson! It's Pram! I think something terrible is going to happen!'

Her words were shrill, strung together like knots in a wire about to snap. 'Easy, Indiri. Slow down and tell me exactly what's happened.'

'Something woke me up a few minutes ago,' she said, her heavy breathing punctuating each word. 'I got up and went to the window. Pram was standing on the lawn, staring up at my window.'

'Did he say anything, make any signal that he wanted to talk to you?'

'No. He ran when he saw me.' Her voice broke oft' in a shudder, then resumed in the frightened croak of an old woman. 'He was wearing two wooden blocks on a string around his neck.'

'Wooden blocks?'

'Clappers,' Indiri sobbed. 'Like a candala might wear. Do you remember what I told you?'

I remembered. 'In what direction was he running?'

'I'm not sure, but I think Dr. Dev Reja's house is in that direction.'

I slammed down the phone and yanked on enough clothes to keep from being arrested. Then, still without knowing exactly why, I found myself running through the night.

My own apartment was a block and a half off campus, about a half mile from Dev Reja's on-campus residence. I hurdled a low brick wall on the east side of the campus and pumped my arms as I raced across the rolling green lawns.

I ran in a panic, pursued by thoughts of clappers and corpses. My lungs burned and my legs felt like slabs of dough; then a new surge of adrenaline flowed and I ran. And ran.

The door to Dev Reja's house was ajar, the light on in the living room. I took the porch steps three at a time, tripped over the door jamb and sprawled headlong on the living room floor. I rolled to my feet, and froze.

Pram might have been waiting for me, or simply lost in thought, groping for some last thread of sanity down in the black, ether depths where his mind had gone. My mouth opened, but no sound came out. Pram's eyes were like two dull marbles, too large for his face and totally unseeing.

Dev Reja's naked corpse lay on the floor. The handle of a kitchen knife protruded from between the shoulder blades. The clothes Dev Reja should have been wearing were loosely draped over Pram. The room reeked with the smell of gasoline.

Candala. Pram had made the final identification, embracing it completely.

I saw Pram's hand move and heard something that sounded like the scratching of a match; my yell was lost in the sudden explosion of fire. Pram and the corpse beside him blossomed into an obscene flower of flame; its petals seared my flesh as I stepped forward.

I backed up slowly, shielding my face with my hands. Deep inside the deadly pocket of fire Pram's charred body rocked back and forth, then fell across Dev Reja's corpse. I gagged on the smell of cooking flesh.

Somewhere, thousands of miles and years from what was happening in the room, I heard the scream of fire engines, their wailing moans blending with my own.

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