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Harry Potter: How he led me on

Srishti Chaudhary | Updated on August 31, 2018 Published on August 31, 2018

United in love: Participants at a Harry Potter-themed workshop in Delhi   -  IMAGE COURTESY: FROZEN PIXEL STUDIOS

A young writer pays tribute to the wizard who shone the light on her career path

It all began on one summer afternoon about 15 years ago. I was in Std IV, and there was nothing seemingly singular about the day I refer to. In fact, the only thing that stood out in the classroom, in my eyes, was a glossy, sky-blue book jacket. It lay on the desk of a boy who sat across the aisle from my seat. I leaned over for a closer look: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, it read. Hours later, I dragged my parents to a bookshop and demanded a copy of the same title. The dull and mundane day ended on a happy, exciting note as I ushered my first Harry Potter possession home.

The number of Potter acquisitions increased over the years, just like my allegiance to the young wizard and his universe. I cannot determine if I lost or found myself in the pages of the Harry Potter books. But some of the sweetest memories of my school life are associated with the novels. My mother, who seemed to think that I spent too much time reading Harry Potter, liked to hide them before I got home from school every afternoon. While she napped, I tiptoed around the house in search of the books. I pored over the pages like a hungry kid, but always mindful that I should return the books to the hiding place before my mother’s siesta ended.

Barring a brief period when I was fascinated with Kalpana Chawla and space scientists, at the age of 11, I have always wanted to be a writer. Even at the risk of sounding dramatic, I must declare that I owe this ambition to Harry Potter. And JK Rowling. Her rags-to-riches story was like the delicate cherry on the icing, with the glitter and commercial success of the Potter films coming a close second. The trophy winner, sitting nicely between the cherry and the runners-up, is the Potter universe — nuanced, complex and engaging. It spawned an idea in my head, that of writing something that could inspire a little girl across the globe. Something that would make someone want to tell a story, beautifully.

My resolve strengthened with all the real-life Potter stories I encountered over the years — stories of people who, without having read the books, loved the Potter films; stories of those, including a girl I know, who sought comfort in the pages of Potter novels during rough patches in their life; stories of fans who sought answers to moral and ethical questions through the goings-on in the Potter universe. A group of psychologists from Italy even concluded that children reading Harry Potter grow up to be more empathetic and tolerant human beings (The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice) .

These stories stayed with me as I enrolled for creative writing at the University of Edinburgh. Why Edinburgh, you may ask. Because Rowling wrote most of the Potter books there. The thought that she struggled to find a publisher for the novels seemed incredible as I walked the streets of the city. I frequented The Elephant House, the little café where the author is said to have started penning her first Potter book. I often walked past The Balmoral, an iconic luxury hotel. Its most expensive suite is where Rowling wrote the last pages of the seventh book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). A stroll down Victoria Street made me wonder if it inspired the creation of Diagon Alley, a cobblestoned wizarding alley in central London. I also wondered if Edinburgh Castle had a role to play in the making of Hogwarts.

In the summer of 2016 — my gap year — I revisited my Potter collection. I was almost 23 then, having first read Potter at the age of 10. It was then that I started looking for courses that analyse the Potter phenomenon. I didn’t find one, therefore I decided to do something on my own. Many meetings and brainstorming sessions later, my partner Sharan and I welcomed a batch of participants at our first Harry Potter-themed workshop in Antisocial, a pub-cum-events space in south Delhi. Divided into 10 sittings, this workshop kept us busy through a whole month. From Albus Dumbledore as a mentor to Rowling’s female characters, from death to love and friendship, we discussed all things Potter. The response from the participants — the youngest being 11 and the oldest, 58 — overwhelmed us. At times, we struggled to keep the decibels under control — both passion and enthusiasm are highly contagious. A quiz turned the house upside down, with teams gunning to outdo each other. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and author Gurcharan Das were among the guest speakers.

I like to think that the workshops were a success — we held another one last year and plan to hold the third in November (details on www.srishtichaudhary.com). I have also inched closer to my dream of being a published author. And I draw comfort from the fact that my book, to be published next year, was also written in the city where Rowling created the most loved wizard of all times.

Srishti Chaudhary is a writer based in Delhi

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Published on August 31, 2018
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