If Bryan Adams had ‘ The Summer of 69’, I had The Winter of 99’. No, my fingers didn’t bleed, and neither did any of my friends ‘get married’, but those certainly were the best days of my life, for that was when I fell in love.
I, a geeky plump 10-year-old, had begun to plan my future life with a bespectacled, thin, eleven-year-old who was way out of my league. I must admit, with some shame, that it wasn’t love at first sight—he had to woo me as a 12-year old in my house for a few months, till his 11-year old self decided to show up.
Okay, so maybe enough with the euphemisms. This certain, bespectacled boy was Harry Potter, and it was in the year 1999 that I first heard his name. Little did I know how important he would become to me
Summer 1999. My aunt had bought me three special edition books by Louisa May Alcott as a present. As I excitedly pulled them out of the bag, a fourth book fell to the ground; its bright phoenix cover clashed with the somber covers of the other books. I picked up the book from the floor and glanced at its title, ‘Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets ‘, shining silver in the light. Quizzically I looked at my aunt, who nonchalantly replied, “All the kids at the bookstore were going gaga over this book, so I got it for you.”
But I had failed to see the charm in a wizard, that too a boy wizard. After all, I was ten, and clearly not interested in a story about boys. My ideal stories involved a protagonist like Jo March—a sensible, independent woman with a good humor and a celebrated author. Disinterested but unwilling to discard the Potter book, I put it in carelessly in my shelf, and forgot all about it till my uncle came visiting in December and as am early Christmas present, gifted me the first & third Potter books. The seasons had changed, but my disinclination to read Harry Potter hadn’t.
By Christmas eve, I had read all the books in my shelf, except the Harry Potter series, and was pestering my parents for a set of new Enid Blyton books. They had refused, citing the presence of the unread Potter books on my shelf. Defeated, I grudgingly picked up the first Harry Potter and begin to read.
By the end of that day, I was chanting incantations, wishing for an invisibility cloak, looking out for owls and wondering where I would get a ‘pumpkin pasty’, for it sounded heavenly.
Infrequent access to Google meant that my research was confined to newspapers and the British Council library. I spent an entire day in the library reading about the author J.K.Rowling, who had conceptualized Harry Potter rather abruptly in a crowded train and brought him to life in numerous cafes in Scotland. Her journey from being a single mother living off state benefits to becoming one of UK’s richest women was nothing short of magical. Strong female characters in books had always fascinated and inspired me, and Ms.Rowling here was a real-life heroine. That day was the first time the reading scorpion stung me with its writing-filled tail, but I hadn’t realized it as yet.
Halfway through the Goblet of Fire, there was news. Warner Brothers was planning to turn the entire Potter series into movies, the first of which would release in 2001. Overcome with the excitement of the news as well as the coverage in the media, I decided to create my very own Harry Potter encyclopedia, consisting of articles from newspapers and magazines, since I couldn’t possibly foresee the invasion of the Internet.
Two files went in collecting clippings, small and large from our newspapers or neighbors’ and friends’ magazines, about anything with the words ‘Harry’, ‘Potter’ or ‘Rowling’, each organized chronologically with a handwritten index at the end. My biggest dream then was to present this encyclopedia to Ms.Rowling and get all my Potter books autographed (the latter still remains my unfulfilled dream). I also wrote countless letters to the British Council pestering them to invite her to India. Till date I have neither received any reply from them nor have I never arranged anything as meticulously as I did those articles.
Waiting for new Potter books meant re-reading the old ones, and slowly my infatuation for Harry Potter transformed to a deep love for multiple characters in the book. I begin to relate to Ron’s sarcasm, Hermione’s love for books and “rather large front teeth” (I have crooked teeth), Neville’s awkwardness and unexpected bouts of courage, Harry’s loyalty to his friends and Draco Malfoy’s resilience (he never did leave Harry alone, did he?).
I got goosebumps when ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle’ turned into ‘ I am Lord Voldemort’, nearly shrieked when I discovered that Scabbers was Peter Pettigrew, cried when Cedric died. Harry Potter soon became a major part of my comfort reading list. Anytime I felt lonely, sad or upset, I found solace in Harry Potter.
The years passed by, with one new Harry Potter book releasing once in every two years till 2007. The fifth book was another gift from my aunt, the sixth was a birthday present from my parents and the seventh book – well, I went to the store at 6 am to get my hands on it. Harry had grown up and was nearly done with school, and so was I.
While Harry had always been clear about wanting to be an Auror, I went from wanting to be a doctor to enrolling in engineering college. If Harry had to fight off Death Eaters, I had to fight off sadistic professors. I even tried to emulate Ms.Rowling’s sardonic, crisp and funny writing style while writing my notes! As a result, Potter was never out of mind.
One would have thought that age would have played its part and that now, 17 years later, my love would’ve turned into a nostalgic fondness. Clearly not. I bought a Harry Potter sticker booklet along with other books with my first salary. On a recent trip to the bookstore, a Harry Potter coloring kit made its way into my shopping cart. In a store, I picked up a Funko pop surprise Harry Potter figurine (I got Dumbledore) . One of my favorite t-shirts is a grey one with the Hogwarts insignia on it, and I had to practice all forms of mind control to stop myself from buying the new Ravenclaw-themed Harry Potter books.
Some of my friends still refer to me as ‘The Potter Girl’, and one of the first presents my sister-in-law gave me was bunch of sketch pens and a French Harry Potter coloring book. I first met Harry Potter when we both were eleven, and read about his last adventure when we both were 17. I saw Harry grow from being a clueless young boy to a self-assured young man, all the while growing up myself.
The best thing about Harry was that he was an imperfect hero—he made mistakes, wasn’t a brilliant student, often got into trouble and was a tad bit arrogant at times. He was ordinary, as ordinary as a wizard can possibly be. He taught me that although it was okay to be human and make mistakes, it was more important to be brave and bounce back from those mistakes and live life with integrity.
In all ways, the Harry Potter books have made for not only good reading, but great friends as well. I would be quite amiss to not thank Ms.Rowling for her creation, so thank you Ms Rowling, for giving such wonderful friends to all of us and our future generations. I am sure all of us will not only be ‘Potter Boys’ & ‘Potter Girls’ but also ‘Pottermaniacs’ for life.
Image: Mrinalini Krothapalli
[Mrinalini Krothapalli is a sloth masquerading as a human who likes writing but is too lazy to write. She can generally be found curling on the couch with a good book & a bag of potato chips. A true Hufflepuff, she has the patience of an ox & the loyalty of an overtly optimistic human being, especially towards her blog, www.thejhallawallahjournal.blogspot.com. Her patronus is a wild cat.]