How I Came Across Harry Potter

Today’s Daily Prompt: Reader’s Block

What’s the longest you’ve ever gone without reading a book (since learning how to read, of course)? Which book was it that helped break the dry spell?

Now, this is what I call a tough prompt – I can’t remember the last time I did not have a few books lying around, except….maybe….uh, there’s a little spark of memory here —

I was in seventh grade, and had ‘overgrown’ Enid Blyton. Well overgrown isn’t the right word, but I had finished seven mystery series be her, three sets of school stories and thousands of short stories. I had read all the Nancy Drew novels in my local library, and was now in the painful dilemma of trying to decide what to read further. Needless to say, I had quite high standards.

This was when my mother suggested that I give the ultra-famous Harry Potter series by JK Rowling a try.

“I have been reading quite a few reviews of it in newspapers. Apparently children all over the world love it”.

I wasn’t really enthused, “Ma, you know I don’t like all that magical mumbo-jumbo. I never liked ghost and fairy stories. I want real stories, mysteries if possible!

But my mother was adamant, “People wouldn’t like it if there wasn’t something good in it. Read it. You might be surprised“.

I grudgingly agreed to borrow the first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from the library, but made sure to borrow a Nancy Drew mystery at the same time. Just in case!

The Book that changed me

The Book that changed me

While we were still on the bus, I flipped the book open, and started reading the first chapter – The Boy Who Lived

 I couldn’t put it down! The Nancy Drew mystery lay untouched, gathering dust, as I reveled in the magic of Rowling’s words. I was hooked. 

The next two weeks, I dragged my mother to the library every alternate day for the next part, and gobbled it up with as much enthusiasm as I had read the first book. I forgot everything else in the world….including my studies. So my dad laid down a ruling – NO MORE BOOKS TILL AFTER EXAMS. 

I was on the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and the verdict destroyed me. I just had to find out what happened next! The suspense was agonizing. Voldemort was out there somewhere, and(*SPOILER ALERT*) Dumbledore was dead! There were seven horcruxes and they could be anywhere! Ginny and Harry had broken up, and stupid Ron still hadn’t kissed Hermione! I had to know what happened next.

But my parents remained firm.

That night I dreamt of the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I kept trying to pick it up and read it, but it kept moving away from my reach; so tantalizingly close yet just an inch away.

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I pounced on it and was about to read it — when I woke up, and found myself clutching my pillow.

I burst into tears, which melted my mother’s heart long enough to let her make a bargain with me – I could get the book, but I had to finish it in one day.

It wasn’t a bad bargain. The book was so engaging that I could barely put it down anyway! I stayed up the entire night reading it, and fell asleep with the book still in my hands.

With Harry Potter began my newfound love for the fantasy genre. Soon Chronicles of Narnia followed. Followed by Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, Artemis Fowl, The Mediator Series and The Kane Chronicles. I remain an ardent fan till date, and all because:

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

My Struggles With Brevity

I love to write.

I love to write a lot……Unfortunately.

I don’t remember how old I was when my mother, an English teacher, told me that I should always while writing answers in a literature paper take it for granted that the examiner knows nothing. Explain everything. Provide as much context as possible.

I don’t think even she realized the widespread repercussions her words would have, but since then my answers in the examinations, especially my literature paper, have just grown in size. The smallest answer I ever wrote for an English literature paper was three-quarters of an A4 size sheet! A close friend joked that if I had written the entire Shakespeare play verbatim in the answer sheet my answer would probably be shorter. It wasn’t even that big an exaggeration. For one exam, I remember taking 11 supplements or extra sheets, after finishing the initial 12-page booklet. I would probably have written more, but I was running a mild temperature  that day. The same friend joked, that next year our juniors could probably just bind my answer papers and read it instead of the textbook. It never hurt me however. In my final Literature exam at the end of high school, I wrote more than forty pages and scored 99 out of 100.

Verbosity has always been a loving friend to me. My essays in middle school used to be six-seven pages long, and I would only stop writing, once the final bell had rung, and my teacher had more often than not literally snatched the paper away from me. Writing till the last possible second is a habit I am yet to curb, during exams.

I remember one glorious day in tenth grade when all our lectures had been cancelled  due to some emergency teacher’s meeting, but unwilling to leave us all free for the rest of the day, our teacher had asked us to write a story on the topic ‘I wish I had wings…’ Unsurprisingly, no one in the class did…except me. When in the last period, our teacher came to collect the essays she found that no one had written anything, and the one who had was unwilling to give it. I had written ten pages, but I did not want to submit it yet. I told so to my teacher. Surprised, she urged me to tell her why. After a little pushing, I confessed that I had yet to finish my story….or to begin it one could also say. You see my plot was simple: a young village girl dreams of flying and on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus gifts her the ability to fly, and what she does after that. When my teacher came to collect the stories, I had only written till the part where she dreams of flying, and even Santa Claus’s grand entry was yet to be made. After I had explained this to my teacher, she was speechless for a second, and then groaned, “Archita, you shall be the death of me! Please, please don’t do something like this in your Board examination!” She was afraid I would waste so much time on that one question that I would not have enough time left to finish the rest of the paper. Despite her warning, my essay in my tenth board exams nearly reached twenty pages, but I made sure that I finished the rest of my paper beforehand. Yet this was the first time that I realized that as much as I loved my verbose style of writing with grandiose descriptions, brevity has its own charm.

Since then, I have trimmed my style a lot. I write my answers in bullet points, and try to be as concise as possible…at least in academic examinations. But at home with a pen and a sheet of blank paper in front of me – I run wild. My journals are filled with pages and pages of the day’s account in excruciatingly precise details (this year, I have already finished two 400 page journals. Last year, I used up 3 notebooks as my diaries). My ultimate dream is to write a diary entry so intricately detailed that when I open my journal, ten years from now, I can experience all that I am experienced a decade back with the same intensity that I felt then. Needless to say, I haven’t yet been successful in my attempt, but I am trying hard. I write in as much detail as Time and Memory would permit.

For me, words are the path to immortality. Maybe when I am 80 years old, I shall flip through the yellowed pages of my youth, and through the faded blue scribbles relive once again the forgotten past – laugh at the old jokes, chuckle at a daring prank, fondly remember forgotten friends, and for one moment someday the lines between the Past and the Present would blur. 

My verbosity is well known among my peer groups. My friends might tease me, but I am also pretty much in demand. Whenever someone has an important essay to write, they seek my advice. Sometimes before a literature exam, I have had to turn my phone off, so that I could ward off advice-seekers and study. For friends’ birthdays, I don’t have to waste a lot of time looking for the perfect gift. I usually give my friends a book (usually a personal favorite) with a personalized message inside. For some I might even write a poem, and those few scribbled lines alone often overshadow any extravagant gift anyone else might have bought 😛 On the last day of middle school, I was the one everyone wanted to have their slam books filled by. I remember, a girl with whom I had throughout my school life barely ever seen eye to eye with came up to me with her slam book, handed it to me, and said hesitatingly, “Write something good, ok?” 

Yet as much as I love verbosity, I do believe that brevity has its own utility. Sometimes the lesser you write, the better it is. I love reading and occasionally writing Flash Fiction.

For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

Earnest Hemingway’s six-word story, written as part of a bet, is according to me more poignant than dozens of thick volumes of tragedy taken together. It is one of my favourite works in literature. The story leaves you wanting more, like any good short story should. You yearn to know more about the individuals who published this notice, but you can’t, and that’s when your brain start filling in the blank space underneath the words. You imagine the pain, the angst of the dead child’s parents. You question yourself is the child really dead? Was it a miscarriage? An abortion? Was she kidnapped? You try to imagine the mother’s pain, the pale face of the father …and the story stays with you, because it has, through its brevity transcended the world of fiction and entered the sphere of reality.

Someday I would love to gain that much mastery over the elusive skill of brevity. But never at the cost of losing my verbose style!

Today’s Daily Prompt: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” — Blaise Pascal          Where do you fall on the brevity/verbosity spectrum?

Talking about the Future on the School Bus

10320348_757120340986332_8630196627970622781_nHave you ever wondered why we only remember snippets of our memories? Like one precious moment in time we managed to catch just before it slipped away, and stored it in the treasure chest of our minds. It might be a little dusty with time, but the essence remains pure.

This is one such memory carefully preserved in my memory box – the details are a little dusty, but it is still cherished.

What do you want to be when you grow up? – the favourite question of every adult whom you met. Today we had just written a paragraph in class on what we wanted to be when we grew up, and the topic was still fresh in our minds. By we, I mean me and my two best friends – who for the sake of anonymity, I am calling S and M. 

“So” I asked, looking out of the school bus window, at the receding building, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” 

“You tell, first”, M demands, testing the waters, testing if it is a trick question.  We were only 4 years old. 

“I wanna be a doctor” I replied proudly. “Like my uncle. He stays in London”. I never knew which held more fascination for me – the profession or the distant land, synonymous with all the magical places I read about in books (maybe that is why when I finally visited the city, a few years ago I was vaguely a little disappointed). Whatever the case, that was the only career path I knew of and deemed fitting back then. 

Now, S followed, a little tentatively, “I wanna be a teacher”. We turn up our noses. Being a teacher is the worst thing you could want to be at that age. A teacher was a wooden ruler wielding monster back then, who mercilessly gave homework to students. “Not any teacher”, she is quick to defend. “A good one, like Rina Miss. I will help students. I will be kind and never shout at them”. This was, still understandable. Rina Miss was all of our favourite teacher. She was kind, and always took extra interest in the underdogs – those who were bullied in the playground, those who didn’t seem to have friends, those who had problems at home. She would call them and talk to them at length. Sometimes she would give us chocolates and small gifts like pencils or ball-point pens (a rare privilege allowed to kids). She would take interest in what books we read and what films we saw, and when another teacher scolded us, it was to she who wiped our tears. 

Now it was M’s turn. She proudly puffed up her chest – “I want to be a wife!” We broke into peals of laughter. Marriage only had two meanings for us – 

  1. A game to play with when we were playing with our dolls.
  2. An occasion where we had to go dressed up and would be served tasty food, and would have our cheeks pulled by a dozen people we never remembered meeting. 

Once we managed to resume seriousness, we gave some serious thought to the question. “You will have to leave your parents”, I said gravely. As a girl, that was the biggest obstacle to marriage, in my opinion.

“I won’t”, M said, confidently. “I will make my husband leave his house, and come to live with my parents. My mother said that long ago that is how it happened. Men left their houses after marriage to come, stay with their wives”. (I have thought of this strange piece of knowledge for long. I guess my friend had misunderstood, or maybe her mother was talking about matriarchal societies)

“That is such a nice tradition!” I said. “Why did they change it? Why did our mothers shift residence after marriage?” 

For a moment we ponder this incomprehensible question. This ridiculousness of our mothers. “My father has a nice house” S said, almost defensively. We all were quiet. We couldn’t really debate this topic, without debasing either one of our parents, so we left it.

“When we get married, we won’t be like our mothers” I decide. “We will bring our husbands to our home. I will never leave my family!” images (1)

More than fifteen years has passed since this conversation took place. None of us are married….yet. I am pursuing a journalism career. M is pursuing English majors, and S just cleared high school. Very little remains of that ignorance and confidence now. Back then, all insurmountable problems had a simple solution. Sometimes I wish I could view life as simplistically now too.

(This post is in response to today’s Daily Prompt: Futures Past)

 

 

 

My Iconic Bureau

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The theme of this week’s writing challenge was iconic, and it set me thinking. Which object was that one icon that embodied me and all what I stand for, my journey in life up till now, and something that will probably play just as important a part in my future. The answer is my bureau. My father had it made for me the very year I joined nursery school – April 1999 –  and I have been studying on it ever since. It is just four years younger than me, and in many ways we have grown up together. It is kinda messy I admit, but still very dear to my heart, which is why I wrote this poem for it:

My desk stands old and bruised,                                                                                                        Ages have passed – or so it seems,                                                                                                     Since our first encounter. Indeed, I am                                                                                    Much changed; No more the tiny lass,                                                                                                Who needed two cushions on her chair                                                                                                    To reach the desk, where I now sit proudly.                                                                                         Only the glittering princess sticker on the side reminisces                                                                  Of those times, when I lisped through the alphabets – here, on my desk,                                Where I now recite Blake and Keats, and memorize Shakespeare.                                    Much has it endured the brunt of time – fifteen long years;                                               Much has it been moistened by many, many tears and,                                                                  Dried by the warmth of smiles and care.                                                                                            Was it not only yesterday, that I tore my hair out over number tables,                                       And fractions that gave me nightmares – now I muse over polynomials!

The stains and marks tell their own story – I beg you to listen,                                                  They are all a-clamouring to tell you their story, my story:                                                            The paint splatters are testimony to many an artwork,                                                               The canvas of my childhood has had held many masterpieces, the pride of a child’s heart! That there, the cream splotch, my mother over-worked her hands on that,                                   To remove the squiggles of a permanent marker.

The locker has in its time stored many secrets, and treasures,                                               Birthday gifts, love letters, old valentines and party-invites.                                                         Only the adhesive marks remain from my movie posters,                                                      Blackened with time; From Enid Blyton to JK Rowling,                                                                From Cinderella to Eragon, from Famous Five to Sherlock Holmes,                                                  My learned desk has read it all. It has written too,                                                                        Diaries and letters, essays and lab journals.                                                                                          The line of books replaced the parade of Barbies,                                                                     The pierre-cardin pens, my worn out crayons.                                                                                 Dull volumes succeeded the picture books, the book of rhymes by the book of poems.

My desk has been my dearest companion,                                                                                   Together we would sit and daydream, me and my darling confider.                                          Together we have traveled down the vista of years,                                                                Faced the storms and zephyrs alike; hiked over mountains and moors.                                       This wooden desk is my memoir, the legacy of my childhood,                                                        The comrade of my youth and the foundation of my future.

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This is my first attempt at writing a poem, but the subject I think is fitting. This is an ode to me desk.