Which story do you read when you re-read a favourite book?
The Story of The Book
One afternoon, I was looking through the books on my shelf for something to read, when my copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone caught my attention. Unable to contain myself, I picked it up.
It was old and faded, the pages held together by sellotape, much like Harry’s glasses before he joined Hogwarts. But every crease, every wrinkle on the cover had a tale to tell — of how many times the book had been read and how dearly it had been (and still was) loved.
The familiar illustration of an awestruck Harry in front of the red Hogwarts Express made me smile. I leafed through the first few pages and couldn’t help noticing the little marks and inscriptions a younger me had made inside. The first blank page proudly claimed, in the childish cursive handwriting of eleven-year-old Anangsha-
This book belongs to Anangsha Alammyan, possibly the greatest J K Rowling fan that ever lived (The Girl Who Lived?) in this utterly non-magical and Dursleyish world of Muggles.
This mark of my long-forgotten innocence made me smile wider. Fondly, I turned the page over to where the first chapter began: The Boy Who Lived. Below the title, were the words that would stay forever imprinted in the minds of so many readers like me:
Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
I read through the first chapter and all the memories came rushing back: Minerva McGonagall complaining that she was stiff because of sitting on a brick wall all day long, Dumbledore offering her his favourite Muggle sweet sherbet lemon much to her chagrin, Hagrid turning up on a giant flying motorbike and howling with pain when asked to part with a baby Harry — it was almost as if I was revisiting the world of my childhood.
As if the book had the power to make all the years that separated now and my 12-year-old self melt into nothingness.
I was a child once again — wide-eyed with amusement as she discovered the magical world of Hogwarts for the first time.
The Reader’s Story
Unbidden, the story of how I had first discovered Harry Potter flashed in front of my eyes. My best friend had walked up to me, excitement shining bright in her eyes, claiming with confidence that she was about to introduce me to my next favourite author.
Back then, all I had read were Enid Blytons and Nancy Drews and considered myself a big fan of adventure. When she told me Harry Potter was about magic, I laughed at her face.
“I will not read a book about jadu-tona (“superstition” in Hindi),” I scoffed. “Adventure novels are fine because those stories can happen to us if we are lucky. But magic doesn’t exist. And I don’t believe in superstitions.”
“This book isn’t about superstition,” she told me, rolling her eyes. “Please read the first chapter. You will know what I mean.”
I took the book, but I was still sceptical when I read the first few lines. But as the story progressed, I was hooked. I finished the first chapter in no time.
Then, the second.
Then, the third, fourth, fifth.
And before I knew it, it was 12 AM and I was lying on the bed, the last page of the book turned, my head abuzz with a million emotions.
There was magic in JK Rowling’s words — the magic of Charms, Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Herbology and Potions — so many different forms of magic and yet, none of them resembling jadu-tona.
When I met my friend in school the next morning, my cheeks were flushed with excitement when I asked her, “When can I read the next book?”
That was the beginning of my love for Harry Potter, a love that has survived 15 years and so many changes of colleges, cities and jobs. A love that had filled my belly with thrills as a teenager and continues to fill my heart with warmth as an adult.
Closing Notes: The Two Stories
This warmth was precisely what I felt that afternoon when I had picked up the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from my shelf.
The pure, unadulterated love for a made-up world that acted as a time machine and took me back to my childhood.
Oh, how simple life had been back then when all you had to worry about were homework, after-school tuitions, and making sure you laid your hands on the new book before your friends did.
How did we get here now, with our tangled lives and deadlines that never seem to ease? Where did we leave that reckless abandon behind, when burying your noses in a book could be the solution to all your problems?
No wonder it is said that books keep your memories preserved — much the same way you hold your collection dear — displaying them with pride on shelves, with old airline boarding passes pressed between the pages serving as bookmarks.
A book has two stories to tell — one is its own for the world to read, and the other is yours which only you would know and learn to treasure over the years.
When I opened the first Harry Potter book today, I read more of my own story than the one J K Rowling had penned. And I must say the world was happier and so much more beautiful in 2005 than it is now.
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