By Bijal Vachharajani
Reyansh, my seven-year-old nephew — seven years, nine month old nephew, to be precise — wrangled the phone away from his mother (my sister) while she and I were talking a few days ago. Phone in hand, he raced into his room and huddled in a corner window. Then, he whispered into the phone. “Masi,” said Reyansh. “Are you a witch?”
I paused for a moment and answered, “If I was, you know I couldn’t tell you.”
“I knew it,” answered the nephew softly but triumphantly.
There’s context to this cryptic conversation and for that, I need to rewind to 2006 when Reyansh was born.
I was the fifth person to hold him in my arms, right after his doting parents and excited grandparents. Reyansh was all clenched up – his face tomato red and screwed up, crying with the shock of tumbling into a strange world; his tiny hands curled into tight fists and his skin, fresh and dimpled. It was an immediate, fierce kind of love. One that took the shape of singing lullabies (“In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight”) to a baby who was anything but asleep even though it was the middle of the night. I’ve changed diapers with a brave face and without faltering (too much). And I’ve buried him under tons of stories.
When he turned one year old, I got him a big picture book from the Strand Book Stall sale in Mumbai. The nephew was delighted by it. When he opened the book, the dog inside barked and flapped his paper ears. The yellow cat bobbed her head and mewed, and the Jersey cow swished her tail while mooing softly. We spent hours poring over the book. Reyansh was fascinated by the images, running his fingers across the colours, tracing the shapes, giggling and cooing with the joy of discovery.
Many books followed – Maurice Sendak, Julia Donaldson, Tulika’s Thumb books, Tara’s book on cats – and I knew that the family had another bookworm in its fold, when every night his mother would have to tuck him into bed with a kiss and a story.
And then, before I knew it, he was off to Dubai, 1,953 km away from Mumbai. Somehow, reading to him on Skype wasn’t quite the same. From seeing him every day, marvelling at his daily accomplishments (Look! He can hold a spoon in his hand! Oh no, he’s going to hit himself in the head with it) and hearing about his play schools daily feats (he made a tea pot with clay! Oh sorry, I meant a bear, of course it’s a bear), our time together was hastily-squeezed into summer holidays, Facetime calls and iMessage. We didn’t have conversations, we stayed in touch and I wistfully remembered the time Reyansh has asked me if I could give him some tips on becoming an adventurer. (For some reason, he thought I was like Dora the Explorer. Not that I’m complaining.)
Then, he turned seven and he met a wizard named Harry Potter.
Let’s fiddle with the time turner once again and tiptoe back to 2001, for my story. For muggles (non-wizarding people), this was five years after Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had changed the world. The news of the Boy Who Lived began reached us here in India as well and without expecting much from it, I picked up Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Rowling’s story was like a portkey — I felt like I had been “jerked behind the navel as though an invisible hook and line had dragged” me, “spinning uncontrollably” into a whirling force of words with which Rowling had conjured Hogwarts and Harry’s adventures. Of course, I was teased mercilessly – it wasn’t cool to be reading children’s books in the early 2000s — and I shamelessly fibbed by saying that this was mandatory reading in our creative writing class.
The Harry Potter stories became my Room of Requirement. I retreated to them when real-life dementors surrounded me. Open one of the books and like the room that would always be equipped with “the seekers needs”, I’d find solace in words and wizardly deeds. I read them and re-read them and read them again. Simply put, I’d fallen in love with that world. Mischief managed.
Years later, the Potterhead in me refuses to be snuffed out. My fandom isn’t a horcrux that can be killed off with a basilisk fang. Or maybe it is a horcrux, but of another kind of magic that binds together Rowling’s imagination and my soul… (must stop that train of thought, shuts pensieve cupboard firmly). The nephew, being the sensitive sort, realised Masi’s Potter fixation wasn’t a frivolous matter. The fact that I have an altar to Harry Potter might make some roll their eyes, but Reyansh quickly understood that my Hagrid figurine was not a toy. The only question he had was why I loved the books so much and I told him that some day, soon, he and I would talk about it.
Some Day is here.
Reyansh has taken the same portkey and hurtled into the wondrous world of wizards and witches. He calls and chats with me incessantly to discuss the story and his favourite characters. “It’s Harry, of course, ahem”. He rattles off details from the plot, reminds me of nuggets that I had forgotten. He sends me pictures of his Harry Potter Lego mini figurines, arguing about the merits and demerits of each one. (They’re very cool. I confess I have harboured thoughts of stealing some of them.) He agrees with me that the Hagrid one is pretty awesome, as is the character in the books. He was shocked when I told him that I liked Snape too. Then, with a wise, knowing expression, he said, “You’re kidding, of course.” He can’t wait for me to come to Dubai so that he can sit down with me and talk about the books and the stories within them. Neither can I.
The other day my sister texted me, “Reyansh believes you are a witch and that he is muggle-born. He also believes that he will get his Hogwarts acceptance letter when he turns 11.” That remains my Patronus moment.
Reyansh, Potter and I are now BFFs. Wait, the nephew will not approve of that word. Well, we are now as cool as Harry, Ron and Hermione. Or somewhere in that vicinity at least. All thanks to the world that has been conjured by Rowling with her words and us, with our imaginations.
Bijal Vachharajani is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. At wand point, she will admit she loves Prisoners of Azkaban the most. She knows that gloomy weather means that dementors are around and immediately reaches out for chocolate.