I was waiting for the hullabaloo over the latest in the Potter series to wither a little before I started writing this. I feared that my voice would be lost in all the cacophony. So now when relative calm prevails I begin…

Who is Harry Potter? I’ve heard of him, but I don’t know him. Six bestsellers (this is an understatement), and I haven’t read a word from any of them. Does this mean that I will be lynched by millions (there might be more) of Potter maniacs for my ignorance? I might reason with the mob that I’ve crossed the compulsory Potter reading age (what is it by the way?), but the little girl with blonde streaks partly hidden beneath a witch’s hat, pointing her broom at me will shriek, “My Grandma’s 90, and she’s potty over Potter!!” “With a grand daughter like you, do you think she has any other option?” my quivering mind ponders. Lesson of Life: When a mob attacks, reasoning doesn’t work, running for your life does. And will I discover that those costly sport shoes (costly only because of advertising expenses and dealer margins) out pace the witches’ brooms (something must be wrong with the ignition there, they won’t simply budge off the ground). And I will live another day to write this post.

In spite of my imaginary brush with the wannabe wizards and witches, I’m grateful to Joanne Kathleen Rowling that in this era of cable TV and video games, the kids (and many grownups too) haven’t forgotten the dying habit of book reading.

When I was a kid (and that’s not too long ago) we didn’t have the electronic media to hype up things for us and influence our tastes and preferences. Therefore we often didn’t know what’s ‘happening’. Apart from sports (the ones played out in the sun and not on electronic gizmos) and a little television (only one channel for a few hours a day) we had to be content with books and comics.

Books ignited our imaginations. Comics gave shape and colour to them. Folklores, fairy tales, Stories from the Arabian Nights, Panchatantra, Jataka Tales… I read them all. Enid Blyton provoked my fantasy flights; I looked for life in my toys. Hardy Boys, a little of Nancy Drew, Secret Seven, Famous Five led to many misadventures.

Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Ruskin Bond et al. tickled my literary aspirations. With Jules Verne and HG Wells for company I went twenty thousand leagues under the sea in my endeavour to go around the world in eighty days, so that I could be back in time for my next journey to the centre of the earth in order to escape the war of the worlds.

I too wore my underpants over my trousers, used a towel for a cape and tried to fly. Always wished if Shillong (my home town) would be a little more like Riverdale and Xanadu or at least the Skull Cave my home. Always wanted to drink the magic potion and beat the shit out of the Pakistanis (it was ingrained in our psyche that all Pakistanis were India’s enemies, but time and understanding has thankfully healed those misapprehensions)

Rowling missed me by a few years, because by the time the first of her legendary series hit the stands, I was already in college and had started preferring books without pictures (but I still go loony over toons) and other adult literature (yes, that includes porn too). And today, when I see all the ballyhoo surrounding Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, I’m for a moment tempted. But the overnight queues outside bookstores and the uninviting price tag of Rs. 895 (India’s per capita income is Rs. 20,989) made me deduce this: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince = 22.375 bottles of beer.

Of course, I went for the latter.

And I still don’t know Harry Potter. Hic!

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