Once upon a time, a young girl managed to get hold of the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets book for a night. The book was on rotation and on high demand and she’d had to beg to have that coveted copy with her for a night. She got sucked into the book from the very first page. She dived into it deep and got lost into it, and a few hours later, she emerged from it a different girl altogether. And then she decided to stay submerged in those words long after she’d finished reading. Over several years, she found five more of those magical books to read, not in order and not one hers to own but she read them all, always feeling a tinge of sadness at having to let go of them to her benevolent borrower. Okay, maybe a lot more than just a tinge. Maybe something in the lines of feeling like a chunk of her heart was being taken away. She’d never actually wanted to possess something so precious for herself, never thought she was worth it, until the seventh and final book got released and she found herself desperately looking for a copy to read, and not finding one grew increasingly flustered and sad. She needed her Harry Potter fix, really really bad.
Enter the then would-be brother-in-law, who’d kinda gotten himself into a fix by avoiding her calls for three months straight. In his defence, she was not really an easy person to talk to when upset, and she was upset that he hadn’t talked to her for a long while, which made him all the more anxious about talking to her. They would have forever been caught in that vicious cycle had he not decided to send her a gift that was guaranteed to make up for all the months of not talking to her. And when that gift reached her, she decided to overlook the fact that it was in fact, a bribe to win her favour back. It instead made her more accepting of the fact that her brother-in-law was not exactly the chummy kind who would make regular calls and indulge in mundane chit chat, but would be there for her when she needed him. The gift was a boxed set of the Harry Potter series, with a hard bound copy of the final book. She broke her rule of not writing on books to mark those books as hers (not anyone else’s but hers) and scribbled “Ji’s first gift!” in her best handwriting on the first page.
It was 2011, four years since that blessed gift, and the girl was about to get married, and was looking at being transported from the safe haven of Asom to the enigmatic adventures of far flung Vietnam. She spent days making lists of stuff that she wanted to carry with her; trying to fit bits and pieces of her pre-wedding life in a suitcase that weighed no more than 25 kgs. Twenty five years of living in the same state within India, never venturing anywhere outside, and facing a new life in a completely new country with a brand new husband. And all she decides to carry with her are some clothes, shoes and her precious Harry Potter boxed set. That her (by then) husband might have a word or two to say about her choice of stuff she wanted with her was lost on her. That he would even mumble about having to pay for extra baggage was not an issue. She wanted those books with her. Needed them to give her comfort when everything else was new and sparkly. Needed the solace that came from knowing that she could always slip into the warmth of familiarity among those books anytime she felt the new a little too cold, a little too shiny. And so the books traveled with her to Vietnam.
It was July 2011, eight months since the Harry Potter books’ maiden flight to Vietnam, and those books were the first to get packed into an open suitcase as the still quite newly weds decided to shift to Malaysia next. Anticipating that the following weeks would fly by in a haze of travel and transition and house hunting in yet another new country, she carried the Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire (the first “thick” book in the series) on her at all times so she didn’t have to dig it out from the suitcase of books. And so she snuggled with it on the living room couch of the guest house from where she could see the Petronas Twin Towers, and she wrapped herself around it, drifting in and out of sleep in the master bedroom while the husband went to work in his new office, not feeling so lonely after all in a new country. In her new home, it was the first bag to get unpacked, and she had a minor heart attack when she couldn’t find the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book for fifteen whole minutes. Panicky and palpitating she flapped about the house until it appeared in a different bag, although how it had reached there is still a mystery. So the Harry Potters were lovingly set on the bottom shelf of the TV table in the Kuala Lumpur apartment, and they had by then accompanied the girl on the verge of womanhood, witnessed her transformation from a shy wife to a confident homemaker who even dabbled in English teaching for a while.
To lug them in a suitcase in the flight or to send them with the movers? Decisions, decisions. Yet another move, yet another new country. For the third time in two years, she packed the Harry Potter books, and it was only after her husband assured her that the boxes would arrive in Singapore the same day they would, that she relented and parted with them. Of all the things that she was anxious about (her swanky new dinner set, her glassware, her silks!) it was those books that she was worried about the most. From Vietnam to Malaysia to Singapore, she lugged them loyally with her, and they in turn provided her with security. Those books saw her through all the unpredictability and confusion. Kept her grounded when she couldn’t seem to find her roots. Because no matter what changed outside, inside those pages, everything remained the same. The books gave her company through the nine longest months of her life, helping her will time away specially when it seemed to trickle by slower than ever. She sunk into those books to keep anxiety at bay, and even carried the Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince book with her to her ultrasound because she didn’t want to sit in the doctor’s clinic idly and let her blood pressure rise in anticipation. Those books carried her through her metamorphosis from wife to mother, just as they had carried her through her metamorphosis from daughter to wife.
Unbelievable as it seems, the books now sit on the shelf waiting to be boxed along with the other books and the little one’s toys for the fourth time in four years, this time to dazzling Dubai. Lending their service whenever demanded of them, they are now an inseparable part of her home, wherever that might be. When she envisions a future where she will finally have a home to call her own, where she can allow the roots to grow deep, she sees her Harry Potter books sitting pretty on a mantelpiece, the yellowed pages and brown age spots a testimony of a lifetime of companionship.
The epilogue of the story would probably be about how years down the line the silver haired grandmother sits her grandchild on her lap and with a sparkle in her eyes carefully opens up a fragile page and starts reading: “Chapter One: The boy who lived….” only to have her husband ask her, “After all this time?” to which she would reply “Always“