Why I Read

In 2017, I helped a colleague and friend finish his first ever novel – Catch 22, a novel I myself had never read. I constantly kept on pestering- what’s the update on the book? How many pages did you read today? Sometimes he told me how exciting it was to read that particular chapter. And it was amazing, but it wasn’t easy. After months, he finally finished the book and called it an achievement. I’m glad I played a small part by helping him start his reading journey, by recommending a book, which turned out to be a little difficult to be suggested as a starter. A good deed accomplished in the year gone by.

I discovered reading very early in life. My family is a collection of massive bookworms. My mother introduced me to Chinese literature and my father to Russian. They are both avid book readers and we all hope to set up our tiny little library someday. I love visiting bookstores as much as people love dropping by in cafes, and when I see children in book stores, it makes me extremely happy.

I vividly remember a day from my school library. Our librarian had awarded points to classes that borrowed the most number of books and pasted the results on the green notice board just outside the library. I might have been in grade 8 or 9. I checked to see where my class stood. And I stood there, heartbroken. The class that borrowed most of the books were grade 4 and 5.  The points got smaller and smaller as the grades increased in number. Don’t ask me what my class secured. I don’t remember to be honest. But it was low enough to make me sad. One plausible explanation might be the proximity of the famous/infamous grade 10 examination. As students approach higher grades much of their focus goes into studying course materials. This approach might not necessarily be wrong, but it reflects a behavior, a trend that as we get older, we may begin to read very little. Priorities bigger than grade 10 examinations are bound to pop up and catch us unguarded. This might of course not be true for everyone. But the important aspect here is that if given access and opportunity, children read and they discover the power of books. Why should it be any different for grown ups, especially when we have access to so much more?

The school library had always been my best resource place. I remember how poorly I read when I was in grade 11 and 12, when my new school barely had anything else but textbooks. It didn’t feel like I was losing anything then, but when I rediscovered another library in university, I realized how I missed the magic of books and how I wish I could go back and reutilize that lost time.

One of my favorite places in my university was the library. It was a beautiful place, had ample sunlight. But most importantly it was quiet and sadly very few student visited it, and perhaps ironically that was the reason I loved it. It was never crowded. This takes me back to my school and the terrifying statistics of borrowing books our school librarian had discovered and pasted on the green notice board.

But why read? Why waste that precious moment digging up words, instead of gold?

There internet is filled with wonderful reasons on why to read, from scientific to aesthetic. Here are mine.

A book is a conversation, a conversation that is well planned and prepared with determination and dedicated on the part of the writer. I think it’s a beautiful conversation. It’s not one way as you might think. A book is a two way conversation. It is like conversing with a friend, a connection that words fail to describe. It is a feeling, like that when you sit down with a friend, new or old, in a cafe with a latte and apple pie placed in front of you. It is a moment, one that is different with each friend. And you speak too, as you feel new and old emotions, discover and rediscover old and new ideas. Indeed, it is a two way conversation.

A book is also an escape, into the imaginable and the unfathomable. It is a reality and a lie. But it is beautiful just the same. It is time enclosed carefully into words by its creator. In other words, it is magic. There is no reason why you should deny yourself of this magic that is so readily available.

But a book is also labor put into time. It is difficult, demands patience and sometimes may leave you fuming at the end. A conversation with a friend might go any way. But you’d still go and meet a friend. Because that’s what we do! Yes, that’s what we do.

That’s exactly how a book is like, a friend.

In Neil Gaiman’s words, “You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”

But if you haven’t started reading yet, do not worry and begin, or as JK Rowling says, “If you do not like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” And the only way to find it, is to find it!

It’s great to know that my friend who just began reading in 2017, with a lot of trouble, has now bought two new books. You just need a bit of the magic dust, and the rest as they say is history!

I hope you find yours very soon.

Happy World Book Day 2018!

Cheers!
Alfa

P.S. The image above is my little attempt at virtual drawing some time back, also from 2017.

3 Powerful Moments from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Dark spoiler aler. If you haven’t read the seventh book in the series you might as well return, unless of course you know how to use the obliviate spell for spoilers!

After one year, one month and eighteen day, a magical journey ended. That was the exact time I needed to finish all the seven books in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. The final book is filled with intensity as the magical world prepares to face Voldemort, alongside Harry. Many secrets are revealed, and Rowling’s masterpiece is woven together as all pieces are placed in their perfect order.

The reason I chose these moments has to do with the spontaneity it comes in and catches the reader and the characters, and eventually ends up revealing so much more about them and the context everything is happening in. These moments are subtle and yet carry so much weight in them.

There are so many powerful moments of loss, pain, change and inspiration, and this list definitely does not suffice. Nonetheless, here are the three powerful but subtle moment from the final Harry Potter book.

  1. Harry discovering the paintings in Luna’s room

Luna had decorated her bedroom ceiling with five beautifully painted faces: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Neville. They were not moving as the portraits at Hogwarts moved, but there was a certain magic about them all the same: Harry thought they breathed. What appeared to be fine golden chains wove around the pictures, linking them together, but after examining them for a minute or so, Harry realised that the chains were actually one word, repeated a thousand times in golden ink: … friends … friends …

Harry felt a great rush of affection for Luna.

I absolutely adore Luna, for her witty lines and her deep caring intent. While we as readers are able to see into her, perhaps the other characters in the books do not know much about her, with the little exception of Harry. Even so, I’d like to believe Harry did not know the depth of care that Luna carried for everyone. In this moment when he discovers the paintings, Luna becomes really special to Harry. No, she’ll never be Ron or Hermoine or Ginny, but Luna will be Luna. She never explicitly expresses how she feels about her friends. It is only through her little actions that her nature is revealed. And in this exact moment Harry realises how much Luna holds inside of her.

There’re many of us who are like Luna. And she continues to be herself, the irreplaceable Luna. And we continue to be our irreplaceable self.

2. Harry’s feelings after Dobby’s death

Harry placed the elf into the grave, arranged his tiny limbs so that he might have been resting, then climbed out and gazed for the last time upon the little body. He forced himself not to break down as he remembered Dumbledore’s funeral, and the rows and rows of golden chairs, and the Minister for Magic in the front row, the recitation of Dumbledore’s achievements, the stateliness of the white marble tomb. He felt that Dobby deserved just as grand a funeral, and yet there the elf lay between bushes in a roughly dug hole.

Harry mirroing Dumbledore’s death and his deep thought that Dobby deserves the same grandeur to celebrate his life and death, teared me up. Dobby was a tiny little character and yet because of his love and respect towards Harry he manages to carve his place. In this fight everyone has their part, big or small. Dobby, of whose life we do not know much, might have been a small part of it all, but he still remains equally important. Dobby stands as a reflection to all the ones who have played small and yet equally respectful roles not just in Harry Potter but also in our lives.

3. Neville Standing up against Alecto Carrow

‘…..I got this one,’ he indicated another slash to his face, ‘for asking how much Muggle blood she and her brother have got.’

‘Blimey, Neville,’ said Ron, ‘there’s a time and a place for getting a smart mouth.’

‘You didn’t hear her,’ said Neville. ‘You wouldn’t have stood it either. The thing is, it helps when people stand up to them, it gives everyone hope. I used to notice that when you did it, Harry’.

Neville Longbottom is such a wonderful character that has grown over the course of these seven books. In the final book, Neville has grown into so much more than what he started out as. ‘It gives everyone hope,’ this is a beautiful statement made by Neville, despite the pain and fear he might have faced when he decided to stand up against Alecto. Courage was a choice, not something given and Neville proves it over and over again, more visible than ever in the The Battle of Hogwarts.

It also made me reflect the words of Albus Dumbledore for Neville from the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom.

The more I think about the books, the more I realize that Harry Potter is about so many things, and one of them would be how we all have our spaces in our worlds. They might be big or small, but they have something to do. Without all the ones who believed and worked for the good side, the Boy Who Lived might not have been successful at overthrowing You-Know-Who. Harry Potter may have been the mighty arsenal, the sword, the weapon bestowed power to vanquish the dark lord, but the vessels that were inside of him, that gave him his life, belonged to all those who fought for the good. Tiny little stones make up sky piercing mighty mountains.

Or we might say in the words of Albus Dumbledore himself (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. 

Meera Goes to Hogwarts: Chapter Six

Recap to the previous chapters: One, Two, Three, Four and Five.

Meera was sure that it was the Queen from the book she had just read. But before the lady could come closer, another figure approached.

‘This is not the right time to disturb Meera,’ the other said. It sounded very much like Headmistress Elysian.

‘Rin,’ said the Queen. ‘The right time will never come.’

‘Not now. Let us leave.’

Meera’s heart began palpitating very fast as she hid under the blanket. She knew there was something she needed to know and it was somehow connected to the Queen. She didn’t want them to leave. No, she didn’t. All this mystery and hidden conversations were eating her up. She needed to know. Now!

‘We must let her recover from today’s injuries. It’s a good thing she didn’t break any bones,’ said the other again.

Meera could hear footsteps walking away. Headmistress Elysian had convinced the Queen to leave.

Don’t go, Meera pleaded in her mind. Don’t go now.

Suddenly the footsteps stopped. A dead silence prevailed in the room.

‘Rin, this cannot wait,’ the Queen said. ‘I will not hear any more.’

‘As you wish,’ said the other.

Meera was glad they had stopped, but as the footsteps approached her, she felt a fang of fear crawl up her body. Anything could be headed towards her. It could throw everything into chaos or it could bring everything into order. She knew she could trust Headmistress Elysian, she would do everything to protect Meera.

‘Meera, I know you’re awake,’ said Headmistress Elysian.

Meera slowly popped her head out of the blanket. She didn’t know what to say next. It could have been anything. The Queen was looking at her. She looked much older than the illustrations in the book, and much more terrifying. Her eyes were sunken and dark, like she hadn’t slept for ages.

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Meera Goes to Hogwarts: Chapter Five

A quick recap: Chapter One, Two, Three & Four.

A few days after the Quidditch selection, Benny seemed better. Meera knew that she was a little mad at being rejected. But surprisingly enough, Benny still showed up at Quidditch practices to cheer her friends. Meera was a little worried if it helped Benny, but Benny did not seem bothered as she was the day the names were pasted on the door, so Meera let it go.

It was misty morning as the colder months approached. The Quidditch practices continued as a major tournament was ahead of them. Meera was running to reach the practice ground. The group had already gather and were warming up.

‘Hi!’ said Neal as Meera reached.

‘Hi!’ she said panting.

‘Benny’s not going to show up?’ Neal asked.

‘No, she got some extra homework to finish.’

‘Better get ready for practice.’

At a distance Li was waving. Meera waved back as Neal tried to smile. She wasn’t sure if he was really waving at them. Li was the team captain and the keeper of the team. It was his job to keep the opposite team from scoring. Neal was the seeker, which was rather unexpected. Nobody thought he could take up that role, even Neal himself was a little reluctant. But as the days progressed, he proved to be one of the best the team could ever have. Redna and Gia were the beaters while Meera, Yuki and Kate were the chasers.

A new professor named Plutus was overseeing the entire Quidditch game for the Hogwarts team. He was a serious looking person who did not speak much but made the team practice really hard. It seemed like he had made his life’s mission to win the league.

‘If we don’t do well, Plutus will keep us till nightfall,’ Gia said as the team gathered closer.

‘The league begins in one week’s time,’ added Li. ‘And we shall be playing against Durmstang.’

‘I hear the team at Durmstrang is really good,’ said Neal.

Neal always had some information to share with the team. No one knew exactly where did he get his bits of information from and no one really asked. Meera did try, but Neal did not seem to want to reveal his sources.

‘Plutus is coming!’ gasped Redna. She particularly did not like him.

‘Everyone back to work!’ said Li.

Meera nodded.

The next two hours were filled with broom sticks flying left and right, the team members zooming in from there and here. Sometimes it felt like a state of chaos to Meera. When Plutus nodded to let them leave, everyone was exhausted as they hurriedly left for the Great Hall to have dinner.

A separate table had been arranged for the team. Meera thought it made them feel special but she also felt like it was quite unnecessary as they attracted so much of attention. Benny often peaked out of the side of the Hufflepuff table to have a look at Meera and Neal. She had other friends too, but it was clear she missed them.

As everyone sat down in a rush, Meera was surprised to find Li sitting next to her. He smiled as she sat down.

‘You did well today,’ he said.

‘Thanks,’ Meera said, running out of anything particular to say. ‘You’re always great,’ she was quick to add.

‘Nah, I’m just trying,’ he added.

Meera felt like she was so inadequate at conversations. What should she say next? How about how classes are going? But what would she say? Classes with students much younger than herself? How was it like? Maybe she should just keep quiet, yes that would be best. Maybe he’d say something interesting.

‘So how did you get to come to Hogwarts?’ he asked.

Yes, something interesting, Meera thought.

‘I’m not sure myself. Zuck just appeared out of thin air,’ she said and instantly regretted. Perhaps there was a better explanation, something that was really truly hooking. Sadly, there wasn’t.

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