I do not remember how many times I have read the Harry Potter series. I grew up reading Harry Potter and I still love them dearly. Whenever I get a chance, I randomly open a chapter in any of the books and read. Though I love all of the seven books, I’m particularly attracted to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I don’t know the exact reason of my inclination towards it. Perhaps it was the first Hippogriff flight, or Hermione’s punch, or the Marauders’ Map or the appearance of Sirius Black.
Do you remember the Boggart episode? It was Professor Lupin’s first Defence Against the Dark Arts class, and he introduced the students to a Boggart: a shapeshifter that takes the form of what one fears most. The only way to defeat a Boggart is to think of something funny about the fear and imagine it strongly, while casting the spell ‘Riddikulus’.
Every time I read it or watch it, I laugh a lot, especially when Neville imagines Professor Snape in his grandmother’s clothes and that’s what exactly the Boggart turns into. When Harry faces the Boggart, it turns into a Dementor, revealing his fear.
When I read it for the first time it was just a funny and fascinating magical scene.
Have you ever wondered when you face a Boggart, what you will see? We all have our fears. Sometimes our fears choke the life out of us. No matter how hard we try to get rid of the fear, it numbs us again and again.
We grow up and fears take over: fear of failure in exams, fear of losing a job, fear of underperforming, fear of broken relationships, fear of losing money, fear of being cheated on and the list goes on. We are entirely paralyzed. We forget to live.
If only we could treat our fears like Boggarts, it would have been much easier to handle them. Making fun of our fear makes it powerless.
We mostly fear those things which we have no control over. When you do something driven by your fears, it usually makes you feel depressed and unproductive. Having fun is important, far more than giving in to our fears.
Sometimes our struggles overwhelm us. They take away our happiness and make us feel miserable like Dementors. If you remember, to defeat a Dementor a Patronus Charm was used, and to produce a Patronus all that was required was a strong happy memory.
While we wade through our sufferings, we often forget what is important. Love, happiness and laughter keep us alive. May we never forget that that it was Lily’s love that kept Harry alive, it was happiness that could fight Dementors, and it was laughter that defeated a Boggart!
All of us, at some point of time in our lives, have loved fairy tales. I still love them. A fairytale is not a way to escape reality. In fact it makes reality easier to bear. Fairy tales are born out of imagination, and without imagination, the world has no meaning.
‘A Little Princess’ is the tale of imagination, friendship, love, faith and kindness. Here, the princess does not have a fairy godmother, yet she experiences magic. She does not live in a castle guarded by a witch who has cast spells to imprison her, but she bravely faces the pain and struggles of being a prisoner.
Captain Crewe’s wife passed away giving birth to their daughter, little Sara Crewe. Sara lived with her father in India, where he was part of the British Army. The climate of India was considered too harsh for British children. Therefore the British families sent their children to England. Sara Crewe was not an exception. Her father took her to Miss Minchin’s seminary in London.
Captain Crewe was wealthy, and he so loved his daughter that he showered all kinds of luxuries on her without a second thought. On Captain Crewe’s orders, a well furnished private room with a sitting room was given to Sara at the seminary. She had her private carriage, an attendant and all the beautiful possessions a girl could wish for– exquisite dresses, toys and lots of books.
Sara was not at all spoiled by the abundance of wealth. She was a kind, intelligent and dignified child. She loved reading and telling stories. Her power of imagination was so strong that she was immune to all the jealous remarks of her class mate Lavinia. Miss Minchin was secretly envious of Sara’s wealth, wisdom and good nature, but she never expressed it. Rather she treated Sara as a show pupil and tried to please her as much as she could lest her father might be displeased.
Sara made friends with Ermengarde, the girl who had trouble learning her lessons; Lottie, the little girl who threw tantrums at times, and Becky, the poor scullery maid. Lavinia and her friends mocked her by calling her Princess Sara.
Sara might not have been a real princess, but in her heart she believed she was. Her life completely changed when she received the news of her father’s death and learned that he went bankrupt. Miss Minchin revealed her true self by being as mean as one could possibly be.
All of Sara’s possessions were taken away. She was driven out of her own room and put into a dingy attic room. She was underfed and overworked. She was forbidden from speaking to other girls. During those times only Ermengarde, Lottie and Becky secretly kept meeting her.
Even in this miserable situation, she did not stop believing she was a princess.
Her life takes a new turn when an Indian gentleman arrives in the neighbourhood.
I leave the rest of the story for you to explore.
Sara’s sufferings, her encounter with poverty and hunger, her loneliness and despair poignantly touched my heart. I was in awe of her unshakable faith. It was like a silent rebellion against adversity and cruelty. Nothing could break her down. Miss Minchin practiced cruelty on her in every possible way, but Sara’s dignity troubled her.
I was moved by Sara’s act of kindness towards the poor hungry girl in front of the baker’s shop. She herself was hungry, yet she gave the larger part of her own food to the shabby looking girl.
I was heartbroken when Sara walked the streets in biting cold, looking through the windows into the houses, imagining how warm and comfortable it would have been inside them.
Frances Hodgson Burnett enchants the readers with her beautiful storytelling. This is not just a children’s story about a little girl. There is something deep, and something vast. Everything felt so real, that after finishing this book, I stared at the ceiling and thought about how silly my problems were. My worries seemed trivial. My attitude towards my own life had been something I can now laugh at.
Growing up has taught us to be cynical and insecure about the smallest things, and Sara taught us to believe in all that is good in the world.
A few weeks ago, I visited a book sale, where I came across the book ‘Ballet Shoes’ by Noel Streatfeild. It rang a bell somewhere. I tried hard but couldn’t remember where I had read the title of this book. Nevertheless I picked it up.
It was a delightful read indeed. The story is about three orphan girls, Pauline, Petrova and Posy, who take a vow on each of their birthdays to get their names written in history books by doing something phenomenal.
Matthew Brown, a geologist and professor who is greatly enthusiastic about collecting fossils, often travels around the world, while his great-niece Sylvia, manages his home with her childhood nanny, Nana. Mr. Brown discovers Pauline, Petrova and Posy as babies during his trips to different parts of the world and brings them home.
After arranging money to sustain for five years, he embarks on one of his trips once again. Years go by, Great Uncle Matthew does not turn up, the money dwindles, and Sylvia has a hard time bringing up three girls. She takes tenants in her home to make ends meet. Two of the boarders, Dr. Jakes and Dr. Smith start taking care of the girls’ education while another boarder Miss Theo Dane, who is a dancer, arranges to put the girls in the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training.
Over the course of time Pauline discovers her keen interest and talent in acting, Posy starts taking private ballet lessons from a famous Russian ballerina, Madame Fidolia, who unravels Posy’s talents in dance. Petrova, a girl who neither likes dancing, nor acting, is interested in cars and airplanes. She dreams of flying an airplane.
The three of them decide to do everything in their power to help Sylvia in her financial crisis, by working on stage and earning whatever little money they can.
This book, which I had picked up almost randomly, made me thank myself that I had chosen it. Many readers might agree with me that I found the character of Petrova quite relatable. I have faced that struggle of being the ‘odd one out’ amidst people who were brilliant at certain things which seemed important. I was also supposed to do well in those things and yet I was unable to put my heart and soul into them, simply because my interest lay somewhere else.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been through this trouble. We wanted to do something badly, but had to take up something else as it was the need of the hour. Following our passion felt like a selfish act when responsibilities pressed upon us.
Struggles, sufferings, rising to fame and pride and falling down, learning from mistakes, keeping dreams alive, hard work, ambition, emotions– we all have felt them, observed them and read about them everywhere. I admire the unique way in which the struggles shape the lives of girls as young as Pauline, Petrova and Posy. Times are difficult, yet these children don’t succumb to despair. The strength of their characters is remarkable.
I was literally in awe of these girls, until I found Winifred. She surpasses Pauline as a talented actor, but Pauline is always preferred on stage since Winifred’s looks are plain. Her financial situation is even worse than Pauline’s. Winifred is upset, yet she is nice to Pauline and her family. I have felt deeply for Winifred. I’m sure many of you who have read the book have felt the same.
Then there is Sylvia, who is humble, honest, loving and understanding. Perhaps she loved the girls more because she herself had lost both of her parents. Nana is kind, but stern– like a mother to all of them. Theirs was a closely knit family, even though none of them were related by blood.
Later on, I found that I had read the name of this book from one of J. K. Rowling’s interviews. It was mentioned that this book was one of her favourites. I was extremely pleased.
It might sound cliched but this book has everything I absolutely adore– Shakespeare’s plays, ballet, Christmas, family and the courage to dream different. I finished the book with a mixed feeling. It was complete, yet I wanted to know more. I was happy, and yet a little bit sad.
Ballet Shoes is a book written for children. Perhaps that is why it is beautiful, uncomplicated, honest and comforting. After reading it I was left with a feeling of nostalgia that still lingers on my heart.
If you haven’t read the book, I must request you to read it. It has become one of my favourites too. Maybe you can find yourself in one of the three Fossil sisters: beautiful and gifted Pauline, dreamer Petrova, or the ambitious prodigy Posy.
Once you have read a work of Charles Dickens, your thoughts linger over it for quite a while, and perhaps, in some cases for a lifetime. You proceed reading his other works, eventually falling in love with each of them. Yes it is the Dickensian magic, that brings you back again and again to his works. Great Expectations is one of such timeless creations of Charles Dickens.
The narrator and protagonist of this novel is Pip, an orphan from a humble background brought up by his sister and brother-in-law. His life takes a new turn when he is summoned by Miss Havisham, a rich and eccentric lady, to ‘play’, or rather to be a subject to her whims. It is there at Satis House, the residence of this lady, he meets Estella, the girl whom she had adopted. Pip falls in love with Estella, and Estella contemptuously despises every sign of poverty and ignorance that Pip bears. Pip’s desire to get educated and become a gentleman, and his abhorrence for poverty stemmed from his love for Estella, who belonged to the rich and educated class.
Every character in this book stands out amidst the others in a unique way. I have been particularly intrigued by one of them, while loved another one so deeply that tears welled up in my eyes for him at some points. While Estella is bewildering and fascinating to both Pip and the readers, Joe Gargery is the dear one, who brings along with him the comfort of home, and wisdom of love.
Estella knew herself to be an orphan like Pip, until she was adopted by Miss Havisham. She has been brought up and trained by Miss Havisham to take vengeance on men, by willfully making them love her and breaking their hearts afterwards. Her initial encounter with Pip reveals her proud, cruel and disdainful attitude. Later on, she seems more composed. She follows what Miss Havisham instructs her to do. When she gets a hint of Pip’s love for her, she warns him that she has no emotions in her heart for anyone.
Was she really as heartless as she described herself to be? Perhaps not, because if she was, she wouldn’t have warned Pip of her heart devoid of love. She could deceive all men but Pip. She was afraid Pip would be hurt as she was unable to return his emotions. What was the reason behind being honest to Pip? Was there a faint possibility of sympathy, and perhaps something close to love that compelled her to be honest with Pip? That is the question that intrigues me.
To Miss Havisham she has been obedient. She was her benefactress, and the only person whom she has been close to since her childhood. Yet her feelings for Miss Havisham has not been very positive, which is revealed towards the end, when she declares that Miss Havisham has made her into what she is: incapable of love. Miss Havisham is greatly afflicted when Estella says she does not even love her.
When she decides to marry Bently Drummle, even Miss Havisham is shocked. Drummle was a terrible brute, and Estella married him simply to hurt all of her other admirers. As an explanation to Pip, she says, it does not matter how Drummle would treat her, as she has no emotions. It is better an insolent man like Drummle, than anyone else getting hurt by her coldness.
I wonder whether it was the only reason behind her act. Probably she wanted to show Miss Havisham how her teachings could backfire. She was raised to deceive and torment other men. Getting punished in the same way was perhaps her own way of atonement.
Estella is an unusual character, whose feelings and emotions remained hidden. Pip’s world revolved around her presence. In the end, when she meets Pip amidst the ruins of Satis House, she talks of how sufferings have shaped her into a person with better understanding. This is where I deeply felt for her, and it brought a sense of completeness.
The character I have adored in this book is that of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith who is Pip’s brother-in-law. His love has been unconditional for him till the end. We get to see glimpses of his wisdom and compassion for more than once in this book. He was kind towards the convict, even when he came to know that the convict had stolen their food. He even treated his abusive wife with great sympathy. It could have been his weakness, perhaps, that he could not stand up against her ill-treatment to little Pip. He has seen his alcoholic and abusive father torturing his mother, and he never wanted his own wife to be in such a situation.
Pip has always been dear to him. His behaviour sometimes embarrassed Pip in the upper class society. Unpolished and uneducated, Joe stands in stark contrast to the ideal life that Pip aspires to achieve. Pip is often observed not treating him well, and Joe calls him ‘Sir’ multiple times when Pip gets bestowed with a fortune, realizing that he no longer remains a part of Pip’s new world. Yet when Pip falls sick, it is Joe who remains by his side. Now Pip is again his little brother, whom he calls ‘Pip, old chap’!
I often try to imagine how Pip must have felt when he had Joe by him, after losing everything else. Perhaps it felt like healing, perhaps it was like being home again.
In spite of Pip’s many faults, Joe remains generous. He pays off Pip’s debts with his hard-earned money, and leaves as soon as Pip is well again.
There is a particular moment in the book, when Pip watches Joe writing a letter. Biddy had taught him to read and write. I have often visualized this moment, and recalled another moment from an earlier chapter, when Pip was little, and tried to make Joe read, while Joe was unable to do so. It touched the deepest part of my heart.
Joe Gargery was perfectly content with what he had– he worked with dignity, he was honest, kind and loyal. In every sense his character possessed qualities superior to those of people who belonged to the rich class.
Joe deserved happiness, and it came to him from Biddy, and later from his two little children. He receives Pip with welcoming arms when he comes back after losing everything he owned. Of all characters of Great Expectations, Joe is and will always remain my favourite.
‘I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.’
Whenever I read these lines, I’m reminded of my golden days–much like the golden daffodils that pleases the soul of the poet during his tranquil moments. This was one of the first English poems that I had read in school, and I instantly fell in love with it. Back in those times, my innocent mind, introduced to English poetry for the first time, and that too of William Wordsworth, had felt thrilled to imagine thousands of yellow flowers tossing in the wind.
I had always thought that if life ever presents me with such a heavenly sight, indeed I would feel blessed forever. Little did I know that not the sight, but this poem would serve that purpose, because my ordinary eyes would have never seen what William Wordsworth had seen in them.
No wonder he was known as the Supreme Worshipper of Nature. His ‘inward eye’ could perceive what he had termed as ‘life of things’. To him, those daffodils are not just flowers, rather they are heavenly beings–like a host of angels, like stars in the sky, like the Infinite Being existing inside all living and non-living beings. Watching the daffodils flutter and sway in the wind makes him feel a sublime joy.
On 15th April, 1802, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy reached a place strewn with daffodils. The sight stirred the poet’s mind and his emotions took the form of this beautiful verse. The first version was published around 1804-1807 in the book ‘Poems in Two Volumes’, and later a revised version, the one we read here, was published in 1815.
I’m not a litterateur who is going to present you with explanations, or discuss the themes. I’m simply an admirer of nature poetry, and that too especially of William Wordsworth. I feel an urge to share how I feel, as a reader, when I read this poem. I’m one of those people who swoon over poetry. If you too, like me, are a lover of romantic poetry, I’m sure you will understand.
Since I had started reading Wordsworth’s poems, I could never ignore the ethereality of everything around me. My sister, who continued studying English Literature, had read the poem to me. She talked about Pantheism, and it felt like waking up, like a realization of something which had always been there and I never paid any attention. It was like falling in love with the trees, the sky, the flowers, clouds, grass, rivers, birds. I wanted to drink that all in–all the beauty and the life.
I proceeded to read ‘The Solitary Reaper’ and ‘Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey’ and felt ecstatic every time. I even picked up a pretty old poetry book from my sister’s collections, put a cover on it and carefully kept it with myself so that I could read Tintern Abbey whenever I wished.
The sight of daffodils, to the poet, is pure joy and wealth for eternity. He is spiritually elevated to a higher realm where only happiness exists.
Reality is rarely kind to the heart of a poet. When reality dawns, it hits hard. The poet had his own journey through love, loss and setbacks and in his own words, ‘the dreary intercourse of daily life.’ The memory of the daffodils is a treasure. When he is lonely, he recalls the memory. It rescues him out of his pain and puts him in a state of happiness. The daffodils are his companions of solitary hours.
I have sometimes wondered, what we perceive as reality is perhaps not real.The struggles and triumphs, joys and sorrows are never permanent, but the memory of daffodils is permanent.
Sometimes in the course of my life, when I lose my way, I’m always brought back to my true self if I read one of William Wordsworth’s eternally beautiful poems. It amazes me how the words written centuries ago become so intimate to our hearts. Perhaps, amidst this harshness of reality, people like us are alive because Wordsworth had gifted us a utopian world full of joyous daffodils dancing inside our minds.
(Painting of Daffodils: My own work with watercolour on paper.)
The first book I remember was a collection of fairy tales by various authors from different countries. It was gifted to me by my father. He had observed me reading magazines and sections of newspapers meant for kids. He brought a book, wrapped it up inside an old newspaper and kept it out of my reach. My exams were near, and he made me promise that I wouldn’t read it until the end of my exams. Curiosity got the better of me, and I unwrapped the book to get a glimpse of the cover and the index, with my father’s consent I must mention.
That was the moment when the magic of stories began to bewitch me.
Later in my teenage years, he bought me the last Harry Potter book within a week of its release. It was the first time I got a Harry Potter book soon after it was published. I still cherish the memory of reading the last one in the series, with an excitement and a sinking feeling in my stomach occurring whenever the realization dawned upon me that there would be no more Harry Potter books.
I suppose the perfectly happy days of my life came to an end with the end of reading Harry Potter books.
When I try to recall my earliest memories, I discover that little things had made deep impressions in my mind. The walls around our garden were covered with velvety moss during monsoon. I loved to run my palm over them. I sometimes uprooted some parts of the moss in my childish whim. It gave off a green, earthy smell that I still remember distinctly. I played with wild flowers, creepers and ferns. I talked with the coconut trees when the wind blew and their leaves murmured. I had once thrown a tantrum when my mother had employed two people to trim the branches of the guava tree that adorned the centre of our garden. I cried, thinking how my tree would feel when its branches were hit by axes.
I had hurt that tree quite often by scratching its bark with my nails to smell its sap. I wrote my name on it with the little knowledge I had of alphabet and spelling.
I grew up, and the tree was cut down a few years later.
Two decades have passed, and I still feel the intimacy I had with plants and trees. I feel I’m in a direct contact with the soul of the universe whenever I touch them.
I frequently feel that I’m the odd one out amidst the people around me. They’re busy doing important things which have practical uses. I find it difficult to cope with the pace with which the world is growing. Everything has become faster, better, easier, yet people are dying of depression and loneliness.
You may call me a madwoman, a fool or a rebel, but the child within me is still there. In fact, it is the only reason that keeps me alive through all joys and sorrows, through all the struggles of keeping my head held high during times of despair.