Harry Potter may have started off as a creation of literary imagination, but over the years has become very real to many people. Thanks to the success of the books and the films (not to mention the excellent marketing), Harry Potter has entered into our collective imagination and achieved cult status. And in a few years time, the books will probably be hailed as a classic. Already, there are talks of including the books as part of the syllabus and I saw quite a few blog posts recently on “management lessons learnt from Harry Potter”.
So it is no surprise that Harry Potter is also an attraction for tourists to the UK who try to visit places from the books as well as places where they were filmed. There are guided tours which undertake Harry Potter tours for the besotted tourist/fan. For example, London Walks (which conducts guided walks in and around London), has three different Harry Potter walking tours (you can read more about them here).
Now, while I am a big fan of the Harry Potter books, I am not a great fan of the Harry Potter films. So while I did not join any of the guided Harry Potter tours, it didn’t stop me getting all excited whenever I chanced upon a location during the course of my travels.
This is Australia House in London and apparently the setting or inspiration (I'm not sure which one) for Gringotts Banks
Once upon a time, ok in November 1998, a friend and I decided to travel down the West coast of India. We started in Honnavar in Karnataka and travelled all the way down to Thiruvananthapuram, hopping in and out of trains and buses. It is a trip that makes me nostalgic even thinking about it. One the places we “discovered” was St. Mary’s Island, off Malpe Beach near Udipi.
St. Mary’s Island, also called Coconut Island by the locals, is an uninhabited island with a shelly beach and clear, cool waters. This is how the local operator who ran motor boat services to the island sold the beach to us. What he did not mention was that the island was made up of columnar basalts, and that it was a geological monument.
This weekend was a weekend with a purpose. A single-minded purpose to do some much-needed pruning. No, not pruning of trees or bushes or shrubs, but of my book collection, which had grown, multiplied and reached unmanageable levels at home.
Yes, I am talking about space constraints which was threatening domestic peace. A week ago, my mother nearly had a fit when she found 3 of my books inside the pressure cooker she uses when we have more than 10 people over for a meal. When I told her that she had not used that cooker for more than 6 months and would probably not use them for another 6, she was not amused. When I persisted by saying that I was only making good use of available space like a true Mumbaikar, she mumbled something about encroachment and territorial rights. Mothers !
But I knew that she was right. A pressure cooker is nearly always meant for cooking (though I do remember the pressure cooker in question being used for storing water, when we faced severe water shortage a few years back) and is certainly not the place for keeping books. And my books were all over the place at home (in addition to being in book shelves meant for them)—they shared space with sheets and the pillow covers, my dupattas and shalwars, my CDs and my tanpura, and of course my mother’s pots and pans.
Image Source: MS Office Cliparts
The easiest thing for me would have been to get additional shelves made, but I knew that this was not the solution. The solution lay in pruning my book collection—not an easy decision at all as I am attached to all my books and it would be difficult to decide which books to keep and which ones to discard/give away/sell.
After thinking about it for some time, I came up with a 5 point criteria that I hoped would help me separate the books I wanted to keep and the books I could to say goodbye to.
Punctuality is often considered to be a virtue. But in my experience, punctuality has been a curse and a bane, as I belong to that category of people who are punctual by nature. Though I am pretty easy-going about many things, punctuality is not one of them. Add to this the general Indian concept of Indian Stretchable Standard Time and I have a ready-made recipe for palpitations.
It begins simply enough. Let’s say, I am meeting a friend at a pre-decided venue at 5.30 pm. I am at the venue by 5.15 pm. By 5.20 pm, I start looking out for my friend, even though there is still 10 minutes to rendezvous time. By 5.35 pm, I have worked myself into a frenzy of self-doubt—is this the correct place and time? By 5.45, I have doubts about the date and by 6.00 pm, I start having palpitations and wonder if there was even a meeting in the first place ! This is usually when the friend I am waiting arrives and says, ”Oh! Were you waiting for long? You poor thing. Come, let’s go and have something to eat. I’m starving.” There are a few variations to this theme, but this is how it happens most of the time. Without fail.
If you had been anywhere near the Lord’s Cricket Ground on 4th September 2009, at around 9.50 am, you might have seen a woman running around trying to find a way into the grounds. It is also possible that you might have heard some loud cursing in at least 3 languages from her. That woman was me.
In case you thought that I was trying to break in to see some cricketer, perish the thought. I was running (and cursing) as I was late for a pre-booked 10.00 am Lord’s Tour, which meant that if I didn’t find the correct gate in the next 5 minutes or so, I was going to miss the start of the Tour. And my experience of guided tours in England was that They. Started. On. Time. Period.
Now I am not a cricket fan. Never was, and never will be. If India is on a winning spree, I might just listen to the talk around me, but that’s about it. So then why was I going to Lord’s then? It was because of my sports fanatic brother’s parting words at Mumbai airport before I boarded my flight for London in September 2008.
Don’t come back to India without having watched a cricket match at the Lords.
One morning in early July of 2009, I was contemplating ways and means to avoid thinking and writing out my dissertation, a dissertation which would culminate a year’s worth of stay and study in London. It was a year in which I studied a bit and travelled a bit (though not necessarily in that order). So when I received a mail about a day trip to Wales for a very affordable sum from the travel club I was a member of, I immediately signed up for it. So desperate I was to escape my dissertation that I didn’t even look at the details of where we would be travelling to in Wales.
It was only when I got into the tour bus that I got to know that we were headed for Tintern Abbey and Chepstow Castle via Gloucester. Now while neither Chepstow not Gloucester sounded familiar, Tintern seemed very very familiar. Literarily familiar. English school book familiar. But I just couldn’t place it nor get it out of my head. Even the heavy rain, which followed us all the way to Tintern and beyond and back to London, couldn’t distract me from trying place Tintern Abbey. By the time we reached Gloucester, I could take the uncertainty no more and sent a text message to my brother back home in India, asking him why Tintern sounded so familiar.
His reply took a long time coming. The route to Tintern from Gloucester took us through the ancient and beautiful Forest of the Dean, where upon Tintern vanished from my mind to be replaced by Harry Potter ! Tintern returned to my thoughts only after we left the Forest and passed through some of the most beautiful villages imaginable.
Just as I noticed the signboard for Tintern, my cell phone beeped. It was a one word text message from my brother, which said “Wordsworth”. A single word was all that it took me to place Tintern in context.