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The magic of storytelling

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Author Manjiri Prabhu on how words weave a magical world, creating hope for humanity

Don’t buy it,” my good friend Sarita admonished me. “It’s just a stick; pure marketing gimmick.”

I nodded, even as my fingers lingered over wooden, slick wands wrapped in black velvet in grey boxes. The names in embossed gold on the long, rectangular boxes were all too familiar—Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and many more.

Sarita took a couple of pictures of the sticks. “I’ll make you an exact replica when we return to Pune,” she offered.

Being an architect, it wouldn’t be difficult for her. Common sense dictated that she was right and I was being silly in wanting to possess a wand that was but a planned marketing strategy of the franchise. Common sense prevailed and I walked away.

It was a surreal world—The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Los Angeles with Hogsmeade Village and its snow-topped tall grey slate spires of the street shops. Having lived with Harry Potter through the books, it was like stepping into a world that had gripped my imagination for years. But it was the ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’ ride inside Hogwarts castle that made my day. It took us on a broomstick, zipping through the sky over the Hogwarts grounds with Harry, battling demons, fire dragons, death eaters and magic spells and finally emerging victorious in the fight for good against evil. It was as if the characters that had been a part of the fantasy had come alive, filling me with a sense of wonderment and joy.

For the past few months, I had been going through a ‘phase’ that almost every writer probably goes through at least once in their lifetime. I had just visited an annual exhibition in Pune, where books were being sold by a kilo. Seeing all those books in scattered piles in varying states of neglect had set a ball of thoughts rolling in my head, leading to the inevitable self-questioning. What would happen if I stopped writing?

Would anyone even notice if my books didn’t reach the market? Why was I even writing when there were already hundreds of books being whipped out, year after year, around the world? Barely read, many of them ended in a fateful pile of trash, to be sold for a pitiful sum per kilo.

It was in this state of mind that I had come to Universal Studios. The moment I stepped into that magical world, I experienced nothing but sheer joy. It was an unforgettable day, which showed me that pure unaltered happiness exists, that age is no bar for this wild pleasure and that belief and joy are two sides of the same coin, if only you allow yourself to recognise it.

As I moved from one adapted world to another in the studio, masterful creations of scenes and characters from books and films, I got in touch with the child in me. In fact, I got in touch with ‘me’! As did everyone around me—strolling through the world of Harry Potter, taking thrilling rides and studio tours—living a slice of imagination in reality. It lifted us from the mundane into a realm of dreams, which were more real than reality itself.

I looked around at groups of people, all fans of the creative world, soaking in the recreation of their imagination. They were reliving their childhood and rejuvenating their energies in the most marvellous way possible. Forgetting their worries, rituals, jobs, commitments, they, like me, were being reborn at various levels. All this was possible only because someone, somewhere had the inspiration, energy and dedication to come up with an idea, which took shape as a story.

Writers write from their imagination, put in their sweat and life into creating an alternate world for readers—what I like to call a ‘temporary reality’. Whether the temporary reality was a story of sweet or tragic love, socio-political awareness, personal or spiritual transformation, or filled with atrocious audacities and suggestions, each story touched someone’s heart somewhere— healing, inspiring, disturbing, prodding into thought and giving hope.

The troubling questions in my mind had been answered. Writers were an essential part of society because from their island of imagination they produced joy and hope, which snowballed across hearts, making a difference.

My steps were heavy as we reluctantly headed out. We were almost by the Hogwarts Express stationed by the entrance, when I stopped. Sarita glanced at me, exasperated. She knew what it was. I wheeled around and headed straight back to Hogsmeade’s village. Standing in the long queue for my turn to enter the shop, I did my best to convince Sarita. I simply had to buy Hermione’s magic wand for myself. I wanted Sarita to understand how important it was for me to buy this wand in Universal Studios and carry it back with me to Pune like a prized possession. I knew it was just a stick. It wasn’t really a ‘magical’ wand. But that wand, in a way, represented the author in me, everything I believed in and strived to achieve: a place in the hearts of readers. And in that sense, it was indeed magical.

Today, when I see the wand in my house and curl my fingers around its wooden, intricately carved body, I feel its magic. But better still I feel my own magic.

Pune-based Prabhu is a writer of mystery. Her latest book, Voice of the Runes, is a destination thriller that unfolds over 36 hours in Sweden

Photo: iStock
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
December 2018