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The men who held down the hand of a five year old and burnt her hand have been destroyed, at least in my mind.
The fifth winner of our November 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar.
I wait for my turn patiently, though with some trepidation. It is the day when we are to be tested after all. Usually tests like these in Indrajaal, the Indian school of Wizardry and Witchcraft, are far from solemn. Today, however, things are different. The principal of the school, Mahaguru Agastya has graced the class. Something that he rarely does, if the whispers around me are to be believed.
Consequently, Guru Parth, who is conducting the test is keeping a firm eye out on us, his students, well aware that some have the uncanny ability to create mischief.
The students, including yours truly, will be tested for their ability to cast the challenging Riddikulus spell, to defeat a Boggart (a Boggart is an embodiment of one’s deepest fears and phobias, and thus, specific to each person). The classrooms, common rooms and even some of the bathrooms of all the four Houses had been ringing to the cries of ‘Ridddikulus’ for the past week. Competition among the Houses is fierce, as the average scores of this test would be added to the House marks tally. Friends from my Chanakya House are exchanging some serious hateful looks with the students from Patanjali House, with whom our scores have been tied for most of this year.
I am partly oblivious to this by-play on the periphery of my vision. Lost in my own world, I know that today’s test is my biggest challenge yet. One of the reasons is that certain old spells like this particular one, were originally created by the Founding Fathers, at Hogwarts (the Wizardry and Witchcraft School in England) and are thus most effective in English. And I, the village girl with my early schooling in the vernacular, know that my English pronunciations are terrible. Many other spells are cast in Sanskrit, and I am okay with that. For example, we cast the ‘Vismaran’ spell for forgetting and the ‘Upchar’ spell for healing. And I have aced those tests.
But if I am honest with myself, the real reason for my apprehension is that the Boggart that my fifteen year mind conjures up is uniquely terrifying- angry voices, many hands dragging me, the heat of fire and the smell of scorched flesh… I break out in a sweat. Would I defeat my Boggart today without disgracing myself, in front of my friends and my Gurus? Most importantly, would I cast the spell so well that I would banish my personal demons to a remote insignificant corner of my mind?
We are lined up in the classroom. At the far end is a large almirah (antique cupboard) , with some ominous rattling emanating from it.
One by one we are to walk up to the almirah, and it will open to the wave of Guru Parth’s wand. Then the Boggart wil take the shape of whatever that particular person fears.
My friend Varsha is afraid of clowns. Ergo, the Boggart turns into a clown. When she says “Riddikulus!” with a wave of her wand, the clown metaporphoses, his face paint melting, his garish clothes disappearing until he is left clutching his pajama pants to the accompaniment of much laughter. Prakash is mortally afraid of mice. So a giant mouse appears when the cupboard opened. He changes it to a smiling Mickey Mouse who does a little jig for us.
The classroom is rocking with laughter, and most faces are grinning as we inch ahead. Not me! I have tried to delay my turn, standing right at the end. Finally it is my turn.
As I approach the almirah, I almost miss the look that Guru Parth exchanges with someone standing behind me. He waves his wand. The almirah doors swing open. The scene that I still relive in my nightmares and play over and over in my memory is upon me.
I am five years old. The summer in my village had been particularly scorching. I am thirsty. So very thirsty, almost dying of thirst. The pond on “our” side of the village had dried up. Nothing there, but smelly puddles of mud and waddling pigs. I sneak into the village at night… the sight of the full bucket next to the well… my stomach cramps with longing… I forget the warnings drilled into me since infancy. As I cup the first mouthful in my hands, I hear voices. Angry male voices. “Arre…yeh dekho apna Paani ashuddh karne aayi hai! ( She has come to render our drinking water impure)” I turn in terror. But they are too many. I scream and cry… then there is fire… some more screaming and realise it is me… I smell burnt flesh, and realise it is mine. There is no pain, not then, only the smell of burning and the ash that clings to my skin for days and days…
The Boggart is now in full spate. I raise my hand, my wand firmly held… and say a clear “Ridddikulus” concentrating on the image that I seek. “Out of the Ash I rise with my red hair. And I eat men like Air.” And that is precisely what happens.
As I watch, the ‘Me’ in my spell is an avenging Red Witch, her hair red as the fire that they used, who devours the men who hurt me. I feel a wicked satisfaction, followed by a calm leavening my roiling senses. I know that I have dealt with first step to overcoming my fear.
The entire class has fallen silent. I lower the hand that is holding my wand. My left hand. My right hand is useless, completely twisted like a dried twig and scarred with the burns inflicted on me. The men who held down the hand of a five year old and burnt her hand have been destroyed, at least in my mind. There will be further battles to be fought and won, the ones in the real world, perhaps more challenging. But that is for another day. The first battle, the one in my mind has been won.
There is a sudden sound of applause behind me. I turn and see that it is the venerable Mahaguru Agastya, our Principal. I realise that he was right behind me the whole time, that he had come for me, to support me, ready to tackle my Boggart had I faltered. But he had waited for me to cast my spell.
As I tearfully touch his feet, the rest of the class erupts in loud applause.
Author’s note – Inspired by JK ROWLING and the Harry Potter books written by her.
Editor’s note: In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month got bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry.
The writing cue for November 2019 is this quote from the poem Lady Lazarus by poet and author Sylvia Plath, whose 87th birth anniversary on 27th October 2019 had a Google doodle, and who was once described in the New York Times Book Review as “one of the most celebrated and controversial of postwar poets writing in English.” Her semi-autobiographical book, The Bell Jar, is a must read for any student of literature and feminism.
“Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.”
Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
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