The beautiful thing about Delhi is the fact that it has something for everyone. It has a bevy of historical landmarks for all those interested in jaunting through monuments; it’s got a hip and happening mall scene for the most brand-conscious; it has bylanes and bylanes stuffed with restaurants serving every conceivable cuisine at every conceivable level of pricing; and it has probably the greatest mélange of people you will find in any Indian city.
I’ve lived here for nearly seven years and honestly, I can say that I love it. Despite its dark and dangerous reputation, I have felt more at home in Delhi than I have in any other city. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that I did a lot of my ‘growing up’ here; 18 to 24 is, after all, a considerable portion of a young life and encapsulates some very important years. I went through my undergrad years here, made a lot of friends I think I will keep for life, navigated the perils of postgrad and then stepped into the ocean of working life. I’ve shifted from the confines of a campus-bound hostel to the freedom and aching responsibilities of an apartment in the big city and lost, met and re-met a strange and heady concoction of people.
In short, Delhi is my Hogwarts.
Entering Hogwarts is a privilege, one to which you have to be invited. That’s exactly how I came to Delhi—on the shoulders of privilege. My ticket to this city was a seat in one of the country’s most elite and sought-after institutions. With that admission in my hand, I felt, like most of my fellow Stephanians, powerful. Being granted access to the portals of this college was sort of magical, whatever me or my fellows might think now. Like good Hogwarts students, we mythologized our professors, creating deep-dark stories for them. This one had had a tragic, Snape-like love affair, that one sparkled with the whimsical wisdom of Dumbledore, a third had the no-nonsense fairness of McGonagall. It’s what good literature students do: build stories where there are none to be found.
Of course, my finding parallels between college life and Harry’s Hogwarts is not entirely surprising, given my need to view everything through a fantastical perspective. Nor is my need to call this city my version of the wizarding school based purely on the superficial similarities it shares with my college. No, I’m going for Hogwarts as a metaphor more than anything else, Hogwarts the protean space that shapes and moulds its residents.
The one thing the books made very clear to me is that everyone’s experience of Hogwarts is different. For Harry (and for Voldemort) Hogwarts is nearly sacred, it’s the home they never found elsewhere, the entry-point into a world that assured them they were important and had worth. For Hermione, Hogwarts is a zone in which to excel, to prove through hard work and dedication that she is indeed ‘the brightest witch of her age’. Ron, I think, saw school and its activities as just one more yardstick on which to be compared (and found wanting) to his older brothers. It was a stomping ground that nonetheless changed James and Sirius considerably, shoved some sort of moral compass into their callow teenage frames; it was a murky forest of complexes and misunderstanding for Severus; a safe-space made problematic for an insecure Lupin.
Like the Room of Requirement, Hogwarts is different for each person who walks through its doors. The protean nature of the school is perhaps best symbolized by its constantly shifting inner landscape—the moving denizens of portraits, the moving staircases with their trick steps, the hidden passages which open only to those privileged few in the know. For a single castle, the kinds of experience it offers are pretty wide-ranging, purely from an infrastructure perspective. And given how cut off it is from everything, physically (apart from Hogsmeade), it’s almost a mini-city unto itself.
Hogwarts is a crucible: it brings together a bunch of people, keeps them clamped up in one space for seven years and then sends them out, changed in various ways. Perhaps the biggest change it effects is in how children deal with their magic. The feats we see pre-Hogwarts children perform thoughtlessly (Lily flies through the air, Neville bounces along the ground, Harry vanishes an entire pane of glass) become difficult, if not downright impossible once they join school. They learn rules and laws and become constrained by wands and verbalization. The seemingly infinite horizon is bounded.
I suppose this is Rowling’s elaborate metaphor for what happens to our imaginations as we go through school and generally, grow up. It deserves an academic paper all to itself; but would it be presumptuous of me to say that the same sort of thing happened to me in Delhi? I entered college thinking I was limitless, that all it would take to achieve everlasting fame and riches was to churn out the novel that had been at my fingertips for months. Seven years on, there is no novel and the possibilities of actually writing one seem slimmer and slimmer. What’s more, I know that achieving everlasting fame is not really that easy. It takes hard work and dedication and sadly, being at the right place at the right time (if not knowing the right people).
Has Delhi curbed my ‘magic’, then? No, but growing up certainly has streamlined it, made me aware of the Golpalott’s laws that bedevil any endeavour. It’s streamlined my ambitions, for sure. Far from wanting to do a million things, I’ve narrowed the list down to a not so difficult thousand. Also, it’s made it possible for me to identify the million things I would rather not do, which, I suppose, is a very good thing.
So after nearly seven years here, it’s with a Harry-like air that I gaze upon this city. I feel it’s time to go somewhere new. Yes, it’s been wonderful and all that, and I’ve learned a lot, but surely the world has more to offer than one magical school? I’ll take the lessons this school’s given me, as dutifully as most Hogwarts alumni do (and we know Hogwarts alumni take their school very seriously. Witness the fact that people still seem to give a damn about Houses after they graduate). But for now, I hope, 2014 brings with it graduation and newer things. Who knows, maybe I’ll even venture into a Forbidden Forest or two.