In 2004, roughly fifteen years ago, we had a movie screening in Palm Meadows, where I live. All the children including me gathered at around 6 pm, I forget the exact date and were seated to watch a movie on a projector screen in the park, a showing of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I knew my sister had the books on her shelves, I had seen the blue Ford Anglia on the cover, with a bespectacled boy in the car, a red-haired boy in the driver’s seat, looking afraid and a snow white owl in a cage at the back. The backdrop was of the hills similar to the ones I am from and beneath them on a bridge, was a train steaming ahead.
The movie began amidst whispers and the iconic Warner Brothers logo appeared and soon the cover was recreated, the car flew over rooftops, over King’s Cross station and I was fascinated. Since then, it was my mission to go to London and see that station for myself, I wanted to run into the wall and I wanted to go to Hogwarts. It would still take me four years to read the books. But, every summer with little choice I’d watch all the movies on Pogo a sister channel of Cartoon Network.
I got onto our desktop computer, somehow managing to get the password out of my sister, I wasn’t allowed to use the computer without permission. Then on Internet Explorer, I typed in ‘London’. In class, we learnt about currencies and I knew the symbol for the pound. I approached my parents and said, “I want to go to London.” It was final. My parents informed me it required money that I didn’t have.
Soon my mother sent me to the store to get her stuff, and every time I came home she let me keep the change, I took out my ‘rough’ notebook from my school bag, and tore a sheet out, I wrote on top in bold – ‘Sahitya’s pocket money for London’ and I was off, one column for the date, one column for rupees and one column for pounds. My first entry was three rupees.
I finally climbed using my sister’s desk’s chair, I pulled out the copy of Chamber of Secrets from the shelf, my first foray into reading. I spread myself on the bed and began reading it. I read it once, I read it twice and my sister asked, “Why don’t you start from the first book?” I told her promptly, “I like this one.” She didn’t argue with me.
I thought in the series or somewhere in the book, I’d get a clear-cut clue to get to London. After much proclamation and effort, my plans didn’t seem to be coming together. But I was determined. A while has transpired between then and now.
Today, I went for a long walk around London, first to Baker Street to pay homage to Sherlock Holmes, on the surreal wide roads of London, scenes of movies came to mind, of movie stars having intense conversations or running. I appeared at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, transported to my favourite Sherlock Holmes’ case, The Hound of Baskervilles and suddenly I wasn’t there.
In my sister’s red coat, with a pink scarf wrapped around her neck and a SOAS ID card dangling around her neck, a blue bag-pack strapped to the front, was an eight-year-old girl, who had a boy cut, was skinny and mischievous wearing a crooked grin. She looked everywhere curiously, wanting to touch but holding herself back, she recognised everything, remembered every page, every character. She took photos, but as usual she didn’t want to take any of herself, she stepped into the store wanting to buy everything, but she only bought a single postcard for her collection.
When she came out, I took her back towards home but she didn’t want to go home just yet. So I took her on the pretence of going to the pharmacy, to Covent Garden. She threw a tantrum as expected when I told her it was late, and she in all her excitement dragged me beyond the periphery into the market. I told her to slow down, but she leaned over the railing upon hearing the woman below singing opera and she watched the whole show. She was curious about everything.
On our way back home she walked slowly, she was taking everything in, and I watched it all with her, the sky turning from blue to gold over buildings we both had only seen on the screen. I told her there would be a next time but she told me that she didn’t need a next time. I bought her a chicken sandwich to cheer her up, but all she said was that she was proud of me, that she had always believed in me. I came home and pinned my postcard on my notice board.
I’ve gone in circles, on that bulletin there are photos, bookmarks, photos of that little girl, bus tickets of buses she travelled on, postcards, letters, poems, friends, family and words of comfort, there are symbols of her return to home when the dream didn’t feel real, but somehow, after all of it, she still found her way back here. And now I know this is what dreams are made of.