In early 2002, I was flipping through a magazine when I came across an article on the changing face of children's literature. The piece was mostly a gushing account of how the Harry Potter series had brought in enormous profits, and therefore, renewed interest in a hitherto 'niche' genre. I had heard of Harry Potter, of course, as I wasn't living under a rock. But I didn't bother to read one of the books because my snob of a mind had already classified it unworthy. My younger sister wasn't so circumspect. In the summer of the following year, I read the first Harry Potter book that she had borrowed from a friend, while I was home on vacation.
Within five minutes of reading, I was hooked. And the fact that there were more waiting to be read was like a constant, unwelcome itch on the most inaccessible part of the back that I just couldn't wait to scratch. But these were my college years, and 'shoestring' was too grand a term for my finances. Spending four hundred bucks on a book wasn't just indulgent, it was impossible. So I yearned and waited and longed. Till suddenly I remembered the girl in my class who had a reputation for having charmed the gnarled old librarian into an easy friendship in our first year itself. She was a quiet girl who seemed to be joined at the hip with another girl who reminded me vaguely of an industrious sparrow. Quiet Girl was always looking at people intently for short periods of time with a patient half smile on her face. All the professors loved her and she knew all the answers, even though she never seemed to seek out the Dork Limelight. And it was rumoured that she Had All The Books. Ever.
So I decided to ask her for the second Harry Potter book. It was a big step for me; I was still as inhibited and self conscious as a timid dormouse. And I had my small town complex - my two friends in college both came from Shillong and Delhi women intimidated me effortlessly. But then, Quiet Girl always smiled. So I asked her, and she said sure, she'd get me the book. And she got me that one, and the third one, and zillions of other ones (the rumours were true). She gifted me the Lord Of The Rings series, and introduced me to Samit Basu's work, and showed me a new world of fiction where misfits like myself seemed to rule the roost. She also bought me breakfast everyday (a chocolate brownie and masala tea) and gave me new pride in my handwriting. When another girl in class asked me for my copy of the fifth Harry Potter book, our triumvirate was complete.
The two years we spent in college sharing food, books and laughs are still easy to conjure up, and heartbreakingly difficult to relive. Quiet Girl is still busy patiently taking care of those she loves in a million ways. She's still ready to listen to any rubbish you want to spew or to comfort you when you cry about a stolen wallet. She will still bake you a cake when you have a cold, and get you macaroni and cheese because it feels like that kind of Tuesday.
And that's why I believe in magic; because a story about a wizard boy led me to two of the most wonderful women and the most prized friends I've ever had. On Quiet Girl's birthday, I wish that she finds all the love and care she has spread so freely returned a thousandfold. I hope that this year, she can find some time to discover why we all love her so, and that it brightens the patient half smile into something more radiant.
Quiet Girl, you are one of kind. Happy Birthday, and I love you.