From schools to NUJS and IIT – 25 years later how Harry Potter reached Indian scholars
I25 years have passed since the publication of the first Harry Potter book. JK Rowling’s books have led to one of the biggest fandoms in the world, rivaling Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. In India, this led to generations calling themselves “Potterheads” – Harry Potter’s influence seeped into Indian scholars, from school level to university courses and theses.
The teachers realized the need to introduce young adults to this kind of fantastic literature, to have them read books beyond the curriculum and to help their creative impulse. The genre was refreshing, as was the storytelling and plot – it’s a bonus that it helped the students improve their English. He told the kids that reading didn’t have to be boring. Soon the private publishers ICSE and CBSE had parts of the book.
But it wasn’t just kids, Indian adults adored him. Quite a Harry Potter phenomenon has made its way into higher education and campus culture. From the National University of Legal Sciences to IIT Gandhinagar and the quiz societies at Ashoka University, Harry Potter has made a name for itself everywhere.
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Harry Potter at school
In 2016, when I was in class 8, we were asked to give a presentation on any Harry Potter movie as part of an English assignment. The objective was to look at the symbolism, the characters and the accents. This same love for series was also encouraged by my chemistry teacher at the time. She constantly urged us to read books such as Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent and Percy Jackson.
To classify 8 CISPs books and several other private publications have included excerpts from various Harry Potter books. Although most of these chapters are usually chosen from the first book itself, Philosopher’s Stone, which was published in 1997, probably because it makes children curious to read the next plot. Also, with a large portion of students already knowing of Harry Potter’s existence as a famous series, they are simply more intrigued to step into this world of magic and find out.
And it doesn’t stop at college. Three years ago, the Kolkata National University of Legal Sciences run a program: An interface between fantasy fiction literature and law: special focus on Rowling’s Potterverse. The intention was to help law students apply their understanding of legal topics and principles to a social context where they do not make pre-existing value judgments. In simulations like these, it is even easier for university instructors to create an environment where prevailing ideologies cannot influence how students understand a legal concept.
It has also led to academic papers and studies.
Sandipan Ray Choudhury in his article ‘Harry Potter at Cultural Crossroads: Exploring the Reading Motivations of Young Adult Readers in Urban Bengal’ explains how books like these introduce us to the conceptualization and understanding of the fluidity of the interaction between social factors , political and economic in a society . He further discusses how readers in urban Bengal continued to read the book, more because of their intrinsic motivation to do so, rather than forcing them to.
In a 2003 BBC article, Alaka Shankar said, “Children don’t spend as much time with their grandparents or other relatives, who used to be a great source of stories, that’s why they’re drawn to Harry Potter.”
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Quizzes, fanfiction and quizzes
Another academic space on which Harry Potter has had a large imprint is debate, quizzes and trivia contests – both in schools and universities.
I remember a quiz contest in IIT Gandhinagar called Amaltheaback in 2017. Candidates were asked to say the real name of the author based on the book cover and pseudonym. The author’s pseudonym was Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling’s detective alter ego. Any Potterhead would know that.
Bhaskar Sharma and Yashaswini Joshi, former students of Choithram School, Indore, recall how they once held a Harry Potter-themed entrepreneurship summit within the school. “We decorated the whole school like Hogwarts, and in every simulation game the details were written in a golden snitch,” says Yashawini. “We also created maps for our school like the Marauder’s Map,” adds Bhaskar. Harry Potter also became one of the committees hosted by some Model United Nations, with proper rules of procedure and debate.
The Harry Potter wave introduced India to a whole new form of literature – fanfiction, with thousands of middle and high school students joining Wattpad to learn more about their wish ‘ships’, some famous ones being Dramione (Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger), Jily (James Potter and Lily Evans). And many young fans have tried to write fanfiction themselves. In 2018, India had the 5th the largest number of users on the platform.
In the education of children largely based on morality fiction that existed in India, Harry Potter was a sweet sigh of relief.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)