It has been 25 years since the first Harry Potter book was released. JK Rowling’s books led to one of the biggest fandoms in the world, rivaling Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars. In India, it led to generations calling themselves ‘Potterheads’ – so deep was the influence that Harry Potter seeped into Indian academics, from school level to university courses and thesis papers.
Teachers realised the need to introduce young adults to this sort of fantasy literature, to make them read books beyond the curriculum, and to aid their creative drive. The genre was refreshing, so was the storytelling and the plot – it’s a bonus that it helped students better their English. It told children that reading didn’t have to be boring. Soon enough, ICSE and CBSE private publishers had portions of the book.
But it wasn’t just the children, Indian adults lapped it up. A whole Harry Potter phenomenon made its way into higher education and campus culture. From National University of Juridical Sciences to IIT Gandhinagar and quizzing societies in Ashoka University, Harry Potter has made a place for itself everywhere.
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Harry Potter in school
In 2016, when I was in Class 8, we were asked to make a presentation on any Harry Potter movie as part of an English assignment. The objective was to look at the symbolism, characters, and accents. This same love for series was also encouraged by my Chemistry teacher back then. She would constantly urge us to read books such as Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, and Percy Jackson.
Class 8 ICSE books and several other private publications have included excerpts from various Harry Potter books. Though most of these chapters are usually picked from the first book itself, Philosopher’s Stone, which was released in 1997, probably because it makes kids curious to read the subsequent plot. Additionally, with a large section of students already knowing about the existence of Harry Potter as a famous series, they are just more intrigued to step into this world of magic and discover it.
And this is not just limited to middle school. Three years ago, the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata launched a programme: 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 subjects and principles to a social context where they do not carry pre-existing value judgements. In simulations such as these, it is even easier for academic instructors to create an environment where prevailing ideologies cannot influence the way students understand a legal concept.
It led to academic papers and studies too.
Sandipan Ray Choudhury in his paper ‘Harry Potter at Cultural Crossroads: Exploring the Reading Motivations of Young Adult Readers in Urban Bengal’ talks about how books like these introduce us to conceptualising and understanding the fluidity of interaction between the social, political, and economic factors in a society. He further explains how readers in urban Bengal kept on reading the book, more due to intrinsic motivation to do so, rather than anyone 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 are attracted to Harry Potter.”
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Quizzes, fanfiction and trivia challenges
Another academic space Harry Potter has had a large imprint on is debate, quizzes and trivia contests – both in schools and universities.
I recall a quiz competition in IIT Gandhinagar called Amalthea, back in 2017. The contestants were asked to tell the actual name of the author based on the book cover and pseudonym. The author’s pseudonym was Robert Galbraith a.k.a. J.K Rowling’s detective alter ego. Any Potterhead would know that.
Bhaskar Sharma and Yashaswini Joshi, alumni of Choithram School, Indore remember how they had once organised a Harry Potter-themed entrepreneurship summit within the school. “We decorated the whole school as Hogwarts, and in each simulation game, details were written in a golden snitch,” says Yashawini. “We also made maps for our school like the Marauder’s Map,” adds Bhaskar. Harry Potter has also become one of the committees hosted by certain Model United Nations, with proper rules of procedures and debate.
The Harry Potter wave introduced India to a very new form of literature – fanfiction, Thousands of middle and high school students joined Wattpad to read up more on their wished ‘ships’, a few famous ones being Dramione (Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger), Jily (James Potter and Lily Evans). And a lot of young fans took a shot at writing fanfiction themselves. In 2018, India had the 5th highest number of users on the platform.
In the largely moral-based children’s fiction that existed in India, Harry Potter was a sweet sigh of relief.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)