He was named Harry Potter by a travelling literature enthusiast because of his muddled hair and round eyes. There was also a scar on his forehead, very much like his fictional counterpart, as he had hit himself against a brick while playing unattended. His deep wound had bled and healed on its own leaving the ugly scar. His mother always looked frail and tired as she worked as a maid to make both ends meet while his labourer father was away in Assam.
The name Harry Potter had stuck because his mother liked the fancy name and prayed that the ‘angrezi’ name may change the fortunes of her poor little boy. The neglected and dirty boy was blissfully unaware of his poverty stricken state and hardships of his family. His days were spent playing in mud, running along the village stream and dancing with abundance in yellow fields. Everything was fun for him and he did not know what it was to be born in a poor family in Bihar in India.
One day an owl like man came and announced that all village urchins should go to a nearby school. Initially, Harry Potter and his friends laughed at the idea until the man uttered a magical line in an enticing voice – you will be served with tasty mid-day meal.
The food depraved kids couldn’t help envisioning about hot and spicy meals. At home, they hardly ever ate anything good. The ‘government’ must be a nice, generous man to have opened a school that served food, they thought. Harry even planned of bringing some food home for his mother as she never ate anything nice.
The kids excitedly clapped and danced around as they informed their parents about the school. The ignorant parents were more than happy to let them go to a school that would impart education as well as food.
On a dark rainy day, Harry Potter and his friends got ready to go to school in their least torn clothes. They carried plates in their jholas. Harry also kept a box to bring food and frequently checked to see whether it was securely inside or not. The dilapidated government school looked almost as striking to little Harry as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry would appear to wizards.
He eagerly sat on a torn mat which was rolled out on the mud floor. He looked around for his benefactor - the absentee ‘government’. The teacher was trying to say something but the commotion was too great and the number of students unmanageable. Harry and his friends, who sat at the back, hardly heard anything. Children were throwing paper balls at each other and some were busy fighting. Occasionally, the teacher would shake his fist and bark choice unmentionable innuendos at the students.
The principal passed by the room and everyone went hush-hush. However, terrible stench from the toilet was revolting and she half ran towards a small room covering her nose with ‘pallu’.
An educated onlooker would have found the entire arrangement of education and food outrageously disappointing, possibly sickening, but for the vulnerable Harry it was nothing short of magical.
It was almost meal-time now and the moment lunch bell rang all hell broke loose. The hungry children rushed out from classroom like little lambs. The joyful faces and eager hands did not know what lay in store for them. The menacingly huge vessels were kept in one corner of the courtyard and a man resembling Hagrid the game-keeper started serving food to students.
Harry felt something ominous. The principal, teachers and the owl-like man were observing them with contempt…as one would look at creepy animals. Harry wondered about their eerie looks as he took out his plate and stood in the row of small children. One by one they were served a black dish that did not seem as delicious as Harry had dreamt. But they were very hungry. For some, the school’s mid-day meal was the only meal for the day.
All thoughts vanished from his head at the thought of having a filling meal. Since childhood, Harry had been acutely aware of pangs of hunger. He took his plate and sat in a corner of the courtyard to enjoy food in solitude. He was about to eat but then remembered his mother and smuggled some food into the plastic box…his last gift for his mother. He couldn’t contain himself any longer and started eating large mouthfuls. He didn’t know death was ensnaring him with each evil morsel.
Harry’s mother did not know how, why and what happened. She just remembered looking for his boy in a sea of dead bodies and mourning parents. The whole courtyard was full of dead children who had eaten the poisoned food. Finally, she saw her boy huddled in a corner clutching a little box of food. All life went out of her… the ‘angrezi’ name couldn’t save her boy because he was unfortunate enough to be born in that small village in Bihar in India.
Newspapers said – At least 23 students shockingly died after eating contaminated food in the Saran district in Bihar.
The evil doers had fled. It remained unknown whether the mid-day meal was accidentally contaminated due to filthy surroundings or was purposely done to further someone’s political motive.
JK Rowling’s boy lived. Ours died because he lived in a decaying nation run by soulless politicians who are darker than thousand Lord Voldemort while our Dumbledores, Hagrids and schools like Hogwarts are fewer. Laws are made, bent at will, mutilated to serve corrupt purposes or downright ignored.
Harry Potter died because corruption in India did not spare the little plate of a hungry child. He did leave behind something – an ugly scar on the collective soul of more than one billion Indians.
(The author is a freelance writer and a guest contributor.)