I hated being a child
A misfit kid, just like the protagonists of his book, Keshava Guha, once a member of the adult fandom community of Harry Potter, relives the era in his debut novel
For someone like this writer, who was impervious to Pottermania as a child—regretfully, because she chose to be indifferent towards JK Rowling—the phenomenon that this series was, hit home last year. Life would never be the same again. An adult lapping up children's fiction. Keshava Guha, whose debut novel, Accidental Magic (HarperCollins India), releases this week, reminds us why this craze is not ours alone.
Son of historian and scholar Ramchandra Guha, Delhi-based Keshava's novel, which is set on the cusp of the new millennium, tells the story of four social outsiders, Kannan, Curtis, Rebecca and Malathi. Living in different parts of the world, their lives are brought together by Potter. "I am a Harry Potter fan, but that is only incidental. I loved the series, but it was never my favourite. There were other books that I loved more," confesses Keshava, in a telephonic interview. "It was a shared experience for my generation. The characters in the book are people whose paths would otherwise never have crossed. That was the attraction of the series."
Through his fiction, Keshava exposes us to the incredibly diverse community of Harry Potter fandom for grown-ups. It's the same world inhabited by his characters. Coincidentally, until less than two decades ago, this community was also Keshava's comfort place.
Adult fandom became a rage somewhere between Rowling's fourth book, The Goblet of Fire (2000), and the fifth, The Order of the Phoenix (2003). "There is a reason why those years were the peak of Harry Potter fan fiction," says Keshava. "For three years there was no book, and everyone was desperate to know what happened next." This is when "shipping" began. In the fanfic stories, shared on the web, writers started speculating whether Harry and Hermione would be a couple, or if Rowling would settle for the predictable, Ron and Hermione. There were other outlandish pairings. Keshava, who was 10 then, and should have otherwise been on fandom groups for kids, where you solved quizzes about which Hogwarts house you belonged to, was an avid consumer of shipping stories.
That's because, like his protagonists, Keshava admits he felt like a misfit too. "I was very bookish then," he recalls. "I hated being a child and desperately, wanted to be an adult. I just couldn't relate to kids my own age." "Being around these adults, [reading these stories and interacting with them] made me feel, like I was part of a project with them. The fanfic that I read was primarily about Harry, Hermione and Ron as grown-ups, living adult lives. It came from my desire to be a grown-up."
A decade later, while studying history and politics at Harvard University, the idea for a novel on fandom first came to him. However, Keshava who like his father, writes on politics and sports and currently works as editor with Juggernaut Books, only started work on the book five years ago. Since then, the plot has seen many revisions. "The initial version of the book, had many multiple Potter references. The book I have written now is designed to appeal more to Potter readers, but is also legible to non-Harry Potter readers," he shares.
One such reader is Booker Prize-winning author Aravind Adiga, who has "never read a word of JK Rowling," but whose blurb for the book, only has words of praise for the debutant, whose wit and prose, he compares to English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley.
The novel's title, in fact, is layered with references. One is Keshava's own shortcoming of misreading words. He recalls seeing Alice Hoffman's novel Practical Magic on his parents' bookshelf, and for some reason, reading it as "Accidental Magic". "Many years later, when I started writing this book, that title came back to me. I remember Googling it and nothing came up. That's when I realised, I had misread the title. I was also thinking about how there was something so unplanned and inexplicable about the success of Rowling's Harry Potter books." Accidental Magic, hence, fit well. "Also, in Rowling's book, there is something called the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad [tasked with reversing the effects of magical mishaps caused by inexperienced witches]. I had totally forgotten about that," he adds, explaining how coincidences gave his book a name.
Keshava is aware of inheriting a surname that has now become an institution; comparisons, he knows, are inevitable. "The first thing I have to say is that I have two parents. The influence from my father, specifically, is much more on my journalistic work. So the fact that I write about politics and sports, these are two things that were in the air, and I grew up in."
His interest in fiction comes from his mother, who is much more the novel reader, he shares. "But, both my parents had a passion for careers. So, I was brought up to think that if there was something that I really wanted to do, I should do that. They have read my book, but I feel deeply that family can never be unbiased."
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