People don’t really get out of the place with magical wands in their hands and spells on their lips, they are not really wizards by the time they pass out, neither the place is reached by entering into a quarter of a platform but the place is no less magical than the Hogwarts, if a comparison can be made. One thing which can’t be helped but said is that the people who go in are special just like they are when they are selected for Hogwarts but unlike most leaving Hogwarts the souls that leave this realm are of questionable variety. Yet it’s a place worth all its perils.
There must be dark arts and magic at work there. Habshi is sure of that now. For how else can he not see the darkness that day. Then again a ten year old has not the best defense against the dark arts.
Getting down at DC chowk they hailed a rickshaw. It was not much of a chowk. But in that city that was best available option for a chowk so they called it one and the DC lived close by, hence DC chowk. Mother haggled with a rickshawalah and got the price to whatever was good enough to be paid in 1991. As the rickshaw pulled away from the chowk towards the pink-walled-silver-gate realm, a magical realm Habshi thinks now, of Sainik School Kapurthala, the sounds of the world faded. Calm descended onto the world. Habshi was too young to know about the calms before the storms, of raising guard against the unknown charms, of staying alert to the stabs at the heart and he let the fascination take him and sweep him.
That gate for sure was possessed, the gate and the extension of it towards left side as the rickshaw approached from the DC chowk, the extension facing the thandi sadak. It wasn’t thandi enough to give you a chill. It was thandi if you knew how the magic worked. Habshi only ten and too young to understand and his mother too eager to meet her elder one hardly paying any heed to the magic around. The food was getting cold and to linger too long near the thandi sadak didn’t seem such a good idea. The rickshawalah was paid his due at the gate and they pushed forward.
Habshi could not take his eyes from all the heads that were jammed in the grills of the gate and the arms that slowly raised themselves to point at the regular flow of rickshaws coming towards the gate. The arms would point, some of those will withdraw back and the body that particular arm belonged to will run to the gate with extended arms to hug and be hugged. And the space that was created in the grills was momentary before another head got there and before another set of arms showed. The gate and its extension of grills were alive.
Once inside the silence, the magic, took over. Habshi (who was not yet christened with the name) walked as in a trance. The first look on the palace stabbed deep inside and that’s what stayed with him. Amid the spreading of the chaddar, all the talk on all the things and, all the devouring of the food the palace stayed in front of eyes. The magic was everywhere to be seen. It was a place full of people, hundreds of them and yet it was quite. All the talk ended in nothing. In the presence or rather the absence of that magical being the hubble-bubble of life never fell on ears. And then it was time to leave. The parent’s day was over. Rubbish thrown away, the panjiris and morabbas secreted away to hostels, twenty-thirty rupees transferred from mother’s hands into the pockets of brother, the chaddar folded back and slowly but surely Habshi and his mother stepped out of that magical realm.
That is the nature of this beast. When it hunts it transforms into a beauty and attracts its preys. Then the particular prey that it feels is most suited for the kill is selected. Sometimes it captures a herd. Like an artist the beast works on the captives for years. Some it breaks and some it makes. It can break them in an instant or take years. It teases them and sometimes let them make or break themselves. The captives see the deep fall in front but turn a blind eye and instead stare at the beautiful peaks and keep marching. As is the nature of this beast, it lets some fall and it lets some climb.
The journey back home was over in a jiffy. He reached home. The feeling of being stretched to another place took over and throwing away whatever was close by Habshi declared he will only study in the school with the palace and nowhere else. Now he can say it was the dark arts at work in that magical realm that spoke through him. He was among those chosen to be a prey, to tread the paths of glory ridden illusion of peaks and reality of the pest infested valleys.
And rest as they say is history. Rest is seven years, a number 3969, a nickname Habshi, three houses. Rest as they say are memories. You can make them as grand, romaticise and tell tales of whatever length and caliber but Habshi knows how many times and how close he came to a steep fall. In the end the beast let him be, he had swallowed him but not finding the meat to its taste spat him out. Habshi was a wiser man once he stood up on his feet after that exit. Thandi sadak, as he walked that day towards the DC chowk, was as chilling as reality generally is. Seven years of enchantment were over.
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