E-Pao! Opinions - Manipuri Harry Potters

Manipuri Harry Potters
By: Deepak Chabungbam*

Recently, shortly after I finished reading "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", the fifth in the Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling, I accidentally stumbled upon another book titled "In Search of Leadership". In the latter book, the author identifies, among others, seven key qualities of a true leader viz. courage, integrity, competence, humility, decision-making, compassion and purpose.

As I mused over the two seemingly unrelated books, I discovered a strange convergence of ideas ingrained in the two books. As I read chapter after chapter of the book about leadership, I was struck by a majestic similarity in the central themes of the two books that, prima facie, belong to two different genres.

For the uninitiated reader, Harry Potter is a boy who discovers that his deceased parents were not regular people, but a witch and a wizard, and he accepts an opportunity to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in order to follow in their footsteps and become a wizard. He thereby enters a magical world of spells and enchantments. Harry, raised by his heartless aunt and uncle (the Dursleys), finds his niche at Hogwarts School where he finds love and acceptance from the friends he makes. Harry's best friends are Ron Weasely (whose family, though poor, is warm-hearted and generous) and Hermione Granger, a studious girl who also champions the rights of the oppressed.

The stories contain an allegorical struggle between the forces of good and evil. The evil forces are represented by the Death Eaters whose super-imposing leader is Lord Voldemort, a raging psychopath. Their actions are no less different in intent and consequence from those of our contemporary corrupt and power-hungry politicians, bureaucrats, extortionists and human rights violators of all hues and colours.

On the other hand, there is also Professor Albus Dumbledore, a noble wizard who is the head of Hogwarts School. He symbolizes the wisdom, experience and compassion of our old folk. He offers sage advice. For instance, once he tells Harry, "… you have to choose between what is right and what is easy... because what is easy is often not right." One might dismiss this as a bland and trite advice, but if our leaders, administrators and law-enforcement agencies were to heed this simple advice, many of our problems would be instantly solved.

Below, I make a comparison between the central themes of the two books:

Courage is rightly cherished as the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others. And the story of Harry Potter and his friends at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is teeming with heavy doses of exemplary courage shown by these boys and girls.

Napoleon once said that the rarest kind of courage is the "2 o'clock in the morning courage"-unprepared courage. Instances where Harry and his friends hold their nerves on being confronted by unforeseen dangers and show commendable courage in the face of unbeatable odds abound in the stories.

The highest form of courage is when one volunteers to sacrifice one's own life for another. As one picks up one book after the other of the Harry Potter series, one finds a plethora of instances where Harry and his friends exhibit this human virtue of the highest order.

There is a character called Wormtail who is Voldemort's right-hand man and who, out of sheer cowardice, stands in the shadow of the strongest person. He is a metaphor of the helpless and spineless man who remains a silent spectator to injustice being meted out to others, thereby effectively acquiescing in the crime. The moral of the story-it is not enough to be honest within oneself…one should also be "honest aloud".

Integrity sums up a number of qualities that make for character-honesty, dependability, uprightness, loyalty and sincerity. Character is formed when a man demonstrates his attachment to these virtues even under strain.
Harry and his friends develop courage, loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice for one another - even at the risk of their lives. In our self-centered world, what more appropriate lessons can be given to the leaders of tomorrow?

Life is not always simple and choices are not usually simple either. Choices are not always between the good and the bad but at times, between the good and the better or between the lesser of the two evils. And it is a leaders job to weigh the consequences and select one course. That is where the "competence" of the leader matters most.
What is the most appropriate advice that can be given to ordinary men and women? It is what Dumbledore told Harry: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities". The Harry Potter books specifically address the complex and confusing world of modern childhood. The characters are tempted to do what is wrong, as well as challenged to do what they know is right. They face real choices.
When it comes to black magic, the Defence against the Dark-Arts teacher, Professor Mad-Eye Moody warns his students to use "constant vigilance". Black magic is a metaphor of the alluring habits that adolescents are inevitably tempted to pick up.

Humility and confidence should go hand-in-hand. Only a confident man can afford to be a truly humble man. The humble leader seeks to understand the people around him. He manages to command the loyalty of the people around him because they realize that they work with him and not under him. Arrogance has absolutely no place in a leader's personality.
One can readily identify the ugliness of arrogance and pride displayed by Harry's Muggle (non-magical) family and his school tormentor, Draco Malfoy. On the other hand, one is pleasantly impressed by the charming humility displayed by Harry throughout.

The art of making decisions quickly, confidently and resolutely is the hallmark of a leader. A leader has not only to make the right decision but he has to choose the right timing. It is not only the speed of decision-making but also the quality of the decision and the timing that reveals a balanced leader. The Harry Potter books are almost always about children making choices-the right ones at the right time.

The Buddha once told his disciple that the right action is one that originates when one's mind has compassion. Compassion is a deep feeling for and understanding of misery or suffering and the concomitant desire to promote its alleviation-something that our present-day leaders lack terribly. Compassion is an essential trait of the personality of a leader.

Harry Potter's story is also about the redemptive power of love. Love is what protects Harry from Voldemort. The power that saves an infant Harry and eventually enables him to tide over the times of ordeal and peril is nothing but the power of the self-sacrificial love of Harry's late mother who gave her own life to save his.

Having a definite, lucid and unambiguous purpose of action is an indispensable qualification of a leader. In fact, purpose should necessarily precede true leadership. Leadership is necessary to serve a purpose. Harry cherishes a cause that must be fulfilled, and a goal that must be reached. The devotion to friends and a cause shown by Harry strongly reveals his lucid purpose of action

Making our own Harry Potters:
Walt Disney once said, "You don't try to teach, you entertain, and in the course of entertaining, you teach." That's exactly what J.K. Rowling has done. The values that the kids in her book display are the same that any parent would want their own kids to display. The moral lessons are just fabulous and seem to exactly mirror the qualities that a leader is expected to possess as laid down in the book on leadership. There is such a wealth in these stories that parents and teachers should seize upon to be passed onto youngsters. The reader absorbs lessons of virtue and maturity that any parent would wish their children would emulate. The characters are ordinary people like you and me that the abstract message "Good can overcome evil" is enriched and personalized and becomes "Someone like me can overcome evil".

There are important moral lessons for us to learn and apply to our everyday lives. After all, what are Lord Voldemort's weapons? Prejudice, intolerance and contempt for those who are different; abuse of the weak by the strong; greed, fear, and ignorance. Lord Voldemort's weapons very much exist in our world as well as in the world of the Harry Potter books. A person who has read the Potter series is not only forewarned against these evils, but better-equipped to handle them. In case you are thinking that these are essentially books meant for children, then even adults enjoy reading them to children-and to themselves. (In England, there is an edition published especially for adults who are embarrassed to be seen reading a children's book!)

J.K. Rowling's books have a compelling ability to explore real human character traits within her created world. Harry Potter is what every child will be, what every adolescent is and what every adult has been. He is what every child should look up to, every adolescent should strive to be and every adult should urge every youngster to become. What Manipur desperately needs today are Manipuri Harry Potters.

* The writer is an officer of the Indian Revenue Service and readers are free to comment
on this article at [email protected]

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