Kannan had been tailgate.com’s third employee and first programmer. He had built the site more or less on his own; Eric always said that he and Brendan had a deep spiritual understanding of the Web, but were happy to leave the technical understanding to others. They’d never had much to do with their Indian lead programmer – after all, you couldn’t talk to him about sports – but, two years and a dozen programming hires later, he continued to project the illusion of a private link to the co-founders. The “special projects” lie never met with any scepticism.
On most days he could get away with only two or three hours of actual “work”, usually right after lunch. But he had never felt busier, or more alive. He always reached the office by eight, and spent the first hour reading and digesting the new messages on the Yahoo! group Harry Potter for Big Kids. HP4BK represented the fandom intelligentsia.
It was a chatty, erudite, insular club, and at this stage it was impossible for Kannan to be more than a lurker. The active members addressed each other by nicknames, not always Harry Potter- related, made in-jokes that he rarely understood, and seemed without exception to be American and British. The British members were treated with absolute reverence.
He found it impossible to tell from screen names whether a poster was male or female and, especially when the banter rose to flirtation, this discomfited him. But HP4BK was so much more elevated and sophisticated than the rest of fandom that he felt privileged even to be able to read the messages.
After catching up on HP4BK, he spent the rest of the morning in the groups and forums where he felt confident enough to post; where, indeed, he was beginning to be taken seriously, even to be respected. The Boston Gobstones Club had been founded by the radio show host Curtis Grimmett, and had offline aspirations too. Grimmett had been suggesting for some time that they meet weekly, in the “pit” outside the Harvard T-stop.
Then there were the various Harry/Hermione groups. This was, Kannan sensed, where the real future of fandom lay: in debating “ships”, or romantic pairings. The most intense and fractious debate on HP4BK dealt with the relative merits and likelihood of Ron/Hermione and Harry/Hermione as couples. This debate had the potential to tear Harry Potter fandom apart.
He had thrown his lot in with Harry/Hermione. He wasn’t even sure any more why he had done so, other than perhaps out of a sense that Ron was simply too unintelligent to go with a girl like Hermione. But choosing a ship was like supporting a sports team: once you joined the tribe, leaving was not an option and loyalty was absolute. In time, you forgot why you had joined in the first place.
In his first year at tailgate.com, Kannan had stayed at the office as late as he possibly could, and gone straight home to bed. These days he left work by five, and caught the bus into Central Square to have coffee with Grimmett. He always thought of him as Grimmett, even as his friend asked to be called Curtis.
“For a long time,” Grimmett had said, “I was deeply uncomfortable with my first name. When I was a student in England, during Vietnam, my friends noted my year of birth and, putting two and two together to make five, concluded that I had been named for Curtis LeMay.” He didn’t appear to register Kannan’s blank incomprehension at this name.
“They loved the irony of a leftie draft dodger being named after a trigger-happy, probably racist wingnut. The more times I told them that Curtis was my mother’s maiden name, an Americanisation of Kertesz, the more they insisted on addressing me as ‘Bombs Away!’ So for many years I asked to be called Grimmett, my surname, which is the way teachers address their students at those English boys’ schools. When I came back to the US, I had a new problem. I was stunned by the crass informality that had taken over our culture of addressing people. Maybe it was always there, but I didn’t notice it when I was a kid. Anyway, in the late ’70s, whenever I introduced myself to someone as ‘Curtis Grimmett’, they would reply, ‘Nice to meet you, Curt!’ The presumption of it! And the idea that in America, everyone has to be known by an amputated version of their actual name, in the quest to immediately establish intimacy. Whereas anyone who actually knew me would know how it horrified me to be addressed as Curt. But the tyranny of Curt had the wonderful effect of restoring my faith in my real name, which isn’t an evocative or musical name – a Rubeus or a Severus – but contains within it the history of my mother’s family and their path to America. Oh, and isn’t it so fascinating that Rowling, with her wonderful gift for names – is there a finer name in all literature than Albus Dumbledore? – reserved for her hero the plainest, commonest name one could think of?” Occasionally Kannan would add a ‘Curtis’ at the end of a sentence, out of a slight deference, but most of the time he avoided addressing Grimmett by any name.
Kannan had never given any thought to his own name, other than a vague notion that, by comparison with his Bangalore contemporaries, he had been saddled with something too traditional. Grimmett was the first American who had insisted on saying it right. Three weeks’ practice and he had perfected even the subtly interruptive double N. And he was fascinated by the south Indian naming system it exemplified, the system that rooted Kannan to Chidambaram, a town that he had never visited but that made up the first half of his name.
Kannan couldn’t answer any of his questions (Why does your name contain only the name of your ancestral home, and not also your father’s name? How did your family make their way from Chidambaram to Bangalore?), so Grimmett read everything he could on the subject, online and in the Boston Public Library. He had come to the conclusion, he said, that Kannan was descended from a family of priests at the great Shiva temple in Chidambaram, “where you must take me one day, or perhaps I’ll be the one taking you.”
Grimmett used Kannan’s full name to construct for him a Harry Potter screen name: chudcannon26. “Chud is one key away from Chid, short for Chidambaram, and ‘cannon’, obviously, is an Americanised Kannan. You won’t always be twenty-six, of course, but it’s the age at which you enter Harry Potter fandom, and it’s more intriguing than using your birthday or birth year. And it all adds up to you, like Ron Weasley, being a devoted fan of the Chudley Cannons.”
Today he was to visit Grimmett at home for the first time, to watch the results come in.
Excerpted with permission from Accidental Magic, Keshava Guha, HarperCollins India.