|Sunday, April 18, 2004|
I do not know why the magician’s eagle eye fell on me and he asked me to come on stage. When I hesitated, he himself came down to my seat in the front row and gently pulled me to the stage. This was at a Russian magic programme at the BHEL township in Bhopal years ago.
The magician gave me a red ball and asked me to close it with both hands. A few seconds later, I was asked to open my hands. Lo and behold, there were three or four balls!
Again, I was asked to close my hands and then open them. This time, there was no trace of the ball. He asked me to check my shirt pocket. Yes, the ball was there. Next, he gave me some playing cards, which vanished only to reappear in the pockets of my jacket.
At the end of the item, the magician asked me to return to my seat. Once I was there, he held out a watch. It was my mine. I went back to the stage to collect it. Before I could take my seat, he again held out my wallet and pen. I told him he had all the makings of a pickpocket. He had a hearty laugh.
Unlike many magicians who claim to control spirits, through whose powers they perform their acts, the Russian magician had in his introductory remarks made it clear that there was no supernatural element in his performance.
For once, I realised that half the skill of a magician lies in getting the audience to focus its attention where he wants to at a specific time. In other words, the success of magic lies in the ability to create an illusion that has the appearance of reality.
"Speed is of the essence of magic" explained Samraj, one of the tallest magicians of Kerala when he once visited New Delhi to stage a programme. "Anyone who can master the sleight of hand can be a good magician. It requires a lot of practice and dedication though," he added.
Samraj, perhaps the first Christian in India to make it big on the magic scene, did not find anything amiss in taking up a profession that was virtually banned in Europe with the advent of Christianity in the 4th century. It regained a foothold in the continent only during the Renaissance.
Samraj made a sensation in the Capital with his Veerappan acts as the forest brigand was in the news those days. The highlight of his programme was to bring the forest brigand on stage. The young and old waited with bated breath for the penultimate item when he presented the elusive sandalwood smuggler to a spellbound audience.
"A magician has to be contemporaneous to survive," reasoned Samraj when he later visited me at my office.
No one knows this better than master magician Gopinath Muthukad, who began a journey for national integration from Kerala, which culminated in the Capital a couple of years ago.
In every state that Muthukad visited, he presented an item that reflected its specific ethos. Thus, in Punjab, he had a bhangra item, while in Jammu and Kashmir he used magic to fight the mercenaries masquerading as Kashmiri freedom fighters.
However, most magicians still rely on the Houdini act, named after Harry Houdini, the elusive American who, in the early 20th century, caused a sensation every time he performed on stage. Not many people know that Houdini got his name from Robert Houdin, considered the ‘father of modern magic’.
Samraj, who has authored a couple of books on magic, has no inhibition in discussing his art, though he won’t reveal its finer techniques. At the request of my colleagues, he presented an item. He asked me for a piece of paper. When I gave it to him, he made it into a ball and closed it in his hands.
When he opened his hands, to our surprise we found him holding a new 100 rupee note. He did not take the currency back but asked us to keep it to check whether it would again undergo a metamorphosis.
In the evening as I was about to leave office, I noticed the ball-shaped wastepaper lying under my table. That was magic indeed.