As children, all of us enjoyed watching the magician pull out a rabbit from a hat. Over the years, it has become one of the most familiar magic tricks. Yet the world of magic is deeper and darker. For those of us who carefully watched Christopher Nolan’s Prestige, we know magic knows no bounds and can drive one to dangerous means to get the act right.
Watching a magician perform may look glamourous on stage, but there is much more to it. The best people to know this are those who are in the trade, making a living out of surprising people every time with their tricks. In India, traditional magicians are taking the trade forward, and along with it, the Indian heritage.
Ever heard of the Indian mango mystery? Or the Indian basket trick (Indrajal)? These masterpiece illusions and several others such as the flying Indian man have several hundred years of history behind them. In the modern era, two traditional magicians performing them are Aas Mohammed Khan and Babban Khan. A few years ago, they were confined to the slums of Delhi and their rare art could not reach beyond these small sections. Until Peter Theobald, at that time a sales executive in Mumbai and also an amateur magician, saw their conditions and decided to take them places. He met them for the first time in May 2008 at the Magic Convention in Kerala. While he was astounded by their skills, at the same time he was shocked by their poverty and the way they were being treated. That is when he started Street Magic India.
“I am not a street magician. I perform mostly for kids and also some mind-reading for adults. Am not a street magician. I work with a group of traditional Indian magicians (wrongly referred to as street magicians, because unfortunately they have been reduced to working on the streets). My motivation to perform magic was to bring a smile on the faces of poor, disadvantaged or sick children for whom I usually perform.”
Today these street magicians perform various shows. With Theobald’s help, their skills can now shine and get noticed by thousands of people. Additionally, they are also getting paid for their work. Theobald discusses an incident, “After our Mumbai show, later in the evening, I handed over Rs. 11,000 to Aas Mohammed, the balance money that I had planned to give him for his efforts. “Are you happy?” I asked him. “I would have been happy even if you had not given this money,” he had replied.”
How is street magic making India a better India in terms of its social impact? Theobald says, “It just makes adults children again. It helps the audience forget the worries of the world for a short while, to emerge refreshed and better equipped to tackle it. Children too enjoy the mystery and the fun associated with magic tricks.”
For traditional magicians of India, it is a ‘khandani pesha’ and they have been doing it for generations. What is unique about them is that they make their own tricks, are self taught and never teach others their tricks. Regular magicians go to a magic shop, buy tricks, go to a magic teacher, buy videos and books and learn the same tricks that everyone performs. “The tricks the traditional guys perform – no one quite knows how they are done,” says Theobald with a conviction that makes magic all the more real, even for nonbelievers.
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