Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Magician

"Dhyaan dibin dada, mayjik dakhabo!" - shouts the boy in an attempt to attract attention.

The second class air conditioned chair car feels a bit too cold in these winter temperatures. The train had left Calcutta a little over 30 minutes ago, and is chugging westwards into the mainland. The people - mostly sleepy, induced by a post lunch departure time and the last 30 minutes of train's sweet lullaby - are well sprawled into their seats with backs pushed as far back as possible. For most of them, this is meant to be a 4 hours of journey to meet their loved ones during the upcoming festivities.

Some of them look up with a faint, vague sort of interest at this teenage boy who has just announced his arrival. Old tattered shirt with faded broad check prints, a pair of grey jeans rugged through years of constant use, old but prominent sneakers which might have been discarded by someone after they had lost their prime, and a tattered black bag made of cheap rexine and cotton - the boy's appearance, in both form and expression, bears no resemblance to a magician. The only extra item he has added to his decor is a silk handkerchief tied near his jeans pockets - an odd piece of cloth hung there probably to provide a semblance of oddity, if nothing more; so that he doesn't pass off as just another kid selling magazines or tea or spiced puffed-rice popular in these areas.

He must have taken a calculated risk in entering this reserved coach - the ticket checker, after doing his job within the first 30 minutes of train departure shouldn't be returning anytime soon, and the next station is at least another 60 minutes away - he shouldn't be thrown out prematurely, before he has demonstrated his magic, and collected some coins from those who shall spare any change.

He starts with simple tricks which are sold to curious kids in numerous fun-fairs organized in various parts of the country during celebratory days of the Goddess Durga or the Lord Ganesha - the ones where yellow feathers turn red and blue after being wrapped up in a newspaper, or a rope keeps taut even when held up, or things disappear in small velvet bags with round openings. His incessant narration of what's next up his sleeves is so well rehearsed with overuse, and hence so monotonous, that it has lost the sense of surprise normally associated with this art. The newspaper he uses seems shredded with excessively repeated demonstrations across different trains, the rope has smudge marks all over due to persistent rubbing of his rough, dirty hands, and the velvet has almost lost its sheen and furs, displaying marks of age and tolerance. His small bag is the repository of all this material useful for the performances - bloated with the numerous objects and torn at corners, the bag looks too old to bear this weight beyond a few more months. 

He moves on to probably his harder tricks. A bottle of coke comes out of the bag and is placed in a hollow wooden tube. A few 'leaves' made of the glossy, confetti material paper cut into flowery shapes have been woven into rings, and many such rings are combined into sort of a shining, almost gaudy bouquet of red, blue and green coloured paper; but with too many folds and crumples marked across it. This bouquet is used to cover the tube, and after a flipping into the air, the beverage bottle disappears from inside the tube.

As the boy places his bouquet back into the bag, he is stopped by a man who holds his hand and says - "show that to me!" The boy seems a little petrified at first - the expressions on the man's face are serious, sort of petulant, and his voice has both a commanding, as well as a winning tone. The boy hurries, and his hands seem shaky now - with trembling fingers he pushes the bouquet and other stuff into the non-accepting bag faster, and responds timidly - "after a while, when I'm done I will." The man doesn't seem discouraged and persists - "no, I want to see that now," and the boy repeats his line. The air around the boy seems uncomfortable now, probably he has already self-accused, and self-sentenced himself for this 'cheating' which was almost caught. The man's face is grim, mixed with a slight hint of arrogant satisfaction.

The boy has either ended his performance, or has decided to end it prematurely - one can't be too sure - and walks down the aisle asking for "dada, puroskaar kichhu". He tries to be fast, unsure of himself. After a few coins and currency notes have been spared in the next few seconds, he quickly takes his bag and moves to the next compartment, without looking back.

He had dropped one of his shiny paper rings on the floor, red in colour - probably in the haste of shoving them in his bag.

When the train stops at the next station, activity resumes in the so far lull train compartment. Sleepy people are awake - some of them get down to buy their evening snacks and get bottles of water, or just to stretch themselves. There is a fresh breath of air inside the cold compartment with the opening and closing of doors. People walk in the aisles, and the boy's paper ring slowly gets pushed to a corner near the door, after being tromped by many shoes.

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