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Tag: Godman

April 23, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Stick Needles in an Inflated balloon

You will need: One balloon, some needles or pins, a roll of scotch tape

I once met a Godman in Calcutta who was using a book of children’s conjuring and illusion to create miracles. The book he had in his possession was printed in 1931, and I’m not sure if this miracle was in there, but it might well have been. It’s a schoolboy’s favourite.

You take the balloon, blow it up, and stick one-inch bits of scotch tape in various places. Then, when the audience have turned up, and mustering theatrical flair, you ease the needles into the places where you have put the tape. The tape seals and rubber, and the balloon doesn’t burst.


July 4, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel


Calcutta. Perhaps you have been there, and if you have not, pack your bags, get a ticket and be on the next flight. Because if you have not experienced Calcutta, you have never lived.

By the way, I can hear you asking why ‘city’ is even on this list. The reason is that humanity is urbanising, and it may be good or it may be bad, but it’s reality. And if you want to know about urbanism, Calcutta’s the greatest teacher in the world.

I first went there when on the trail of an Indian magician called Hakim Feroze. He was an austere man with high ideals and a rawness that put fear into people… all people. And he had the ability to see through layers of life, through truth and fiction, as if he were wearing X-ray glasses even though he was not. He is dead now, and the world is a far less interesting place without him. But the city which he loved and knew better than anyone else seethes on.
Go to Park Street. Find a cafe. Sit down and prepare to spend the entire day there. This is the only way to get to grips with a place — by observation. I have been to India a gazillion times and have not yet been to the Taj Mahal. I am sure one day my feet will arrive there, but not yet. I am far more interested with what’s really going on in places like Calcutta.
So you have your fresh lime soda with sugary syrup on the side, and you are watching, and you are thinking to yourself, ‘this is a madhouse and there’s nothing orderly… it’s chaos!’ But look again. There’s a grand system, systems on systems, people on people, ideas on ideas. Invention, genius, logic… all of it crammed into a few hundred feet of pavement.
Indeed, the pavement of Park Street has more life on it than entire cities elsewhere. There are people pressing clothes with irons filled with coals. There are dhobis doing laundry, and people extracting gold from the dust swept from jewellers’ shops; and there are rag pickers, and pavement dentists, and pick-pockets, and pye dogs and stalls where your watch can get fixed, and typists and stacks of used romantic novels sold by the pound, and there are beggars old and young and, if you’re very lucky, you’ll even see a woman with a cow.
The magician used to send me out into the mayhem (that’s when I still thought it was mayhem) and he’d tell me to search for insider information. He said, in his oblique way, that insider information made a magician great. So I’d go out and sit about and watch and watch and watch.
And after a while I’d notice a system… like the baby renters (you see that in Calcutta you have to pay a fee to the dons for the best begging spots in the middle of town. And by the time you have waited — long waiting list —  for the best spots, you are far too old to have a baby, so you have to rent one. And it’s good news because the parents get paid for having their squawking children babysat)… or a system like the woman and the cow.
The woman and the cow took me months to decipher. But ask any Indian and they see it immediately and, when you see it, they smile. A woman sits on a street corner with a cow and a pile of fresh leaves. From time to time someone, a passerby, stops, pays a tiny coin to the woman, so that he can feed the cow. By doing this he will have a greater chance of reaching heaven. 
But look again. It’s not as simple as you might think. The woman doesn’t own the cow. She’s owned by the milkman, who’s done with it after milking’s finished at four AM. He doesn’t want to have to look after the animal while he’s doing his rounds, so he rents it… to the woman. She takes the cow to the corner, (and of course pays a little something to the dons for the spot), and people pay her… so she makes a living. But it gets better and better: the milkman’s happy because his cow gets fed and he gets paid for having it fed, the passersby are delighted at having the chance of going to heaven, the woman’s thrilled because she has a living… and the cow, well, she’s ecstatic at all the delicious food and attention.
Pure genius.