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Tag: Magic

April 11, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

How to Eat Fire

 You will need: a cube of camphor


Take the cube of camphor and hold between the thumb and index finger of the left hand, and light it with a match. While the camphor is burning, you can place it on your palm and it will burn without hurting you. Once the audience has seen the fire, and been amazed by it, gently place it on your tongue while keeping your mouth sufficiently open so that the fire can be seen. It is a good idea to do this trick in a darkened room or at night. Once the camphor has become too hot, you can blow out the fire by breathing out, ie extinguishing it with carbon dioxide in the breath. Do not swallow the camphor.

NB Godmen’s miracles such as this should never be attempted by children, or anyone else except trainee Godmen.




April 10, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

And Now For Something VERY Different

A little over ten years ago, I published a book entitled SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. It was a book that I was never intending to write, detailing a strange and rather reckless time learning the kind of conjuring that’s done on a daily basis across India by ‘Godmen’. I was taken on by an Indian magician called Hakim Feroze whom, sadly, is no longer alive. The routine as his pupil at times bordered on the wildly sadistic, but was one of those periods of initiation which, in hindsight, were illuminated with a kind of magical light. Over the next few days I’m going to detail some of the more bizarre illusions that are performed by Godmen… many of them based on a form of chemical magical that was originally pioneered by Harry Houdini no less. The nanny states of the West gradually curbed the availability of the chemicals needed for these illusions. But in India, I am delighted to report, they are alive and well.

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.