The great In­dian mango trick

How In­dia be­came a ‘land of mir­a­cles’ in pop­u­lar cul­ture

The Hindu - - THE HUDDLE - Mo­hit M. Rao

Shamshud­din, who looks younger than the 62 years he claims to be, sits on the stage with bas­kets and an as­sort­ment of tools. He is in a blue-checked lungi and a vest, while his son Mustafa is dressed in mod­ern clothes.

The great In­dian mango trick is to be per­formed. Sham­sud­din is a fifth-gen­er­a­tion prac­ti­tioner of the street magic trick. Is the bas­ket rigged? Does the lungi it­self hold se­crets of the trick?

These ques­tions may have con­founded even those who first saw the trick played in dusty In­dian vil­lages nearly 1,400 years ago. A ver­sion of this trick was even played to the Mughal ruler Je­hangir who was a great ad­mirer of ma­gi­cians, says John Zubrzy­cki, a for­mer Aus­tralian diplo­mat, jour­nal­ist and his­to­rian. He is the au­thor of

which traces the evo­lu­tion of the con­jur­ing tra­di­tions of In­dia, and he nar­rated the his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance and in­flu­ence of In­dian magic dur­ing the ses­sion “Mak­ing Jadoo: A jour­ney through the street magic of In­dia” at

Jug­glers and Jinns, The Hud­dle. Jadoowal­lahs,

The trick de­rives it­self from the le­gend of Bud­dha who used to per­form mir­a­cles un­der the mango tree. “Fear­ing this, heretics chopped down all the mango trees in the area,” Mr. Zubrzy­cki said. How­ever, Bud­dha threw a mango seed in the ground which im­me­di­ately sprouted a 50-foot mango tree un­der which he per­formed mir­a­cles.

The trick has since cap­tured and cap­ti­vated not only the coun­try but also the West where it has been called the “most per­fect achieve­ment of the con­jurer’s art” and proof of In­dia as a “land of mir­a­cles”, Mr. Zubrzy­cki said.

But street magic is a sight rarely seen in In­dia’s cities and towns now. At The Hud­dle, the fa­mil­iar en­vi­rons of a vil­lage sur­round­ing the ma­gi­cian with a keen eye to spot ev­ery trick were recre­ated as par­tic­i­pants gath­ered close to Shamshud­din.

Tunes of Mo­ham­mad Rafi played on in a flute in an at­tempt to bring out a “snake”. The ma­gi­cian has the crowd eat­ing out from the palm of hands as he throws mul­ti­ple red her­rings. A rubber snake is pulled out, but he ex­plains the trick. The real trick, he says, starts with a mango seed. Un­der a cloth and a bas­ket, some wa­ter and mud is sprin­kled. When the bas­ket is pulled out, a small mango sapling is seen. “It is small. Maybe, it was un­der my lungi all along,” he said. Again, un­der­neath the cloth, he puts some wa­ter and mud. The gods are sum­moned and in­can­ta­tions re­cited. The bas­ket rises and when the cloth is pulled out, a larger mango tree pops out.

John Zubrzy­cki

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