They say magic isn’t real. I know differently. I still remember sitting in awe with my brother watching the famous magician of our town, Chinna mantravati. He was named so because he was short, and well, he was a magician. Every year Appa would take us to his show and make us sit only in the fourth or fifth row. We were too scared to sit in the front as I was somehow sure that he would pick me as the volunteer and make me disappear forever. My brother and I were terrified whenever he said, “Any volunteers?”. We would crouch and lower our heads as much as possible.
Chinna mantravati’s most famous magic trick was him walking on knives. He always saved it for the last. The entire crowd would wait with bated breath for that exact moment. He usually took around two minutes to complete his walk, back and forth. And for that entire time, there was pin drop silence. He would get down from the row of knives and with his bowed head, would finish the show by saying, “That my friends, is magic”. I remember sitting still with my mouth wide open when he said that at the end of each show.
My brother imitated Chinna mantravati at home and made me believe for a long time that he knew magic as well. He would lock me in the spooky, dark little store room of our house with just candlelight and made things disappear. He took small rubber bands, pens, key chains, spoons, old toys and made them disappear. I never asked him why I had to close my eyes every time he performed the trick, though. I was only six years old.
But, I’m not talking about walking on knives or making spoons disappear. I’m talking about the other kind of magic. The kind of magic that, you don’t get to see, but feel. Like the time in my university hostel, when Jan and I would wake up every day at the exact time screaming at each other – “That’s unbelievable!!” We were researching telepathy and synchronicity then. We were sure we felt something.
It was during my stint with the local NGO, that I experienced one such incident. I was given the task of collecting clothes and distributing it to certain old age homes and orphanages. I always gave them away to the manager of the organisation, and so, I never was in direct contact with those children or elderly. It was the Christmas Eve of 2004 and one of our friends suggested that we buy new clothes for Christmas and give away to the homeless people on the road. We dressed up as Santa and drove around the city in the middle of the night placing new clothes near the homeless people on the roads and platforms. They were mostly asleep except for one little girl who asked us, “Do you have food, as well? Amma slept without eating you know” It hit me then that clothes were fine, only if the stomach was filled. We gave her some money and the next day we distributed as much food packets as we could. It was a beautiful Christmas. One of the best in many years – until the next day.
The day after Christmas, somewhere in an island in Indonesia, originated an earthquake, that brought the worst to the lives of many. Tsunami had struck our city. There was confusion and panic everywhere. Nobody knew what a tsunami was, until then. People were talking about waves going as high as 100ft. It all sounded very terrifying. We gathered at our office and worked out plans to help as many people as we could. The damage was still not very evident but we knew that whatever happened was along the beach and we needed to get there immediately with supplies. I was in charge of collecting and delivering food. I had a hard time arranging transportation and by the time I collected food packets from various centres and managed to reach the beach front, it was almost late afternoon.
The beach front was completely flooded dotted with overturned vehicles and uprooted trees. Bodies were still being washed to the shore by waves. It was a scene we had never imagined we would witness in our lives. Everything was damaged and broken. Things and lives. The atmosphere was filled with an eerie silence. It was as though people had lost the will to talk.
There were make shift rehabilitation spaces, filled with people who had lost everything but their lives. We started distributing food packets to the people ignoring the horror that was in front of us. As I was giving away the food packets, I noticed a little girl sitting alone. I knew her, as she was wearing the dress we had bought for Christmas. She had lost her family to the sea. I went and sat next to her. I was searching for words to tell her but just ended up saying, “Hey”
“So, you brought me food today? I haven’t eaten anything you know”, she said without looking at me. There was blankness in her eyes. She looked so different than she did a day before. I gave her the food and sat next to her quietly until she finished eating. She sat staring blankly again. What could I possibly say to make her feel better? “It’s all right. You’ll be fine” or “Don’t worry, it’s all for the best” or “Be brave, you’ll get through this”? I couldn’t say any of those, as I knew it wasn’t all right and she wasn’t going to be fine and, she would probably not understand any of this, as she was just a kid.
“Hey look! Do you see these pink and green rubber bands?”, I told her removing the rubber bands that held the food packets intact. She looked at me for the first time and replied, “Yeah. What about them?”. “Well. I can make them disappear”, I said. “No, you cannot!”, she said with disbelief. “Oh, I can. Go on. Close your eyes and when you open them, they’ll be gone”, I spoke in that hypnotizing magician tone that my brother used when I was this little girl’s age. I demonstrated that silly trick exactly like my brother. When she opened her eyes, she shrieked with excitement, “It’s gone!”. She looked at me, her eyes glittering with amusement, not blank anymore, and her mouth wide open.
At that moment, I realised something. It was not walking on knives or making spoons disappear. It was those pair of glittering eyes filled with excitement, despite it being one of the most disastrous days in the history of the world. “How did you do it?!”, she squeaked again. I looked at her ecstatic face and smiled, as a little voice inside my head said with pride, “That my friends, is magic!”