I AM HERE

It was 1960. The one-month vacation after the exams had started. Therefore, I coaxed my father into taking me along on his Assam tour. But on one condition - I wasn't going for a change, I'd have to be with the rest of the team and work with them. It was like a magical recreation of the Gurukul (ancient teacher-student set-up) from a bygone era. I wouldn't have my father as a father, but as PC Sorcar on stage. Even that would be a bliss. Now, across all these years, I can understand how much he loved me. He had wanted the magician inside me to stand the test of fire, water and all social adversities. But I could understand none of these then. A latent indignance had given birth to the rebel within me. Perhaps, that is what my father wanted. Perhaps, this was just another of his magic.

The show was at Pandu town, adjacent to Guwahati, at the Railway Institute hall. I stayed with the rest of the team, my father stayed elsewhere. We couldn't have much Conversation. What little conversation happened was on stage, through gestures and, sporadically, between shows. For us team members - particularly for me - he had declared curfew at the hotel where he stayed. The girls of our team also stayed at the hotel, and we weren't allowed to look at them, let alone talk.

I am participating in my father's various magic shows. No one knows me too well, but I'm always on the stage. That's what pleased me. Various experiences. The art of evading danger and applying tricks to weave a world of fantasy. I was engrossed with all that.

Those days, my father used to end his shows with the 'Multi-coloured Black Art'. A dark stage lit with special light, so that only the magician and his gestures could be seen. The rest is pitched dark. The audience would see PC Sorcar come to the stage and order the lights to be put out. Then he would emerge from the darkness with the help of some special lights - and one miraculous trick would follow another then.

Finally, he would drape himself in a blanket. And how strange ! The blanket falls to the ground and PC Sorcar or has vanished ! And immediately afterwards, he would call out, 'I am here !' from behind the audience. The mesmerised auditorium would burst with applause.

Though much later he explained the trick in many ways and in many places, it was still a secret during those days. The audience didn't know that on the stage my father had been replaced by an assistant dressed like him. The change would happen so smoothly that no one could notice it. Even I used to appreciate this trick enchanted. That was real magic. I saw that while the assistant was bearing out my father's role on stage, the latter would enter the green-room wipe his sweat off, take off his shirt and relax on a chair under the fan. He enjoyed this regular respite, which lasted for almost a minute. Then, at a certain moment, he would get up, change his dress with break-neck speed, march down from outside the auditorium, enter through the rear main door and stand behind the 'busy' viewers in the dark. The whole thing had happened silently like magic, and no one saw it. Meanwhile, the assistant on the stage is busy applying the vanishing formula. He vanished at the stipulated moment, and from behind the audience, my father called out, "I am here !" A simple trick. gut the effect was breath-taking. Like everywhere else, the people of Pandu are fascinated, dumbfounded. This is how all magic-tricks are. No spell, no mantra, just brainwork. Get stupefied if you don't know the trick. The bubble bursts when you find it out. That's why we need to test all the concerned instruments and the secret implements before every show.

It was the morning of the fifth day at Pandu. All instruments have been tested, and we are about to return to the hotel. With me is my all-time partner Mr Madhab Choudhury. He could work like a bull, and was so addicted to tea that we called him "GURU", the greatest "TEA- Char- mer".

Madha babu said, 'Let's have some tea.' We were having tea at this road-side shack, when some small-talk reached our ears. Just next to us, some ruffions from the neighbourhood were also havinq tea. They saw us, but hadn't recognised us. They were engaged in various interpretations of magic, the mysteries involved, and numerous nonsense explanations. "I have seen through the mystery of 'I Am Here', while going to the toilet," came someone's elated comment. "And for the next two days I've noticed that at a particular moment PC Somar walks down from outside and enter the auditorium that night, intercept PC Sorcar and spoil his magic.

I was terrified. Immediately, I decided to warn my father at the hotel, ignoring his 'curfew'. I was no longer afraid of his scolding. My father heard me out, and then superciliously dismissed my apprehension. 'Go back to your hotel,' he said. 'Barking dogs don't bite'.

I returned to my hotel, but was feeling uneasy all along. My father,the magic-emperor, dealer of fairy tales and a dream-merchant. But he couldn't gauge the extent to which those ruffians could be nasty.

I decided to protect him, but keep my operation concealed from him. My father had started the trick on the stage that night. And I was walking along his usual way outside, to enter the auditorium, dressed up like my father. They were ready. They pounced on me mid-way, and dragged me along to some distance. A few blows also landed on me. But I didn't make a fuss. Or rather, I couldn't. Someone had clasped his palm fast on my mouth. I struggled, but didn't use much force. I just pretended to apply force. I had my eyes on my father. And I noticed that my father, the magic-emperor PC Sorcar, walked unhindered along his usual way, and entered the auditorium. My work was over.

'I am here," the words then came out clear from inside. The dumbfounded audience burst into applause as usual. They didn't know that those ruffians outside were appearing more stupefied. I won't ever forget their faces. That day I had the direct experience of witnessing how faces change when they see real-life magic. They all took to their heels.