While moving along in the corridors of my college (where I teach) I saw a poster, “Come and see the Great Indian Rope Trick performed by Ishamuddin Khan.” I vaguely nodded my head and moved on. When the day of the performance arrived many of my students also mentioned it. I once again thought I had a lot of work and I would see if I venture out later but honestly I was quite disinclined to go. That day we had a combined lunch and we were requested to attend the show. Now I thought, OK, let me go and see what is this stuff all about.
And as Calvin would say, Oh Boy! I am so glad I went. Before you venture to read out any further, I implore you to read this background article in the Independent about Ishamuddin Khan.
After the show I along with a colleague had a chat with him and he said, “Mein tou tahra Madari” (I am just a street performer). He got interested in the rope trick because he got to hear that there were rewards attached to it to the tune that “meri saat pusht bhi nahin kaama pati” (which his seven generations would not have been able to earn). But then I am running ahead of the story.
He came to our place along with a crew which is making a film on his life, headed by a Japanese (but not of the Japanese origin) gentleman. He set his shop and started his show and had us spell bound.
I wonder where and when he picked up his English because for sure he was not educated into it. And not only can he speak the language for his show, he can converse in it. But then I am again digressing.
His first show involved two small school girls holding an egg and the egg doing the vanishing trick. The funny part was he kept telling the girl, “Don’t misplace the egg or I will charge you three rupees seventy five piase.” When that small girl said she didn’t had money, he replied, “OK no worries, I will charge it to the accounts department!” Of course the egg got lost and was found via another small boy.
Then his father did the levitation trick (note the use of the word trick and not magic) and our collective eyes were popping out. Then came his class act, the rope trick. I wish I had a picture or better still a video but that filming crew made a request of keeping our cameras off. The rope just starts shooting out of the basket and stands straight. A young boy (probably his son) goes up a little way on the rope.
The legend has it that the original Indian Rope trick was more elaborate. In ancient times, we had great magicians such that the rope would disappear from the site. A young boy would climb up the rope and vanish. The magician would call him back but would get no reply. Then he would angrily go up the rope and the limbs of the boy would start falling to the ground. The magician would them climb down, gather the parts, put it in a basket and the boy would come alive again! That for sure is stuff of legends.
Then it seems that the capability to do the rope trick vanished out of the memory and now Ishamuddin Khan is the first magician who can performed it under the open sky. Before him, people have been able to perform it only on a stage.
We went backstage, or rather closer to him in the open ground and he was signing a few autographs for the younger lot of the school kids, I wonder if any of the college students joined the queue. He later said, “mein tou tahra madari jab pahle baar logon ne autograph manga, mein tou pareshan ho gaya ki inko chahiye kya?” (I am a mere street performer and when the first time people asked for my autograph I could not for my life figure out what were they asking for).
I asked him quite timidly, “Can I ask you how do you do it?” And he laughed and replied, “When I did the trick at Udupi, I had to face the global media. They asked and so can you. This anyway is the age of the internet, go search the Youtube and you will get my videos.” He continued, “It is obviously a trick but it takes my entire family a few months to make this rope. It took me six years to figure out how to do this, what mechanism to attach. I got interested when Peter Lamont visited our small colony in Shadipur for his research and I go to know about the prize money. Now my kids go to school.” I can imagine what kind of a struggle (or can I?) it would have been for him.
He said, “the global media asked that the kid should disappear in the clouds and I told them, give a rope that big and I will do the same!” I said if I could ask another question and he gave his go ahead, so I asked “What is different about performing it in the open?” He laughed, “On a stage you have three sides to yourself where as a street performer is surrounded by people in a circle and has to be that much more clever!” He said after Udupi other shows happened and then the embassies in Delhi got interested to have him perform. And then he started performing abroad too.
After this the Japanese maker of the movie got in a chat with us and soon it was time to take our leave from Mr. Ishamuddin.
And to think of it that I wanted to give this a miss. Next time there is a magic show, I am for sure going to turn up! Thank you Mr. Ishamuddin Khan for doing this for us.
Mr Ishamudin Khan can be contacted at- ishamudin at gmail dot com and his phone number is 0091-9811730682. I have his permission to post his contact details.