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It is 100 years since Indrajal started weaving its magic spell across India. PC Sorcar (Junior) on the wizardry he inherited from his father.
PC Sorcar (Junior) is determined to convince you that he is no wizard - that his remarkable skills are only a clever blend of art and science. At the Delhi hotel where he is staying, Sorcar turns up for an interview in a shiny black-and-gold embroidered kurta, his twirled up moustache giving him the appearance of a showman from the '60s. He is theatrical - he speaks as though he is on stage during a performance, and laces his conversation liberally with references to history, literature and philosophy.
For a month now, Sorcar has been in the city to commemorate 100 years of Indrajal, the name of his act. The show, he explains, was designed by his father, the legendary P C Sorcar (Senior). He was born on February 23, 1913, and this year marks his 100th birth anniversary.
It is clear that Sorcar lives and performs in the shadow of his great father. Every show begins with a mention of P C Sorcar (Senior) and his photograph is displayed prominently on the stage. "I am my father's continuation, " says Sorcar. "His teachings and values live on in all of us - in me, my daughter, my wife. "
An eighth generation magician, Sorcar is performing in the capital after 12 years. "It has always been the family's philosophy not to promote superstition or use magic for religious purposes. There are people who have done that but do you know where the word 'magic' comes from? It comes from the word 'magi', meaning 'wise men', " he points out.
The idea for Indrajal had come from Sorcar's grandfather but found shape with his father. "My grandfather was a philosopher, a dreamer. It was his lasting wish to create a magic show, just like we have music shows or dance shows, but he could not do it because it was a conservative society those days. So when my father was born, it fell upon him to create a magic show whose sole objective was entertainment, " says Sorcar.
The term 'Indrajal' is derived from Hindu philosophy. "It means the web of illusion that spreads itself over the senses. The Vedas remind us that death is inevitable. People do not know how they will die, but the fact that they will die is certain. But then if we keep reminding ourselves that we will all die, no one will work, earn money, or be productive. Magic spreads a net across the universe that helps us dream of a better future, " he says.
The Sorcar family's association with magic goes back to the time of Jahangir when an ancestor, Krishna Chandra Deb, performed in the presence of the Mughal emperor. In an incident also mentioned in the Jahangirnama, the emperor quizzed Deb about his art. Deb replied that there was no mystery to what he did - it was all science. Impressed by the act, as well as his honesty, Jahangir granted Deb a piece of land or 'sarkari' at Sutigram near Dhaka. Deb added 'Sarkar' to his name in honour of the emperor's firman, and it gradually became the family surname.
P C Sorcar (Senior) changed the spelling of the surname from 'Sarkar' to 'Sorcar' because it was closer to the Bengali pronunciation. Today, as his son, now 67, prances about on stage, reads blindfolded from a blackboard, makes his assistants appear and disappear at will or cuts himself up into two with an electric saw as the dramatic culmination of his act, it is all a tribute to his father, who is credited with popularising Indian magic on the world stage in the 1950s and '60s.
Sorcar is now grooming his daughter Maneka to take on the family mantle. She was part of the act when he made the Taj Mahal "disappear" for a full two minutes in 2000, stepping in to make the monument reappear. In 1990, Sorcar made the Victoria
Memorial in Kolkata "disappear" and repeated the act in 1994 when the Amritsar Mail "vanished" from the tracks along with the passengers in it.
His most controversial moment came more than 30 years ago when he famously attempted to call the bluff of an eminent godman. Meeting him under an assumed identity, Sorcar turned the sandesh the godman had conjured up into a rasgulla. Following this stunt, he was evicted from the place. He does not like talking about the incident any more, but it reinforced his theory that magic and religion need to be kept apart.
"My grandfather always believed that the appreciation of magic is a useful social barometer, " Sorcar says, "because if we are prejudiced and superstitious, then we will see magic not as art, but as mantra, or black magic, or the work of ghosts. But if our thinking is geared towards appreciating art, or if we have a scientific temper, then we will be able to understand the sort of effort goes into it. So we appreciate it more. "
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