Mining collective history


Published on 13 February, 2016 in The Hindu Business Line – BLink

A Sri Lankan play delves into the common, conflicted past of two very different nations at the 18th edition of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav

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War footing A still from the play Dear Children, Sincerely. Photo: S Thyagarajan Ruwanthie de Chickera. Photo: S Thyagarajan Ruwanthie de Chickera. Photo: S Thyagarajan

Conflict doesn’t know race or region. The nature of war is such that it spares no one. Cities burn, people die, and that is how the pages of history are made. Countries miles away from each other share a common suffering; people with diverse skin colour identify with each other’s pain, for every nation has endured a similar pattern of war, and therefore, everyone’s history is collective.

Taking a slice of this shared history to build the foundation of a theatre project titled Dear Children, Sincerely…, the Stages Theatre Group from Sri Lanka aspired to bring to light the stories and experiences that transpired years ago, but are relevant today. The narrative unfolds through the eyes of this history’s witnesses — the elders of the society — at the 18th edition of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav theatre festival organised by the National School of Drama in New Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir, and Kerala respectively.

Under the guidance of director Ruwanthie de Chickera, a cast of 15 Asian and African artistes travelled to perform in India, and brought two diverse nations — Rwanda and Sri Lanka — together for an international collaboration of three performances, unveiling three different perspectives of the past.

While the first story, Seven Decades Deep compared the enormous Hutu-Tutsi community conflict in Rwanda with the Tamil-Sinhala crisis in Sri Lanka, and drew uncanny similarities between the exile of the Tutsi families to the ‘Sinhala Only’ movement in Lanka, the second story, Marriage, Sex and Loveintroduced comic relief by recalling the traditions when it was forbidden for a bride to be seen by a groom before they got married and when dowry was measured in cows. The last performance, Upside-down Land returned to remind of the horror of the bloody insurrections and sustained communal riots that scarred both countries for life.

Dear Children, Sincerely… made its debut at the Ubumumtu Arts Festival in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2015; the project later travelled to Colombo for its second show in January 2016. In India, the team performed to a full-house in Jammu’s Abhinav theatre earlier this month, before travelling to Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium and Thiruvananthapuram’s Tagore Theatre.

The project, which is based on conversations with senior citizens, mostly public figures and a few ordinary people, delves into their memories, experiences, and reflections in order to create a bank of stories. These are then taken to young people through storytelling and live performances.

“Research into Dear Children, Sincerely… started in April 2015, when we began talking to people born in the 1930s in Sri Lanka. This remarkable generation, born in colonial times and now eight decades old, essentially grew up in parallel lines to their country. The idea of bringing Rwanda into the picture happened naturally. I had a friend there and we spoke about the common histories of both countries. Every scene has been created from a conversation with an elderly person. The idea is to create a number of short performance pieces that will focus on one aspect of history, one opinion, one story,” explains Chickera.

Commenting on the comparison of the theatre scene in India and Sri Lanka she says, “There’s a huge amount of infrastructure in India; the industry is massive and very powerful. India is what Sri Lanka can aspire to be in terms of support, training and infrastructure. Sri Lanka has very good talent, but the industry is very weak. Plenty of young people take to theatre, but they burn out soon because the industry cannot sustain them; there’s not enough money to pay the actors for their training. It’s a very vibrant and young industry, but unfortunately the actors don’t mature, many of them fade out.” And is her country too facing the brunt of intolerance and censorship? “The theatre space has always been under the radar. It continues to be. The previous regime was beginning to crack down on journalists and influencing the artists, but the present system is different. Censorship was very high. It’s no more like that. People are pretty outspoken,” she says.

In a very short span of time, Dear Children, Sincerely… has managed to impress the ARIADNE theatre makers — a group of female theatre directors working in countries of conflict and post-conflict — and through ARIADNE, the project is now being adapted in Ireland, Palestine, Rwanda, Burundi, Serbia, the UK, the DRC, and Belgium. With nine countries on board, the project is all set to go global.

Their stories are real events, witnessed by real people, and real comments that manage to etch the past forever in the chapters of today. The past, as they say, is never truly behind us; no matter how hard one tries to forget, it claws its way back. And perhaps that is imperative to remember.

OTT and loving it


Published on 12 December, 2015 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line

The fifth edition of the Delhi Comic Con brought with it fans, TV stars, socially-conscientious comics and plenty of good vibes

Kristian Nairn takes a selfie of his fans at Delhi Comic Con 2015

Kristian Nairn, aka Hodor, at the Delhi Comic Con. Pic courtesy: Comic Con India

A sunny winter weekend, plenty of excited (and painted) faces, and a zone full of superheroes: Comic Con India returned to the Capital with a bang and left fans wanting more. The NSIC exhibition ground in Okhla buzzed with action last weekend. Fathers carried their toddlers dressed as superheroes, teenagers pranced about as Hogwarts witches and a somewhat lanky, albeit enthusiastic Spiderman posed generously for every fan.

Founded in 2011 by Jatin Varma as an experiment, Comic Con India has grown with every successive edition: this one had more than 250 exhibitors. “Comics and most things nerdy have been a part of my life since I was a child. I’ve grown up reading what everyone else has — Tinkle, Asterix, Tintin, MAD, DC & Marvel — and later went on to lap up every local and international indie comic I could find. There are so many favourites, but if I were to pick one it’d be Superman,” says Varma.

The first edition, held in Delhi, was free and saw more than 10,000 visitors over that weekend. The footfall has grown massively since and keeps increasing each year.

Comic Con now attracts more than 35,000 visitors a day, with an average ticket price of ₹300 at each show.

Celeb showstopper

Northern Irish actor and DJ Kristian Nairn (who portrays the character of Hodor in the blockbuster television series Game of Thrones) stole the show with a jam-packed session on day two of the festival. With season six a few months away, it was clever of the organisers to have one of the GOT characters make an appearance for fans in India, where the audience for content-focused television has grown phenomenally in the past two years.

For the uninitiated, Hodor is a friendly giant, one of the nicest characters on the show, whose defining characteristic is that he can only speak a single word — Hodor. Fans queued up to catch a glimpse of Nairn as he politely dismissed all questions about the forthcoming season, and refused to reveal if Jon Snow was alive or dead. He humbly admitted to not having read any of the books, but hoped that George RR Martin keeps his character alive till the very end.

Nairn agreed that he wasn’t particularly impressed about being offered the role of Hodor. “The guy only said one word ‘Hodor’, which didn’t make any sense. It was crazy,” he said and added it was his mother who convinced him to take it up. It was only gradually that he started falling in love with the character. “The only way to play a part like Hodor is to have that connect. You can’t pretend: it has to be real. And apart from the size, we had a lot in common. I think I am just as nice as he is,” said an amused Nairn.

First-timers

Comic Con provides a platform for creators and publishers to showcase their stories and characters. But while the hero-villain duo of Batman and The Joker, made more popular than ever before thanks to Christopher Nolan’s films, take centre-stage every time, this year’s edition saw other interesting ideas as well.

Sharing space with established comics stars was a superhero called Shabash, who came all the way from Bangladesh with the Dhaka Comic Con team. The Dhaka team was in the Capital with their ‘Beyond Borders’ theme. The aim was to join forces with the rest of the comics world. Founded by Saadi Rahman in 2012, Dhaka Comic Con is Bangladesh’s first-ever official comic book convention. They’re all set to kick off their fourth edition later this week.

Standing out among the crowd was the ‘Share Good Vibes’ stall that sold merchandise with quotes on peace. “There is so much negativity around us these days. Everyone seems to be getting depressed because of so much wrong happening in the world. Our aim is to spread positive vibes and encourage people to become happier and more optimistic,” says Nikhil Sharma, one of the founders.

Books etcetera

Graphic literature has never really received the attention it deserves: not in the past and especially not now, when people prefer to watch a comics-based film or TV show over reading the original book. Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Iron Man, The Hulk and Jessica Jones: these characters were born in the pages of Marvel and DC comics. But perhaps it’s less time-consuming to watch TV than to read the pages of a book.

This year, along with the usual fare, there were also some books that featured serious socio-political themes. Cartoonist Sumit Kumar’s book Amar Bari Tomar Bari Naxalbari, which was originally published as a webcomic, traces the dark history of the Naxalbari uprising and the Maoist conflict in central India. Ram Devineni’s Priya Shakti features a superhero who is also a rape survivor. Malik Sajad’s Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir is an autobiographical book that mixes history with personal recollections to give an insider’s view of the Kashmir conflict and how it shapes the psyche of a young boy.

So the Comic Con had something for every taste of every reader: from the rippling muscles of American superhero comics to the gritty realism of political graphic novels.

The real challenge, however, is to boost comics sales throughout the year, and it will take several successful Comic Cons to pull that off. But we spotted one diehard reader spending ₹50,000 at a single stall. May his tribe increase and flourish.

Men dance on deathless feet


Published on 5 December 2015 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line

Celebrating the relevance and genius of WB Yeats, who would have turned 150 this year

yeatsBorn in the summer of 1865 in Dublin, Ireland, William Butler Yeats, who died at age 73, was a man of many interests, many aspirations, and of many talents. He dreamed of shaping Ireland in his own vision and was committed to the idea of Irish independence, both in his literature and life.

This year marks the 150th birth anniversary of Yeats. Numerous events are being held around the world to commemorate the occasion. India too celebrated the ideas of the Nobel Prize-winning poet, especially since he had a spiritual connection with the country.

The India International Centre in New Delhi teamed up with the Irish embassy to celebrate his work through academic lectures, documentary film screenings, readings, and a play.

The auditorium might not have been packed, but every attendee listening to Dr Keith Hopper was a Yeats enthusiast. Hopper — who teaches literature and film studies at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education — spoke on Yeats’ interest in India. “Yeats looms over other Irish poets till today and has a tremendous influence on people who’re practising poetry. His agenda of remaking Irish culture was very popular. He put Ireland among the nations of the world. And what makes him all the more special is that everything he ever wrote was read,” he said.

Even though Yeats strove to remake Irish culture, he was never directly involved in the historical revolution, suggested a documentary titled The Mask: Yeats, The Public Man. He worked meticulously for the revival of the Irish language Gaelic, and was considered more important than the political leaders of his time in shaping Ireland’s destiny.

India calling

As a young adult, Yeats was drawn to theosophy. He met Mohini Chatterjee, an Indian theosophist, when he visited Dublin in 1885, and four years later he wrote three poems that referred to India — The Indian to His Love, The Indian Upon God, and Anasuya and Vijaya.

Though he never visited India, the country and its philosophy seeped into his work. Yeats was further influenced by the fourth-century poet and dramatist Kalidasa. He also wrote a poem inspired by the Bhagavad Gita in 1933 titled Mohini Chatterjee. In 1912, he wrote an introduction for Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. He was also instrumental in bringing Tagore’s play, The Post Office to Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in October 1913.

His prominence in literary circles led him to establish connections with other Indian poets such as Sarojini Naidu and Manmohan Ghose. His relationship with Indian poets was a symbiotic one; he encouraged a young Indian student in Oxford, Govinda Krishna Chettur, to publish his poems in 1922. Chettur dedicated the anthology to Yeats.

Experiments with theatre

Yeats’ greatest theatrical legacy to his country was the Abbey Theatre, which he founded in 1899 with dramatist and theatre manager Isabella Augusta Lady Gregory and Irish playwright Edward Martyn. Yeats was the key founder and lifelong supporter of the Abbey theatre (also known as the National Theatre of Ireland). He also succeeded in establishing the great modern Irish theatrical tradition.

Dr Vinod Bala Sharma, founder of the Delhi-based theatre society Shaw’s Corner, presented Yeats’sPurgatory, a play that the poet wrote a few months before his death in 1939.

The play tells the story of an old man and his 16-year-old son who are the only two living members of a family that has fallen apart. It deals with issues of decline and death. It also reflects Yeats’ interest in this life and the possibilities of the next.

Sharma, a Shauvian scholar, said at the sidelines of the play, “Yeats is better known as a poet than a playwright. I chose to stage Purgatory because there is something very Irish about it… the Irish never see straight. There is an undercurrent of humour, which is not negative, but neither is it positive.”

On his birth anniversary, there is no better way to celebrate the genius and relevance of Yeats than by reading and re-reading one of his many great poems, such as Remorse for Intemperate Speech, where his fanatic heart and silken tongue are on full display.

Remorse for Intemperate Speech

I ranted to the knave and fool,

But outgrew that school,

Would transform the part,

Fit audience found, but cannot rule

My fanatic heart.

I sought my betters: though in each

Fine manners, liberal speech,

Turn hatred into sport,

Nothing said or done can reach

My fanatic heart,

Out of Ireland have we come.

Great hatred, little room,

Maimed us at the start.

I carry from my mother’s womb

A fanatic heart.

With Colombia, cocaine and chaos, ‘Narcos’ leaves you trippy


Published on 19 October, 2015 in Scroll.in

NARCOS S01E06

It’s not arrived on your TV sets yet, but we hope it will.

It will have you at Colombia, the mention of Narcos. Pure, unadulterated love for all things that Colombia is known for, along with a special affinity for magic realism.

So when the American crime-drama television series Narcos (from Netflix) begins with a super in red font screaming THERE IS A REASON MAGIC REALISM WAS BORN IN COLOMBIA, you know you’re in for something that was believably hard to believe.

Narcos is inspired by the real-life Colombian drug lord Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, his founding of the Medellín Cartel, and the Drug Enforcement Authority of the USA, whose officers are obsessed with bringing him in so that they can detain him for good.

But Pablo Escobar isn’t just a drug lord. He is a character with all possible shades of crime on his bio-data. His style of carrying on with nefarious activities is unmatched; he offers the choice of silver or lead to anyone who stands in his way – accept his deal or face a bullet, choose life or death.

It’s an offer valid only for a short while, for it doesn’t take long for Escobar to run out of patience. It is fascinating as well as frightening to see the man turn into a megalomaniac over time, determined to get to the top.

Although the series has Escobar at the centre, the narration is from the point of view of DEA agent Steve Murphy. He is the good cop who wants to put an end to all the bad, drug-laced things in the world. However, there is no back story to him yet to explain his unflinchingly honesty.

Perhaps Season 2 will delve more into the ensemble cast. His straightforward hunt for Escobar appears flat against his DEA partner Javier Pena, who is more real and complex as a character, not the good cop, and hotter than Murphy.

Narcos introduces you a world where there is no dearth of cocaine, but there is a genuine shortage of incorruptible men. Season 1 ends with the Colombian Special Forces raiding Escobar’s self-built palace-prison; the series has been renewed for a second season in 2016.

Forget fiction and non-fiction, adults are turning to colouring books


Published on 10 October, 2015 in Scroll.in

The unlikely pursuit of filling intricate drawings with colours has become a publishing opportunity.
Beauty Needs Space CoverThree years ago, when artist and illustrator Indu Harikumar designed a few colouring panels for a non-profit organisation which works with under-trial prisoners at the Byculla jail in Mumbai, she was told that colouring calmed and relaxed the women. These were women incarcerated for petty and serious crimes, and made to share one large dorm in the jail.

Privacy is not an option in prison and most other activities that inmates are usually made to participate in are in groups that they may or may not prefer. In that sense, colouring was one activity that could perform in solitude.

“I could feel the energy that they were not at peace with each other. The bed was the only space they had and I can imagine why colouring had a positive effect. There is a lot of detail in colouring books for adults and because of that, the mind doesn’t wander and one finds it easier to focus,” says Harikumar.

Colourful beginnings

Harikumar was at an art residency in Vienna in 2014 when the idea of Beauty Needs Space, a colouring book for adults, first came to her. She was out on a date and shied away from eating cake by saying “I feel fat”. That’s when her Viennese date said to her, “But beauty needs space”.

“It wasn’t an idea I could push away because in between work (which is usually drawing) I doodle and I find it very relaxing. During the residency, I used to do this series called Vienna Diary where I would wake up and make a quick drawing and put it out on my Facebook page. I would write on themes that I faced every day – culture, perception, trying out Tinder in Vienna, patriarchy, food and travel etc. The series was hugely popular.

“I thought I was talking to a very Indian audience, but I received email from Scotland, Sweden, Japan, Singapore, and, of course, India. The “beauty needs space” comment got me thinking and that’s when I started putting up my drawings for the colouring book just to test the waters. The response was great. So I started drawing the first one – Beauty Needs Space – which appears on the cover. I decided to self-publish because I had buyers writing in saying, ‘I am in whenever you are ready.’ That meant a lot.”

A meditative palette

As a concept, colouring books for adults have been around in the West for a while now. Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford published her Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Bookin 2013; since then, the book has been translated into 14 languages and has sold more than a million copies.

In 2015 she has published two more books – Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Colouring Book andLost Ocean: An Inky Adventure and Colouring Book. French illustrator and graphic designer Emma Farrarons has been smart enough to pitch her book, The Mindfulness Colouring Book, as an “anti-stress art therapy for busy people”. And UK-based publishing house Michael O’Mara has sold over 300,000 copies of the different colouring books it has published, even claiming that “colouring can lower anxiety, stabilise mood, increase attention span and serve as a sleep aid.”

It’s believed that colouring increases powers of meditation, especially because the panels in these books for adults are far more intricate than those for children. However, Harikumar, being the first Indian to initiate the concept here, isn’t suggesting that her book will do any of that.

“I just hope that people will enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed creating it. If you enjoy it, you will find it relaxing. I hope people are able to find a part of themselves somewhere in the drawings,” she says.

Many of the colouring panels in Beauty Needs Space have been drawn with consciously positive messages, which can be found inside the back cover of the book. It has twelve high-quality A4 prints that one can colour and frame, stick on, and add one’s own beauty to it. There are empty spaces for users to fill in their own messages as well.

Says Harikumar: “I started the book as a social media experiment. As I put out each drawing, I heard from people across the world and the stories have been very heart warming. I have sold only through my social media accounts which go by the name of @Induviduality and I am happy to have sold to most continents except South America.”

Her next project for adults? Titled Women on Top, it’s a colouring book based loosely on theKamasutra.

To Lucknow, post-haste


Published on 3 October, 2015 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line

A dramatised reading of old letters conjures up a cosmopolitan city that once was

Ink and memories: The many charms of the lost art of letter writing and the city of Lucknow come alive in ‘Lucknow in Letters’

Ink and memories: The many charms of the lost art of letter writing and the city of Lucknow come alive in ‘Lucknow in Letters’

Most people no longer take the time to sit and write a letter. Not when modernity, more specifically technology, is rife with alluring alternatives. That hasn’t deterred the duo of Saman Habib and Sanjay Muttoo from making an earnest attempt to help people relive the charms of not just letter-writing but also a city as old and steeped in culture as Lucknow, through their dramatised reading of ‘Lucknow in Letters: endeavours, achievements and tragedies’.

While in one letter Mahatma Gandhi appeals to a father in Lucknow to financially support his nationalist son, who is helping set up the Jamia Millia, in others there are exchanges between siblings and cousins who were separated by Partition. There are several classics as well — letters exchanged between writers, socialists, and close friends such as SM Mehdi, Munish Narain Saxena and Kaifi Azmi. As also the last letters written by Ramprasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan, before their execution, in which they express deep concern for Hindu-Muslim unity.

The readings — in English/Hindi/Urdu — are informed by a commentary in Hindustani that takes the audience through post-1857 British-ruled Lucknow, the efforts to preserve the city’s heritage at that time, the national movement, the Partition and its impact on families and relationships, progressive writers, social movements, and so on. Reflecting varied moods, some of the letters are humorous, others desolate.

Habib had moved to Lucknow for work about 15 years ago. Before that she had visited the city for family weddings and short summer breaks during her schooldays. Lucknow also formed a part of her grandmother’s reminiscences, as the city she married into. Habib, currently a senior scientist at the city’s Central Drug Research Institute, and Muttoo, a sixth-generation Lakhnavi currently teaching journalism at Kamla Nehru College, Delhi University, recently performed their 11th show at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), New Delhis.

We caught up with Habib. Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about your association with, and love for Lucknow.

My engagement with Lucknow is layered. It wasn’t love at first sight. I found attitudes in the city casteist and saw gender discrimination. Much that I saw around me initially was at odds with the impression I had of its cultural and social heritage. I am not sure if I like to put it like this, but this search for letters that reflect the city’s experiences over the last 150 years or so is also an effort to retrieve what we are losing at such a rapid pace.

What has the city lost?

Lucknow was a cosmopolitan city and evolved a syncretic culture, which was threatened and continues to be threatened by the parochialism and insularity that seem to be spreading everywhere. We wanted to retrieve the idea of Lucknow from the debris of this ‘destruction’ and try to bring to our audience the beauty of relationships and language as well as the city’s past achievements and tragedies, as reflected in the lived experience of its inhabitants.

The concept of ‘Lucknow in Letters’ — when did it first come to you?

Sanjay and I were part of a reading on ‘Feminists of Awadh’ at the Mahindra-Sanatkada Lucknow Festival in early 2014, and the idea of doing a reading of letters began to take form just after that. I knew of letters in the family that had been cherished and preserved, and thought that it would be worthwhile to look for more in other homes as well as from published sources.

We wanted it to be a complete experience for the listener, which is why there’s music together with images of people, buildings, manuscripts, and the letters itself accompany the reading. This also reinforces authenticity and makes it more real.

How did the performance with Sanjay Muttoo first come about?

Sanjay is a friend. He is also a filmmaker and storyteller with a long experience in broadcasting. I think both of us have learnt immensely from this project, and our understanding of the city and its experiences continues to grow. One can’t ask for more.

Not many write letters these days. Is that true of traditional families in Lucknow too?

Reading letters from close family and friends used to be a shared experience. With email and messaging taking over, letter-writing is becoming a lost art. Only some people of my parents’ generation write letters now, and that’s also true in Lucknow. We need to preserve old letters.

What was the process of retrieving the original letters, manuscripts and photographs like?

We looked at old family papers and asked friends, friends of friends, academicians and historians to dig for us. People pointed out possible sources and helped us connect. I was moved by the immense trust placed in us and the openness with which family papers and photographs were shared. I am deeply conscious of this trust and we have tried to handle the reading with the sensitivity it demands.

Which of these letters are closest to your heart?

I love them all… but since you ask, my favourites are the Maleeha-Arif exchange (two gifted cousins separated by Partition, who wrote long letters to each other for over 50 years), and Kaifi’s letter to Zehra Mehdi on her father’s death.

Any plans to take the reading to Pakistan?

We would love to take it there. The reading has a very important contribution from Karachi, from where my cousins, whom I have never met, searched and sent old letters and photographs to us.

Sanjay’s family, too, has old Lahore links. Perhaps Lucknow will spin its charm again and help everyone heal.

Raising an illusion


Published on 4 September, 2015 in The Hindu Business Line – BLink

German mentalist Nicolai Friedrich on how magic uses logic and creative thinking to accomplish what appears impossible

Mixing it up Mental magic, says Nicolai Friedrich, is a mixture of psychology, suggestion and magic. AGP World

Mixing it up Mental magic, says Nicolai Friedrich, is a mixture of psychology, suggestion and magic. AGP World

Anything that’s pleasantly out of the ordinary is magic. It’s often overwhelming and even freaky. For Nicolai Friedrich, it is a metaphor for the human ability to make seemingly impossible things possible. Friedrich blends visual artistry and mind tricks with excellent comic timing, leaving audiences awestruck. He attempts to inspire the audience to look beyond the boundaries of reality. With no one in his family even remotely connected to magic, he started out by studying law at the university and even became a professional lawyer. But magic was destiny. “My mother thinks I learned something really serious. But lawyers and magicians have a lot in common, so I guess it worked out all right,” he says.

On his fourth visit to India, Friedrich performed across five cities. In an exclusive interview before his opening show in New Delhi, he talked about the magical tricks that oscillate between belief and make-belief. Excerpts from the interview.

Is magic for real?

Well, I believe there is magic happening around us every day. However, we are often blind to those little wonders of life and nature. Instead of admiring, we simply take them for granted. I have to admit that my show is not real magic but it absolutely looks like it. So I try to get as close to real magic as I can.

What got you interested in magic and mind-reading?

At four, I saw a magician in a circus. It perplexed me and I thought of becoming a magician myself. Soon after, I invested all my time, money and effort in learning new tricks. So probably this first magic show was the cornerstone of my career.

Can magic ever go wrong?

Oh yes, especially if you have invented something entirely new. However, it is all part of the natural procedure of trial and error. The most important thing that you learn is to never make the same mistake twice. Luckily most of the time, the audience will not even realise when something goes wrong, because a good magician always has a plan B up his sleeve, so he can secretly switch to that and finish the trick.

Which is the most difficult trick you have performed till date?

I flew an airplane blindfolded. It was a dangerous publicity stunt for German television and since there was no autopilot I am happy that I managed to land the plane safely.

Does mind-reading involve intuition or the sixth sense?

I would say both. Mental magic is a mixture of psychology, suggestion and magic. Even though it looks that way, it has nothing to do with supernatural powers. However, our mind has much more potential than most of us are aware of. If we train and use some of the hidden potential we possess, we can do things that may seem like miracles to others. The study of human psychology helps us understand why people behave the way they do. It is quite easy to detect a lie or predict future behaviour. Our body is constantly sending out information, so if you think your secret thoughts are safe within your head if you keep your mouth shut, you are wrong!

You have performed in India before. How has the response been?

Indian audiences have been very receptive and have loved my ‘mentalism’ and illusion tricks.

Have you heard of or met any Indian magician or mentalist?

I have met some Indian magicians and mentalists and have heard of some, but unfortunately I have not seen their shows yet. The only magician whom I knew and admired a lot was Ali Bongo. He lived in the UK, but I found out that he was born in Bangalore.

Would it be correct to say that magic tricks have logic to them and yet they are illusions?

Yes, that is absolutely correct. Magic uses logic and creative thinking to accomplish something that looks impossible. The fact that it looks impossible is the illusion, since all magicians are also bound to the laws of nature.