Written by John Zubrzycki, the title is great on its own, Jadoowallahs, Jugglers and Jinns: A Magical History of India.
The book goes beyond a review of the particular magic effects performed by Indian magicians and delves into the “the lives and communities of practitioners.” From the Atharva Veda’s early advice on proper “mantras and incantations assuring results as various as curing snakebite, ensnaring a lover, or warding off an enemy’s evil spells” to Indian fortune-tellers in Rome and “conjuring manuals were translated into Arabic as early as the Abbasid Caliphate.”
“Hindus have always credited yogis with paranormal control over matter and energy, earned through severe penance, so that supra-normal skills such as parakaya pravesha, divination, levitation, illusion etc. were part of the social fabric, magic catalogued as one of the 64 arts.”
The appreciation for magic and allied arts has not waned in India.
India’s magic intrigued western magicians “with imperialists looking for the exotic, while the native magician – like other Indians, brainwashed into regarding the white ruler to be superior in all respects – believed he had a lot to learn from western magic.”
The art passed from father to son but was shared with westerners for money to help the family. Apparently the jadoowallahs were low in the social caste and often impoverished. The money helped and the trick were shared.
Mr. Zubrzycki relates that the Indian magicians would don the clothes and persona of fakirs; including taking on exotic names such as Alfred Sylvester as the Fakir of Oolu.
Mr. Zubrzycki’s book does not reveal the secrets and he admits that he does not know how many of the effects were accomplished. But he is certain the magic he witnessed and describes in his book was accomplished by natural means, not supernatural.
“I’m primarily interested in people, which is why my book is not just a compendium of tricks. I look at the lives and communities of practitioners. There are still fabulous histories waiting to be told, which is why I also like biography,” commented Mr. Zubrzycki.
Read more about the book and a talk given by Mr. Zubrzycki in The Hindu here.
The book will launch in September at the Taj Club House on September 29, at 6 pm. The event will also have magician Gopal Mentalist on hand to perform.