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An Indian Juggler
By Colonel A.W.Drayson, R.A.
From the Stanley Collins Collection


DURING the month of March, 1877, my professional duties obliged me to visit the famous city of Delhi, which is certainly one of the most interesting places it has been my good fortune to visit. The great interest attached to Delhi is due to the importance it has ever occupied in Indian history. It was the seat of government during the reign of the Moguls. Its siege by us when the mutineers held it, forms a bright page in military history; and the vast size of the city, and its wonderful ruins, are wonders well worth a long journey to see.

Around the Kashmir Gate, where we entered the city by storm during the mutiny, there are still the marks on the walls of our shot and shell, whilst the remains of our trenches exist, showing the positions of our breaching batteries.

It is not, however, about war, or siege, that I am going to write; but I will describe the proceedings of a famous conjurer and his assistants, with whom I had a seance of nearly two hours at the Dak Bungalow, or travelers' hotel, at Delhi. From the number of certificates this man showed me, he appeared to have performed before very many people, all of whom seemed highly pleased with him, if their feelings could be judged by their written remarks. As this man, therefore, was apparently at the head of his profession, the skill of Indian jugglers may be fairly judged of by the performances I am about to relate.

The conjuring party consisted of the head man, an assistant, who apparently sat quite, and didi nothing, two women, who were confederates, but appeared to do nothing except chorus Khabardar (take care), whenever any trick was being performed from which it was required to distract our attention. The party squatted down on the floor of the room, and out of  a small bag of red cloth was produced, about one yard  square, on the four corners of this, a monkey's skull  was placed, some red, yellow, and white  powder was then laid in lines, in the form of a cross, on the cloth, and a great deal of nonsense talked about the monkeys' skulls being told to look out, and  help, etc.

The first trick was the common thimble-rig trick, but worsted balls were used instead of a pea, and these were as large as pigeons' eggs. I have seen many good conjurers in england, but I never saw palming better done than by this native. His arms were bare up to the elbow. He would turn the palms of his hands upwards, and show you that he had but one worsted ball in them; he would place this between his first finger and thumb and grasp it with the first finger and thumb of the other hand. suddenly pulling his two hands apart he would have a ball between each finger and thumb; placing one of these on the ground, he would repeat the performance two or three times, producing four balls all the same size. The was very neat.

The next trick was thimble-rig on a larger scale. Three brass vessels about the size of a quart pot were used, a watch, some paper, and some pieces of silver were placed. There was no false top about this vessel, and all that was accomplished was done by neatly substituting another vessel for that in which the various articles were placed. One of the females was next called upon to perform, and her first trick was to mix a glass of water some white, yellow, and red powder, this, having been mixed up, was drunk; immediately after, the conjurer
told her to produce some white powder, she compressed her lips, and let a quantity of of white and dry powder drop on a piece of paper; shortly after, yellow powder was produced in the same way, and then red. This looked a wonderful performance, but three capsules containing the powder , and held in the mouth, would explain it all.


THE next trick was well done by the female. She took a piece of thread in her hand, and showed this to be about six feet long, she then broke it into a dozen or more pieces, and gave it to me, in order that I might also break it. I watched carefully to detect  any palming of a second piece of thread, but could not perceive a change. The woman then took one end of the piece of thread, and drew it out six feet long without a sign of fracture. She did the trick three times in succession, but I could not discover the palming of the second piece of thread.

I saw a very simple but amusing trick performed some weeks before this by a juggler that at first seemed inexplicable. A man produced a freshly picked twig, and put this obliquely into the ground, and pointing south; he then went  round to the north, and, standing about ten feet off, waved his hands slowly at the twig, which moved slowly round, and eventually pointed towards him; he then took the twig up and showed to be merely a common piece of small brush. After a little while I saw how this was done, and the next day I did it myself. About three or four inches of the lower part of the twig is twisted, and this part is stuck into the growing, immediately the top part is released from the hand, it begins slowly to move round, and would complete more than a half-circle if it were allowed to do so, but it looks better to take it up when it has done half a circle.

No Indian juggler's performance would be complete without  the mango-tree trick, and the juggler I am writing about did this very well. He had a small wooden frame about four feet high, covered with a cloth, which he threw over it. we examined the frame, cloth, etc., which was placed on the floor of the room. He placed in this, and in our sight, a small piece of board, on which he laid a little earth, and inserted in this a mango seed. He then closed the side of this little tent, and waited about two minutes, when he opened the tent, and there was a mango tree about six inches high, with its roots in the earth he had placed on the board. he then re-inserted this little tree in the soil, and closed the tent for about two minutes, then opening the cover, he showed a mango-tree quite three feet high, and about  one foot in diameter, and the leaves quite fresh. I have not yet obtained the key to this trick. some of  the explanations of the way it is done being palpably incorrect. It must be remembered that these jugglers are almost naked, their arms and legs bare, so that the concealment of anything as large as this mango-tree about their persons is absurd. Then the trick is done on a hard stone or cement floor, in a room where the man has never been before.

Arun Bonerjee (Vice-President, CJC) speaks :  The above historical article comes from the collection of local veteran magician, magic collector & magical author Mr. B Das of Purulia, West Bengal. Mr. Das has got the largest collection of valued documents on history of Magic in Indian sub-continent. Besides his excellent books on magic in English and Bengali for beginners in magic, his recent two reference works in English on 'Floating' and 'Sawing a human' illusions for magicians exclusively are highly appreciated by one and all. Mr. B.Das received 'Civic Reception' at 34th Annual Convention of Chandernagore Jadukar Chakra in 1997. The Mayor of Chandernagore handed over to him a decorated 'Appreciation Certificate' in recognition of his life time contribution to this art of Magic. His phone number is +91 03252 24078.