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How Indian magic came of age

SPELL: John Zubrzycki (below) says his new book
(inset) tells PC Sorcar’s story ‘from both sides’
SPELL: John Zubrzycki (below) says his new book (inset) tells PC Sorcar’s story ‘from both sides’

by Amit Roy THE Indian word for magic is jadu and no jaduwallah – magi­cian – was more suc­cessful or flamboy­ant than PC Sorcar. Now a new book tells of how Sorcar had to overcome rac­ist western attitudes to become one of the greatest magicians in the world. Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic is pub­lished by Hurst, which – from the Asian point of view – has one of the most rele­vant catalogues in Britain. Author John Zubrzycki makes the point that Sorcar lived in a time when “Indian magicians were looked down upon by their western counterparts as being crude and unskilled”. When I asked why he had written the book, Zubrzycki re­plied: “I was drawn to the sub­ject by Sorcar’s continuing hold on the Indian imagination. He was a complex figure. He worked hard to achieve what he did, but earned a lot of enemies along the way. He did not play by the rules. He divided the western magic community and endured much prejudice. My book is the first to tell Sorcar’s story from both sides.” Zubrzycki is a Sydney-based author, journalist and diplomat, specialising in south Asia, in particular India. He picked out a paragraph from the book which summed up Sorcar: “He chal­lenged how the world saw Indi­an magic and proved that a man born in a small Bengali village could compete with the interna­tional giants of the craft. “His most enduring legacy is the pride that most Indians feel when they remember him. More than anything, more than all the controversy over who really was the world’s greatest, Sorcar loved being a magician and giving his audiences what he believed they wanted and deserved.” Sorcar called himself “the World’s Greatest Magician,” but he only became a superstar after appearing on Panorama on BBC TV on April 9, 1956. He sawed his 17-year-old assistant, Dipty Dey, in half but could not revive her by the time the programme end­ed. The last viewers saw of the girl was a sombre Sorcar placing a black cloth over her face. Believing they had just wit­nessed a murder, “the phone lines at the Lime Grove studios went into meltdown”. The pa­pers the next day screamed mur­der with headlines such as ‘Girl cut in half – Shock on TV’. It was a PR stunt, of course and ensured that his season at the Duke of York’s was sold out. Sorcar’s death from a heart attack in Japan on January 6, 1971 at the age of 57, prompted worldwide eulogies. As the respected historian Da­vid Price noted, he had arrived on the magic scene just as India needed a great Indian-born master to take on the big names in the west. Thanks to him, “Indian magic had come of age, magically speaking, and would have to be reckoned with by magicians around the globe”.

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