Roadside Magician – Essay

An Indian juggler or magician as he is called is a common sight in Indian Bazaars’. He can easily be recognized by his loose and long kurta and dhoti, and the turban on his head. He is usually followed by a crowd or by street children and boys eager to see his feats. Often dogs also follow him, barking loudly at his strange figure.

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He usually selects a wide open space by the roadside. However, he is not averse to showing his feats in private places, as the compounds of big kothies and schools. To collect the audience, he beats his small drum or, “damru”, as it is called, or plays upon his flute. The sound of the drum or the flute is the signal that the show is about to begin and soon large crowds gather round him, eager for the show.

The tricks of an Indian juggler are so very amazing and clever that they have become famous all-over the world. One of the commonest is the throwing up of a number of brass balls high into the air, one after another, and catching them all in his hands they come down. The show continues for a pretty long time, and is always watched with breathless attention. All the time, the spectators are fearful that one of them will fall and juggler will commit an error. But none of them even falls. The eye of the conjurer follows them as they go up and down, and his hands catch them with the accuracy and skill of a machine. How does the juggler acquire all this amazing dexterity? How can he perform such marvelous feats so feats so faultlessly and with such apparent ease? The fact is life-long training and devotion alone has made the Indian juggler what he is. As the famous English essayist, Hazlit, in his remarkable essay on the subject, has shown that danger is the best teacher. The least error would expose the juggler to failure and ridicule and probably break his head. Hence he does not commit any error. It is skill surmounting difficulty, and beauty triumphant over skill.


The growing of a mango tree is another of the common feats of a juggler. It is very much like magic. A mango seed is sown in the ground and some water is sprinkled over it. It is then covered with a basket. After a few minutes, the basket is removed, and a mango plant, a foot height, is discovered. The plant soon grows to be a full tree and bears fruits which are distributed among the spectators to their great amazement and delight. How does he do it? Neither science nor philosophy can furnish any explanation for this marvelous feat. One is inclined to be superstitious and believe that the juggler knows black magic.

Another feat, equally miraculous, is the so called basket-trick. A young lad gets into a basket which is then covered with a piece of cloth. The juggler pierces the cloth deep with a sharp dagger several times and the spectators are sure that the boy must have been killed or at least seriously wounded. The cloth is then removed, and to the wonder of all, the basket is seen to be empty. Wonder of wonders follows. A few minutes after, the boy comes out of the crowed laughing. How did he escape from the basket? Even science, which presumes to know so much, fails to provide any answer to the question.

Recently, I had an occasion of seeing the show of one such juggler. The trick which impressed me most was this: the conjurer took a baby from a lady among the spectators. He threw it high into the air. The child swung like a pendulum for a minute and then disappeared. The poor mother burst out weeping, but the very next moment she found her darling in her lap. The spectators were thrilled and loud clapping followed.

Such are the feats of an Indian juggler. We have given only a few examples out of hundreds. Even though scholars have exercised their brains to provide a reasonable explanation to what the juggler performs, still, much of what he does remains a mystery. He is a magician in the real sense of the word.

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