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Title: Indian Conjuring
Author: Branson, L. H. (Lionel Hugh), 1879-1946
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           INDIAN CONJURING


                     MAJOR L. H. BRANSON M.I.M.C.

                             Indian Army

                         With 8 Illustrations


                     GEORGE ROUTLEDGE & SONS LTD.

                     NEW YORK: E. P. DUTTON & CO.

       *       *       *       *       *

     _I dedicate this small volume to_

     MY WIFE

     _who has always been my best audience and my keenest critic
     at the innumerable sleight-of-hand performances that I have
     had the pleasure of giving in her presence._

       *       *       *       *       *

     _Portions of this book were published by the TIMES OF INDIA,
     ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY, by whose kind permission they are

       *       *       *       *       *


CHAPTER                                 PAGE

I.      A COMPARISON                     1

II.     THE CUP AND BALLS               16

III.    THE BAMBOO-STICKS               23

        THE RING ON THE STICK           26

IV.     THE GLASS BOX                   32

        THE BUNDER BOAT                 35

V.      THE BOWL OF RICE                39

        THE COLOURED SANDS              42

VI.     A ROPE TRICK                    46

        THE SWASTIKA                    49

        THE EGG BAG                     52

VII.    THE DANCING DUCK                54

        THE MANGO TREE TRICK            57

VIII.   THE BASKET TRICK                65

IX.     THE INDIAN ROPE TRICK           76

X.      SNAKES AND CROCODILES           89


       *       *       *       *       *


My old friend Shah Mahommed, aged 87 years,
son of Ghaus Mahommed, who died aged
75 years, and grandson of Nur Mahommed
who died at the age of 78 years, All three
were itinerant conjurers and had never
seen the rope trick                                            Front

Shah Mahommed singing Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay
between two experiments                             Facing page  10

Shah Mahommed with two assistants for the
Ring on the Stick                                   Facing page  28

Preliminaries of the Restored Rope, the only
rope trick that I have ever seen performed
in India                                            Facing page  46

Shah Mahommed performing the egg bag trick          Facing page  52

The Dancing Duck, performed with an enamel
bowl instead of the cocoa-nut shell                 Facing page  54

The preliminary stage of the mango tree trick
as shewn by Shah Mahommed                           Facing page  60

Conclusion of the mango tree trick                  Facing page  62

       *       *       *       *       *




Since the world began Magic and wizardy seem to have held a great
fascination for mankind, an example being in the story of the Witch of
Endor. That this tendency has in no wise altered is clear from the
popularity of conjurors, illusionists, and so called magicians who
still, be it East or West, attract an audience so easily and so
surely. This little volume is written in the hopes that it may prove
of interest to the thousands who reside in India, and those other
thousands who, visiting its coral shores from time to time, often
discuss in wondering amazement how the Indian conjuror performs his
tricks. It is also written to uphold the reputation of the Western
conjuror against the spurious ascendancy held by his Eastern confrere.

Before describing the many well known tricks that are shewn by the
"house to house" Jadoo-wallah, and explaining how they are done, we
will compare the average Indian conjuror with his mystic friends in
Europe, America and China.

Let us for a moment picture in our mind's eye the stage and person of
the European or American conjuror. A few small tables with spindle
legs (upon them a steel frame or so, transparent and decorative) are
exposed to our view. The performer appears with rolled up sleeves in
close fitting clothes and by the end of his performance has filled the
stage with several large flags, a bouquet of flowers and, may be, a
beautiful lady, all, possibly produced from a top hat. His performance
is given to the accompaniment of amusing patter and is brightened with
the colour of the articles he produces.

He may be an illusionist pure and simple and does not indulge in
sleight-of-hand at all. In this case the comparison with the Indian
Jadoo-wallah is not a fair one, as the latter has not the means to
purchase the complicated mechanism necessary for up-to-date illusions
as shewn by European magicians.

Whether or no his superior education is the reason, the European
conjuror gains in skill and shows his inventive genius as time goes
on. His effects are studied, and his paraphernalia embraces more and
more varied articles. The disappearance of a Christmas tree with all
its candles lighted is an excellent example to what he has risen. He
takes an interest in his profession or calling and strives to outdo
others in neatness or by inventing an exclusive trick to which his
name can be given and handed down to posterity. This may be the result
of large fees that can be earned at the "Halls" or by private
entertainments by those at the top of the tree. But these fees are
open to a conjuror of any nationality, and I am confident that the
interest the European takes in his hobby has more to do with his
superiority than education and large fees. The ruling Princes of India
are very fond of watching a clever conjuror and can pay enormous fees,
but no Indian conjuror appears to appeal to them. A Western performer
always wants to give his best to his audience and takes a pride in
mystifying them. David Devant, who is one of the greatest living
exponents has quite recently written an article in the Strand
Magazine of his dreams of tricks that he would like to be able to do.
To meet the late Charles Bertram "at home" was a study in itself. To
have seen him playing, as a child would play, with a pack of cards
until he stumbled across a new sleight and watched the enjoyment
written all over his face, was a proof of his deep interest in his

Can anyone imagine an Indian conjuror dreaming of a new trick? "Ghee
and khana" (clarified butter and food) form the subject of the
majority of his dreams. When he does play with anything it is to
caress lovingly the "paisa" or pieces of money that he last earned,
not to improve his dexterity but because they will give him a good
meal, a cup of arak, (or intoxicating liquor) and a long lazy sleep.

The Chinaman gives his entertainment with his stage well filled with
tables covered with gorgeous dragon-be-decked draperies that reach
the ground, and behind which useful assistants could be easily
concealed. His own garments are roomy and his sleeves could contain a
multitude of billiard balls and rabbits. But he gives a showy
performance with clean bright articles, ending up occasionally, as I
have seen, with the production of twelve large Chinese lanterns all

The Chinaman is the inventor of many of the most beautiful illusions
that are performed. One of the prettiest tricks imaginable is that of
the production of bowls of gold fish in real water, one of Chinese
origin. He has improved from ancient times as an up-to-date showman,
and is a wonderful illusionist. To show what can be done in the
voluminous garments of a Chinaman, on one occasion, I, in his national
costume, produced a large bowl of water which took two men to carry
away, then a little boy aged ten, and his younger brother aged five,
ostensibly from a shawl without moving from the centre of a stage
devoid of trap doors, or any furniture. It was more a feat of strength
than skill at conjuring, though, as one may readily imagine, extremely

The Chinaman is also a clever productionist and excels in producing
flowers, lanterns and similar articles. His dexterity or
sleight-of-hand is good but inferior to that of the European. He has
and uses well, many extremely ingenious devices, or "fakes." One in
particular has always appealed to me and is worth describing. He takes
a piece of tissue paper which he either chews, or moistens somehow and
rolls it into a small ball like pulp. This he places on his fan and
tosses up into the air several times while it gradually assumes the
shape of an egg. After some few seconds it has become a large duck's
egg which he places in an egg cup on the table in full view of the
audience. This little trick is very effective, easy to do, and can be
purchased for half-a-crown at any magical depot in London.

I hope that I have gained my point in showing that the Chinaman is an
ingenious and a neat performer. There are many other amazing tricks
which were originated in China and the far East, (as the Japanese are
as good, if not better than the Chinese) but this egg trick is to my
mind the most symbolical of Chinese magic.

The Indian juggler or Jadoo-wallah arrives with a basket large enough
to contain a man, as we will see later, a huge dilapidated bag, a
voluminous dhotie or loin cloth, and possibly a snake basket or two.
He is a poor man or "gareeb admi" and looks it. He starts a whine in
the hope of getting an audience through sympathy. If he does not whine
he assumes an air of superiority that is somewhat exasperating. At
sleight-of-hand he is far below the level of the average European
performer. He spoils his art by the continual diving into his bag
ostentatiously to dig out the bone of a cow or an antiquated "dolly,"
of the rag doll type. If only he would do his little tricks away from
his impedimenta in clean clothes he would add 50% to the merit of his
performance though it would probably be not so entertaining to those
newly arrived in India.

I have very little praise to give to the Indian conjuror as an artist,
either in sleight-of-hand, in juggling, or as an illusionist. His
tricks are as "old as my unpaid bills" and from time immemorial have
been performed with the same monotonous patter and the irritating
drone of the "bean" or so called musical instrument. I may here say
that this musical torture is used to disguise movements of the
showman's hand in the same way as the European uses his magic wand, an
instrument that does not appeal to me at all, though at times very

The articles used by the Indian conjuror are very very primitive and
of indifferent manufacture. The Jadoo-wallah has remained as he was
50, 60, or 100 years ago. The old gentleman whose portrait forms the
first illustration of this book told me that the tricks he does were
learnt by his great grandfather from a friend in Lahore. This takes us
back some 150 years. The tricks have remained the same as when taught
at Lahore though my old friend has brought them up-to-date by singing
"Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay" between each experiment!

The Indian conjuror has never indulged in pure sleight-of-hand to any
extent, and has never improved upon any of his illusions.

[Illustration: Shah Mahommed singing Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay between two

He seldom has any patter worth listening to and that which he uses
consists usually of "Beggie, beggie, aow" or "Beggie beggie jaow."
"Bun, two, three, four, five, white, bite, fight, kite." Amusing to a
casual observer but hopeless from an artists point of view.

Latterly some Indian conjurors have attempted to give in India
performances on European lines. They have purchased the necessary
paraphernalia from London and have as much idea of using it to its
best advantage as a crocodile has of arranging the flowers on a dinner
table. Our Indian Jadoo-wallah usually gets himself into a very tight
fitting third or fourth hand evening dress on these occasions, to
show, I presume, how European he is. The audience is more concerned
with the possibility of its bursting and their having to leave the
theatre for decency's sake than they are of the feats he is attempting
to imitate.

His patter is excruciating and, to hide his want of skill in
sleight-of-hand, he moves his hands and arms in grotesque curves, with
his body so bent that it is almost impossible to see what he is trying
to do. I have never yet seen any Indian give an English performance
that would be tolerated on the sands at Slushton-on-Sea the seat of my
ancestral home. While writing the above I have in mind one of these
Indians, an impossible person, who, as Court performer to several of
the Ruling Indian Princes, makes the astonishing total of Rs. 1200 or
£80 a month.

The only native conjurors that I have seen who are consistently good
at sleight-of-hand, (and they are Arabs or Egyptians) are the invaders
of the ships at Port Said, and their one and only good point,
magically, is their manipulation of those unfortunate chickens. Their
"Gillie, gillie, Mrs. Langtry" is more up-to-date and an improvement
upon the "Beggie, beggie, aow" of India.

It has always been a marvel to me how the Indian conjuror has gained
his spurious reputation. I can only ascribe the fact to the idea that
the audience start with the impression, sub-conscious though it may
be--of Mahatmaism, Jadoo, or any other synonym by which Oriental Magic
is designated. This allows them to watch with amazement tricks that
are so simple that no English conjuror would dare to show them to his
youngest child.

Without partiality I can safely assert that of the three types under
discussion, the European, the Chinaman, and the Indian, the average
European conjuror is the most skilled particularly at sleight-of-hand.
He certainly excels in card manipulation which is seldom touched by
the Oriental magician. In illusions he is beyond comparison, as many
of our readers may certify who have seen the wonderful productions by
Messrs. Maskelyn and Cooke, Devant, and their many followers. The
gradual disappearance of a lady in evening dress, visibly, and in mid
stage growing smaller and smaller until she is small enough to be put
into a paper bag, which is rolled into a ball and thrown away, is an
illusion that no Oriental will ever attempt to compete with. Such
illusions can be seen at any time of the year at the Palace Theatre
and other halls in London, in Paris and even Bombay.

There may be many who will readily disagree with my disparagement of
the Indian Jadoo-wallah. I admit that Magic may have come originally
from the East. The Egyptians for instance, had wonderful illusions
that were freely used by their priests in the temples mainly for the
extortion of money or valuables from their gullible disciples. These
illusions were merely mechanical devices such as the mysterious
opening and shutting of doors on the sound of a certain word like
"Abracadabra." These devices can be duplicated by our skilful
mechanics, but would not be worth very much these enlightened days as
a lucrative investment.

It may also be said that the comparison to the detriment of the Indian
is not a fair one as he has no stage upon which to perform, whereas
the European gives his show usually in a roped off portion of the
drawing room, or on the stage of a concert hall. The reason of this is
that the European cannot as a rule collect his audience in the open.
When he does get an outdoor assembly he is just as much an adept as he
is indoors. Many of my readers may have regrettably to agree with me,
especially those who have met our "three card trick" friend, or the
perfectly good gentleman with the thimbles and the pea, at Ascot.


When the Jadoo-wallah has sat himself down with his bag and baskets in
their correct places he usually proceeds to show the following

The cups and balls.

The bamboo sticks.

The ring on the stick.

The ball in the glass box.

The bunder-boat.

The bowl of rice.

The coloured sands.

The rope trick.

The egg bag.

The swastika.

The dancing duck.

The mango tree.

The basket trick.

I will attempt to describe each trick for the benefit of those who
have not actually seen them performed, and will then attempt to give a
lucid explanation of how these tricks are done.


The performer has three cups of wood, somewhat similar to crude wine
glasses overturned, the base of the wine glass forming the handle by
which the cup is manipulated. Under these he places, without
detection, little woollen or cloth balls and extracts them in the same
mysterious manner. Similarly he shows two balls, one under each of two
cups, and by a drone on the "bean" or musical instrument, one ball
flies magically from the one cup to join its mate under the other.
Various combinations and permutations of this sleight complete the
experiment which is accompanied by a running patter of "Go Bombay" "Go

In my opinion this trick is the only one in which the Indian conjuror
shows any aptitude at sleight-of-hand, and the average Jadoo-wallah is
very good at it. It is a trick that at first needs a little practice,
but it is easy to learn and can be made into a first-class stage or
drawing room entertainment. One of our greatest exponents in London
performs the trick with three breakfast cups inverted, three lumps of
sugar, some walnuts, and tangerine oranges to a most amusing patter
about Cuthbert, Clarence, and Algernon, who are represented by the
three lumps of sugar and undergo all sorts of misadventures in the
night clubs in the West End of London.

The explanation is simple.


Instead of three balls the performer has four. One of these he
conceals in the palm of the hand by which he lifts the cup. The handle
of the cup can be grasped between the outstretched fingers--(first
and second)--and the ball is securely held by the muscle at the ball
of the thumb. By bending the first and second fingers that hold the
cup, its lip is brought in close proximity to the secreted ball. By a
sharp or jerky movement forward to place the cup on the ground, and at
the same time releasing the muscle of the ball of the thumb, the
woollen ball naturally finds its place under the cup and the deception
is complete. The performer then picks up one of the three exposed
balls and pretends to place it in his bag or into the other hand. A
blow on the "bean" and Hey! Presto! the ball appears under the cup
that a moment ago was placed apparently empty on the ground.


I will not go any further into the combinations and permutations,
which are unlimited, of the trick. Once a person has mastered the easy
dexterity described above to get the ball into the cup, he can devise
further developments for himself. The diagrams given will, I trust,
clear up any misunderstanding that may be left after reading my
explanation. If there is still any uncertainty, for a few annas or
pence, any itinerant conjuror will show the sleight, and ten minutes
practice ought to bring matters to a satisfactory conclusion.

This may be a fitting opportunity to disabuse the minds of some about
the amount of practice undertaken by a really first-class performer. I
consider that a man who is an expert needs no practice at all.
Sleight-of-hand to him is just as innate as hitting any shaped ball
with any shaped stick, is to a man with an eye for games. The artists
who drew these illustrations, draw anything instinctively. Years of
practice will never make the faces of a pretty girl that I draw look
less like an amphibious cow. But I have frequently given performances
of two hour's duration without any previous practice whatever, beyond
a quick rehearsal to see that all the various properties are in their
correct places, ready at hand when wanted. I do not want the person
who wishes to do a few tricks like the cups and balls, and those which
I will describe later, to be discouraged under the impression that not
being a born conjuror it will be useless for him to attempt small
tricks without constant and monotonous practice. A little attention
and trouble will make him "hot stuff" with the cups and balls and will
lead him on to higher things.



We have now the second trick that is usually shewn by the
Jadoo-wallah, that of the bamboo sticks, essentially one of purely
Indian origin.

The performer takes two small bamboo sticks which have threaded
through them a piece of string at each end of which is a bead. He
holds these sticks together and when he pulls one bead the other is
naturally drawn into its stick. He now takes a knife and passes it
between the sticks ostensibly cutting the string between them. He
again pulls one bead and wonderful to relate the other bead is still
drawn in towards its stick, as before. He now separates the sticks
and holds them in the shape of a "V," and one can see that there is no
string between the sticks. Still the same thing happens. When he pulls
one bead the other is drawn into its stick.

[Illustration: Sticks held together till the knife is passed between

[Illustration: Held in "V" position]

This little trick is usually sold as one of a box of tricks for
children at any of the toy shops in England. The explanation is given
in the diagrams below, which show that the string does not pass
directly through each stick, but from one side only, then through its
centre down to the bottom, across to the other stick, up through its
centre, and out through its side. Consequently passing the knife
between the sticks cannot harm the string in any way.

The Indian conjuror goes still farther than the trick as supplied in
the child's box of tricks. After pulling the string to and fro while
the sticks are held as a "V" he separates the sticks completely. The
same result occurs nevertheless. When he pulls one end of the string
the other end is drawn towards its stick. This is brought about by a
different construction of the apparatus than that described above.

In this case the string is put through one side of the stick and is
attached to a small weight that can move freely up and down the
hollowed out centre of the bamboo. When the stick is held vertically
the weight will drop and the bead attached to the visible end of the
string will be automatically drawn in. When the performer wishes to
leave the pulled string out, he must incline the stick to a
horizontal position when the weight will not slide down. The diagrams
will show how the sticks should be held while showing the trick. It
can be easily manufactured or bought in a bazaar for a few annas.

[Illustration: Both sticks held vertically and both beads in]

[Illustration: One stick held horizontally allows the bead to remain
out, while the other being held vertically has the bead drawn in]

[Illustration: Vice-versa with sticks separated]


The sticks are put away into the basket, and the magic wand is
produced for our next little experiment, that of putting a borrowed
ring on to the middle of a stick that is held at both ends. Almost
every European in India has seen this performed in India for it is
the favourite of the Jadoo-wallah, and is the most effective of the
small tricks that he can show. It takes up a considerable time and is
simplicity itself.

In case any of my readers have not seen the trick in India, or on
their way out at Port Said, I will describe it. The performer either
borrows or uses his own thin cane, and passes it round to his audience
to show that it is devoid of all mechanism. He then borrows a wedding
ring, which he also allows to be freely examined. He gets A and B, two
of his audience, to hold the ends of the stick each by one hand. He
then boldly proclaims that he proposes to pass the ring on to the
middle of the stick without either A or B letting go of their
respective ends. In order, however, not to divulge the secret he must
pass it on under cover of a handkerchief. He takes the borrowed ring
and wraps it up in the middle of the handkerchief which he asks some
one to hold, and to feel the ring wrapped up in it. In order to let
everyone know that the ring is really there, he takes the stick from A
and B and gives a tap on the ring. He then gets A and B to hold the
stick once more and persuades C, who is assisting with the
handkerchief, to hold it over the middle of the stick. The performer
holds the corner of the handkerchief and instructs C to let go his
hold on the word "three." "One! two! three!" The handkerchief is
sharply pulled away and the borrowed ring is seen to be spinning on
the middle of the stick!

[Illustration: Shah Mahommed with two assistants for The Ring on the

This is how it is done. The stick is an ordinary one, thin enough to
pass easily through a wedding ring. The only prepared article is the
handkerchief, in one corner of which is a duplicate wedding ring
sewn into a small pocket. It does not matter whether or no it is
exactly similar to the ring that is borrowed, as the performer takes
care that the owner of the borrowed ring does not get a chance of
feeling the duplicate even through the folds of the handkerchief. When
the performer takes the borrowed ring to fold in the handkerchief, he
folds the one that is already sewn in it, and secretes the borrowed
ring in his hand. He takes the stick from A and B to tap on the ring
folded in the handkerchief, really to slide the borrowed ring into the
middle of it. He hands the stick back to be held by A and B but keeps
his hand over the ring now on it, thus concealing it until it is
covered by the handkerchief. When the handkerchief is pulled away on
the word "three" it takes with it the ring sewn into its corner and as
it brushes the stick it makes the borrowed ring on the stick revolve
apparently as if it had just arrived in that position.

For simplicity's sake let us take the various moves as they occur.

     A. Borrow a stick and hand it round for examination.

     B. Get A and B to hold it at the ends.

     C. Borrow a wedding ring.

     D. Take the handkerchief from the pocket. (The duplicate
     ring sewn in the corner being held preferably in the right

     E. Pretend to wrap up the borrowed ring in the handkerchief,
     in reality wrapping up the corner ring, and secrete the
     borrowed ring in the right hand.

     F. Take the stick from A and B and tap the folded ring with
     it, now being held by C. While doing so, slip the borrowed
     ring into the middle of the stick. G. Hand the stick back
     to A and B but keep the hand on the stick over the ring.

     H. Get C to cover this hand with the handkerchief, holding
     the ring over the middle of the stick and instruct him to
     let go on the word "three."

A neat little trick that can be performed by anybody who takes the
trouble to practice it a couple of times.



_The Glass Box and Ball._

The next trick presented to us is usually the glass box and woollen
ball. The performer takes a very badly constructed glass box through
which one can see in any direction. He covers this with a handkerchief
and places it on the ground. Having played his "bean" for some moments
he takes up the box. There is a loud click, and snatching away the
handkerchief the Jadoo-wallah shows the box filled with a variegated
cloth ball. He opens the lid, takes the ball out, and after casually
showing it to the audience thrusts it into his bag. He is inordinately
proud of this effort, as he assures one that it is from "Bilayat"
(England), a slander that is at once discountenanced by a glimpse at
the box, obviously made by the most indifferent "teen banane wallah"
(tinsmith) that ever had the impertinence to undertake to make


The construction of the box is shewn in the diagram below. Its sides
are of glass but the top and bottom are of tin. Before presenting the
trick a cloth ball, made of a spiral spring covered with cloth,
(triangular pieces of different colours sewn together), is compressed
and placed between the bottom of the box and a glass flap which is
pressed down over it until caught by a pin at the back of the box.
When the ball is to appear, this pin is pressed and the catch releases
the glass flap. The spring in the ball forces it up against one of the
sides while the ball fills the box and holds the flap up.


It is a most futile trick with little effect and usually uncommonly
badly shewn. But the man of mystery himself is delighted with it and
thinks it is the best trick in his repertoire.

_The Bunder Boat._

Our next trick--so called because the toy boat used is intended to be
a miniature of the harbour or "bander" boat used in Bombay--is a trick
which depends entirely on natural principles, and only needs a careful
eye to time its required patter. It is a trick that is more commonly
shewn in the Bombay districts than elsewhere, though there is no
reason why it should not have travelled throughout India since its
invention countless years ago.

[Illustration: Small hole out of

which the water pours into the boat while the bottom of the mast is
free of the water in the boat.

Cocoa-nut shell full of water

Hollow mast

Hole through which the water leaks. This leakage is not observed owing
to the careless(!) spilling of the water referred to in the text.]

A piece of wood cut into the shape of a boat is placed on the ground,
and a mast about 12 inches high is fixed into its one and only seat by
being firmly pressed into the hole cut through the seat. To the top of
the mast is affixed a cocoa-nut shell which has a small hole cut into
it about one third of the way up. Prior to the fixing of the mast and
the shell, the boat and the shell are filled with water. The bottom
of the mast--which is hollowed down its centre--just touches the top
of the water in the boat. While filling the articles with water the
performer carelessly--very carelessly--spills some on the ground all
round the boat. He then blows his "bean." After a short interval he
orders water to pour out of the hole in the shell. It does so until he
tells it to stop. He again blows his "bean." Again he orders the
water to pour out of the shell. Again it pours out until told to stop.
And so on until the shell is quite empty and the trick is at an end.

Wonderful isn't it? Marvellous! Mahatmaism!

Now let us have the explanation.

The cocoa-nut shell is full of water. It has only one outlet, the
small hole in its side. This is so small that the air cannot get in to
let the water out. The only way the air can get in is up the hollowed
mast, the bottom of which is immersed in the water in the boat. There
is a small hole in the bottom of the boat through which the water in
it leaks away. This lowers the water until it has cleared from the
bottom of the mast through which a puff of air goes up into the shell,
allowing some of the water in the shell to pour out into the water in
the boat. Now the water from the shell pours out in greater volume
into the boat than the water that is leaking out of the boat. This
fills it up again until the bottom of the mast is again immersed,
stopping any air going up into the shell and the water stops pouring
out of it.

The performer drones away on his musical instrument until he sees that
the water level in the boat is just about to clear the bottom of the
mast. He then orders the water to come out of the shell. He watches
until the newly added water to that in the boat is about to cover the
bottom of the mast again, and then gives that wonderful and much used
order "Bus" that, possibly, many of my readers may use from time to
time after the sun has set. The water stops pouring out of the mast.

Wonderful isn't it? Mahatma. Ghandi ki Jai!



A surprising little trick was once shewn to me by a performer whose
exhibition of magic was otherwise of a very low class.

He borrowed a "lota" or brass water bowl of one of the servants. These
lotas are invariably so shaped that the circumference of the top is
about half that of the widest part, thus:--


He then borrowed some uncooked rice with which he proceeded to fill
the bowl to its utmost capacity. While doing so he kept on bumping
the bowl on the ground so that the rice was packed as closely as
possible inside it, until finally one could see the last few grains in
a pyramid on top.

He then borrowed a large table knife, and as it were, stabbed it into
the rice down into the bowl. Little stabs at first, and then deeper
and deeper until the whole of the blade of the knife was in the rice,
and the handle alone remained to be seen. After an incantation and
jadoo-music, he caught hold of the handle and raised the bowl and the
rice slowly into space. He then swung it to and fro and eventually
spun round and round, holding the handle of the knife while the bowl
and its contents of rice clung tenaciously to the blade. Beginning to
slow down, he at last replaced the bowl on the ground, extracted the
knife and handed it to me for examination. He emptied the bowl pouring
the rice into some paper laid out to receive it. The closest scrutiny
revealed no trace of "gadgets" or of any artifice that had enabled him
to thus lift the filled bowl.

A small bribe could not tempt him to reveal the secret, and in such
cases I make it a rule to try the trick exactly as I have seen it

I took a similar bowl, filled it with rice, and stabbed it with a
table knife. Gently at first and then more firmly. To my astonishment
I found that after three or four stabs in exactly the same place, the
rice below the blade seemed to get harder, until I pressed down the
knife and found that I could not extract it with a straight pull! I
lifted the bowl of rice, and could with impunity swing it round over
my head just as one uses an Indian club. To extract the knife one has
to twist the handle slightly, when it comes out immediately. Try it
and see.

_The Coloured Sands._

Occasionally our conjuring friend breaks out from the stereotyped
programme already described, and one of the most common additions to
his programme is the "coloured sand" trick.

He has a bowl of water on the ground, and from a number of small
packets of paper he takes a corresponding number of different coloured
powders. Let us say "Green, Red, White, Orange and Blue." He pours all
these into the bowl of water, which assumes a dirty blue colour when
stirred up well.

Finally, from a box containing common sand he puts two or three
handsfull into the basin of water and thoroughly mixes up the contents
of the bowl.

He then asks his audience which coloured sand they would like
extracted from the water. The reply may be "green." "Wet or dry?" asks
the conjuror. Let us ask for "dry." He dips his hand into the water
and grasping, apparently, a handful of the mixture, draws it out
again, and squeezes out a shower of dry green sand, unmixed with any
other colour! "Now what colour will you have?" asks the magician. Let
us ask for "wet blue sand." He dips his empty hand into the water, and
draws out a handful of wet blue sand, for, when he opens his hand, a
damp ball of blue sand falls on to the ground. He can deal with the
other coloured sands in the same way, bringing out each colour
separately, and wet or dry as desired.

How on earth is it done?

The different coloured sands or powders are put into the water in a
fair and square manner. But the solution of the trick is to be found
in the way in which he puts the common sand into the water. This
common sand is kept in a box, and in it are little balls of prepared
powders or sand of colours corresponding to those already put into
the water. These balls are prepared by being mixed with a little
water, rolled into a ball, which is smeared all over with grease, and
then baked until dry. Each ball can then be immersed in water for a
minute or so without crumbling or being damaged by the water. These
balls are put into the common sand box, so that they are only just
visible to the performer. He puts his hand into the box and extracts a
handful of common sand, together with a ball of powder. He thrusts his
hand into the bowl leaving the ball immersed, and notes its position.
He again takes a handful of common sand and with it another ball which
he places in the water. Similarly he places all the coloured balls
into the water, under the guise of adding plenty of common sand, to
make the trick more difficult and wonderful. He notes very carefully
the position of each coloured ball as he puts it into the water, as
when immersed they cannot be seen either by him or the audience, owing
to the dirty blue-ishness of the whole mixture.

The audience now select the colour of the powder to be extracted. The
performer remembers the position of the required ball and takes it

If it is to be poured out wet, he opens his hand and drops it on to
the ground. If it is wanted "Dry," by squeezing the ball, its baked
shell is cracked and its contents pour out.

There is no difficulty in performing the trick. It is very effective
and one that is included in the programme of many European conjurors,
though their modus operandi is more efficient and needs less



The only rope trick I have ever seen performed by an Indian conjuror,
is that of "The cut string restored," as it is called in England.

The idea is to get one of the audience to cut a piece of string or
rope ostensibly in half and by magic to restore it, without the use of


The only rope trick that I have ever seen performed in India.]

The explanation of this trick is given in many books for beginners in
Magic. The author of "Modern Magic"--the best work to my mind on
Elementary conjuring--says of it "This trick is of such venerable
antiquity, that we should not have ventured to allude to it, were it
not that the mode of working, which we are about to describe,
though old in principle is new in detail and much superior in neatness
to the generally known methods."

After offering the rope for thorough examination Shah Mahommed took
the two ends and manipulated the rope in such a manner that when it
was held out to be cut it was in this wise:--


Held at A by the left hand and at B by the right. It was cut at x and
consequently was in two pieces not of equal length, but of which one
was practically the whole length of the rope while the other was the
piece AX, or possibly some six inches long. While gathering up the
rope to be magically restored, the old scoundrel simply got rid of
this small piece and showed the longer one as the restored rope.

To go into details and to give the "drill" as to how to get the string
or rope into the required position would be tedious and difficult to
understand. The illustration, I trust, explains sufficiently clearly
the secret of the trick, and if one tries to get it into this position
it will be found quite easy to do, "chacun à son gout."

Shah Mahommed made quite a feature of the trick, using two assistants
for it, one to hold the rope occasionally and the other to cut it.

The first time I remember seeing it was when Uncle George showed it to
me on my fourth birthday, many long weary years ago.


The string (as shewn in the above illustration) being held for the
audience to cut at x.


I remember on one occasion some 20 years ago, being very puzzled by a
trick that is often performed in Bengal.

The magician gets from one of the servants a broken "chatti" or
earthenware bowl. He selects a piece about two inches square and asks
one of his audience to draw upon it with a piece of charcoal, borrowed
from the "Khansamah" or cook, the sign of the Swastika, with which
most people are familiar.


The draftsman is then requested to place the piece of earthenware or
tile on the ground and after gazing intently at the Swastika to crush
it to powder with the heel of his boot. These instructions are
accordingly carried out. The man of magic now asks his assistant to
look at the palm of his hand and see that there is no mark upon it.
There is no mark. The hand is then held out palm upwards over the
powdered tile and the assistant is told to gaze at it intently. After
a few seconds the performer turns the assistant's hand over so that it
is now palm downwards. A little music on the "bean," a magic pass, a
mystic word, and the assistant is requested to look at the palm of
his hand, when to his astonishment, there is a distinct mark of the
Swastika upon it! Truly a miracle!

The trick is a most effective one, and when well performed, with
intervals for gazing at the dust, the clean palm, mystic words and so
forth, it would baffle most audiences. Yet it is simplicity itself,
and this is the secret.

When the Swastika is drawn on the piece of tile, the performer in
placing it on the ground to be trodden upon, puts his thumb on the
drawing, and thereby gets an inverse print of it on the ball of his
thumb. The tile is powdered and the hand held palm upwards over it.
When turning the assistant's hand palm downwards, the conjuror does so
with his fingers at the back of the assistant's hand and the thumb on
the clean palm, leaving the imprint of the Swastika upon it. A rub
with his thumb on his garment, or the ground, removes instantly all
trace of the medium between the tile and the assistant's palm.
Charcoal must be used as it is soft to write with and gives the best
imprints. An "HH" pencil for instance, might do, but the imprint would
be hardly visible on the palm.

I consider this little trick to be one of the most mystifying of the
Indian conjuror.


An effective little trick usually follows that of the Cut and Restored
String in the form of an egg being put into a small bag. A magic pass
is made over the mouth of the bag, which is then turned inside out,
stamped upon if necessary, and slapped all over to show that it is
quite empty and that the egg has disappeared. At will, and with
another magic pass, the egg reappears from the bag when it is turned
over, mouth downwards.

[Illustration: Shah Mahommed performing the Egg bag trick.]

The secret lies in the fact that the bag, which is of some opaque
material, and is nine inches deep and six inches broad, has one of its
sides double. The easiest way to make such a bag is to take a piece of
cloth six inches broad and 24 inches long. Fold six inches of one end
over and then turn the other end to where the cloth has been folded.
Stitch up either side, thus making a bag.

When the egg is put in, it drops to the bottom of the bag. When the
performer dips his hand in again to take out the egg, in doing so he
slips it into the pocket formed inside, and leaves it there, bringing
his hand out empty and from which the egg has disappeared. The bag
being turned inside out does not expose the egg which is in the inner
pocket. When treading on or slapping the bag, care should of course be
taken to miss the egg.



As his last trick was with water the Jadoo-wallah sensibly enough
proceeds to show another with water, though an English conjuror would
separate such tricks from an artistic point of view, thinking that a
change of diet in magic is just as necessary as it is in a meal. The
trick is that of the dancing duck.

[Illustration: THE DANCING DUCK,

performed with an enamel bowl instead of the cocoa-nut shell.]

A half cocoa-nut shell is dug out of the bag. It is wrapped up in a
piece of cloth and very carefully unfolded, for reasons that will be
apparent later. In this shell is a little wooden duck. The shell is
placed on the ground and filled with water upon which the duck floats.
The performer takes his "tom tom" and while playing it the duck
begins to dance, as it were, upon the water. After an interval it is
commanded to pay its obeisances or in other words, to "salaam," which
it does by going right under water. On the word "bas" it comes up
again. And so forth and so on.

It is a clever little trick and we will now see how it is done.

The cocoa-nut shell has a hole through the bottom of it. Through this
hole passes a horse hair that is attached at one end to the duck and
at the other to a piece of bees wax. The hair is about two feet long.
The whole apparatus is wrapped in a piece of cloth as otherwise the
horse hair would get unwound and broken. When placing it on the
ground, the bees wax enables the performer to see where the end of the
hair is when unwound. The shell is filled with water, some being
carelessly spilt to prevent the leakage through the little hole at
the bottom being too noticeable. When picking up his "tom-tom" the
performer also picks up the bees wax, and attaching it to the
"tom-tom" the arrangements are complete. Bringing the "tom-tom" closer
to the body makes the duck dive under water. The ordinary shaking of
the drum makes the duck dance.

This is not a trick that can be conveniently shewn by Europeans,
because of the inconvenience of doing it on the ground. The leakage of
the water is not so apparent on the earth, which hides the horse hair.
But at a small distance the trick can be done on a table, as the horse
hair is quite invisible at a range of five feet, especially when it is
against a dark back ground. It can be easily made or bought for a few
annas, and with good patter presents a neat little after dinner

_The Mango Tree Trick._

To my mind it is amazing what a spurious reputation this trick has
gained. From a technical point of view, it is possibly the worst
performance of the Indian conjuror. From a physiological point of view
the gullibility of the audience is astounding. Wherever one goes in
England, France or America, in fact anywhere out of India, and the
conversation turns to Magic, one is asked about the Mango Tree trick,
and whether one has seen it done. I have heard the most gorgeously
elaborated descriptions of this trick, given not only by persons who
had heard about it but, I regret to say, by persons who said that they
had seen it done. On one occasion on board ship a Eurasian, who hailed
from ---- and indulged in the Mahommedan name of Macpherson, gave me
the following details of the trick as he had seen it performed, of
course many many years ago. When he was only two years old I expect.

"A conjuror came into the compound, and my father told him to clear
out. The man, however, persisted in remaining, saying that he had
something very wonderful to show us. My father eventually agreed to
watch the performance. We all sat down on the verandah, which was of
solid concrete, and the Jadoo-wallah took off his "dhoti" or loin
cloth, and squatted in front of us. He produced a mango stone and put
it under some loose earth, which he had gathered up from our own
garden. He played on his flute, and as he did so the stone began to
sprout until the little shrub was about two inches high. He then
watered it a little and again began playing the most beautiful music
to it. The little plant grew higher and higher as he did so, until it
was quite two feet high with a number of leaves upon it. He then
watered it a second time, and again played his flute until the tree
was four feet high with fruit on it. He then stopped his music and cut
one of the mangoes off the tree, which my father ate and found to be

That was Macpherson's story.

I have never seen the trick done this way, and do not know of anyone
who has. But I have an explanation to give. In fact four explanations.
These are:--

That Macpherson and Baron Münchausen were relations.

That Macpherson's cousin was Louis de Rougement.

That the trick as above was explained to me late at night, after
Macpherson had had "one or two."

That it was never done at all. Of course I do not want to call
Macpherson a liar. It would be rude. He is a bigger man than I am, and
he might meet me again.

I will now describe the mango trick as I have seen it performed many
many times.


as shewn by Shah Mahommed.]

The Jadoo-wallah, sitting under the porch and not upon a concrete
verandah, heaps up some earth in front of him. He wets this until it
has the consistency of mud. He then places in this little mound a
mango stone and covers the whole with a cloth. He plays the "bean" and
takes away the cloth when the heap is found to be as before. He takes
the lid of his basket, and covering it with the cloth, places it over
the heap of mud propping up one end of it, that towards himself, with
a little piece of stick. More "bean." He then takes away the lid and
cloth. Still no result. He puts back the covering again. (I am going
to call this point "A" for my explanation.) After a certain amount of
manipulation, during which is heard the rustling of leaves, he lifts
it up and Lo! and behold! there is a small plant in view. He
administers to it with water and adjusts its leaves. He again goes
through the same performance as above. Each time that he takes away
the basket cover the tree has grown larger. The most developed finale
that I have seen, is when the tree was about two feet high with a
number of leaves and two diminutive unripe mangoes on it.

My explanation will rob those who like to imagine that magic pure and
simple, accounts for the Mango Tree trick of a great deal of their
enjoyment in that belief.

The making of the loose earth into a mud pie is necessary, because,
otherwise the bits of branches that are to be stuck into it from time
to time will not stand upright.

At the point "A" referred to above, when the performer takes the
basket lid away, with the cloth he picks up a small bundle by his
side which contains a small piece of a mango twig with two or three
leaves upon it. Under cover of the replaced lid he undoes the bundle,
gets out the twig, and sticks it into the mud heap pressing it firmly
down, so that it stands erect and appears to have grown there. He
plays a little music and carries away the lid, and with it the empty
rag that contained the twig. He places the lid on the ground and so
gets rid of the rag. While his audience are showing their surprise at
the development of the twig, he picks up still another larger bundle
containing a still bigger branch of a mango tree. He replaces the lid,
and under cover of it unfolds the bundle, gets out the branch, adds it
to the twig already in the mud heap and makes all secure by again
pressing down the mud.


Finally he plants in the same way, the branch which has possibly two
mangoes upon it. It might even have ripe fruit, the means of
getting them there being just the same, though the ripe fruit being
brought to view will of course depend upon the season of the year at
which the trick is being shewn.

When the necessary monetary subscription that follows this trick has
been completed, the Jadoo-wallah sweeps the branches, earth, and all
away in one fell destructive swoop which does not allow his audience
to ascertain whether or no the tree had any roots.

Occasionally, instead of the basket lid, the magician uses three
sticks tied together in the form of a tripod over which he places his
cloth under which he works his mysteries. This was the method of Ghaus

Many of my readers may say that the above cannot be the explanation of
the trick. All I can say is, that the next time they see the mango
trick being performed, let them take a copy of this little book and
refer to it as the trick progresses, when I feel confident that they
will accept this true and only explanation.

If they are still unbelievers, or rather believers in the real Magic
of the trick, let them offer untold gold to any man who will do the
Mango Tree trick in India in January, or February, culminating in the
tree having ripe or unripe fruit upon it. As far as I know, the Mango
Tree does not give fruit in these two months and the money will never
be forfeited.

Now that we know the explanation, does it not strike the reader as
amazing that such a crude, simple trick should have gained the
reputation it has done. I can only attribute the fact to persons like
our Mahommedan and Scotch friend Macpherson, who tell "traveller's
yarns" until they in time begin to believe them themselves.



When we discussed the Mango Tree trick, I commented unfavourably upon
the veracity of our friend Macpherson. Let me here state definitely
that there is no such person as far as I know, though the description
of the trick as I have given it, was related to me word for word in
the smoking room of an outward bound ship. It was capped by some one
saying that they had seen the tree grown without earth, on the deck of
a steamer on its way to Australia. I make no comment on this version
of the Mango Tree trick. There are many people who describe tricks to
me and ask how they could have been done. Some of these baffle all
explanation. They are so marvellous, that I am convinced that they
have never been done and could never be performed.

Such tricks as described to me are usually the fruit of a vivid
imagination, pure and simple. As an instance of this, I will relate an
incident that happened some time ago in Calcutta. I gave a performance
in a public place in which I did a billiard ball trick. In the trick,
the greatest number of billiard balls that I have at any one time in
my hands is two. Throughout the whole of the trick I use no more than
one red, two white, and two smaller white balls. Five in all. After
the performance, I was having a well earned drink, when a complete
stranger to me asked if I had seen "that chap who did the tricks." I
could truthfully answer "no" and did so. "He was an absolute marvel,"
said the stranger "there he was on the stage in evening dress with
both arms bared (I never bare my arms) and he produced the whole set
of pool balls, every single colour of them." This was said to me
within ten minutes of my having performed the trick, and the five
balls that I used had been exaggerated into sixteen or seventeen. I
forget how many balls are used at the game of Pool.

The French Police truthfully say that no two untrained persons can
describe accurately in detail a scene witnessed an hour previously. I
am sure that all our Indian judges can verify this statement. It can
be easily proved by any one of my readers trying with his friends. It
is this inability to accurately describe what has been seen that
assists the conjuror so much in deceiving his audience. It is this
inability which unfortunately results in rumours being spread of
wonderful performances being given by magicians in distant lands,
notably the Rope trick, with which I will deal later. Such rumours
and stories are started by persons who from bravado will swear that
they have seen this, that, and the other, in order generally to be the
centre of their astounded listeners.

A trick that is most frequently described is that known as the Basket
trick, which is in my opinion the chef d'oeuvre of the Indian
Jadoo-wallah. It is a wonderful bluff usually wonderfully shewn.

A perfectly good basket is placed on the ground. It is shewn to be
quite empty and devoid of any trap, false bottoms or other mechanism.
After a well conducted altercation with his assistant, a small boy,
the performer tells him to get into the basket. The boy attempts to do
so, but finds that it is too small to contain more than his feet and
legs doubled up. The Jadoo-wallah presses forward the little boy's
head and this leaves only his shoulders and back visible. A large
cloth of thick texture is then thrown over the little boy who is half
in and half out of the basket, and the lid is balanced on top of all.
A little more altercation ensues when the Maestro takes a big stick
and aims a mighty blow at the basket. As the blow falls the lid sinks
down on to the top of the basket, and a terrible silence is the

The Jadoo-wallah realises that he has killed his assistant, and, if a
good showman, bewails his lot suitably. He then decides to get rid of
the body and, in some cases, to restore it to life again. In order to
show that a tune on the "bean" has the required effect of making the
body disappear, he lifts the lid of the basket and first with one foot
and then the other steps on to the cloth covering the basket and
presses it down to the bottom. There is nothing in the basket!

To further prove the emptiness of the basket he replaces the lid,
through the middle of which there is a hole, and through this hole
thrusts down in all directions a sword. Occasionally he thrusts it
through the sides. There is nothing in the basket. The body has

This ends the trick, though on occasions the performer orders the lad
to re-appear from the end of the garden, or elsewhere.

The collection is made, the basket is hitched up on the shoulder pole
and with his bag of tricks the Jadoo-wallah moves on to the next
bungalow. How can it be done?


First let us note carefully the shape of the basket. It is oblong,
about two feet high with a bulge in all its sides, so that the bottom
of the basket is larger than the top.

When the boy gets into the basket he places both feet into it and sits
down, filling the basket thus:--


When the performer pushes his head forward the boy gets into this


The cloth is then thrown over all, the boy and the basket, and while
the lid is being placed on top, and the altercation continues, the boy
gets into this position, holding the basket lid up with one hand.


The lid of the basket being held up like this causes the audience to
think that his former position is unaltered.

If one were to take away the cloth and look inside the basket one
would see the boy lying something like this.


The performer takes away the lid which the boy has allowed to sink
into its proper place after the terrible blow with the big stick, and
to show the emptiness of the basket, puts his feet into the basket,
between the body and bent up legs of the boy, and sits down on top of
the assistant. By doing so he pushes the cloth down close on to the

He then gets out again, replaces the lid and thrusts the sword through
the hole in the lid twisting it in all directions. Were it not for the
thickness of the cloth, which is by now close to the body of the boy
by reason of the performer having pressed it down by sitting in the
basket, the sword would certainly hurt the little chap. Incidentally
the sword is none too sharp.

The sword is withdrawn and pushed through the sides, above the body of
the boy.

The basket is proved undeniably empty.

If my readers doubt this explanation, let them offer the Jadoo-wallah,
at this stage of the game, two thousand rupees to be allowed to fire a
No. 8 cartridge from a 12 bore gun from a range of thirty yards at the
empty basket. The performer will not accept the offer unless he values
the boy at less than two thousand rupees and has a good chance of
escaping arrest for murder. I have offered it twice with impunity.

The trick divides into two endings. One can always tell which ending
it will have by a glance at the basket. If it has two ropes which pass
underneath it, permanently attached, the betting is that the boy will
appear from the end of the garden. The reason of this is that after
the re-appearance of the boy--a duplicate of the one in the
basket--the permanent ropes on the basket allow it to be hitched up
on the shoulder pole and carried away, with the disappeared boy still
inside it. When the Jadoo-wallah gets round the corner, the little
assistant gets out while his impersonator goes a round about way into
the next compound ready to re-appear at the end of the next
performance of the trick.

If the basket has no ropes attached to it, odds are on the performance
ending by the magician apologising profusely to his Gods who restore
the boy from the depths of the basket again. The performer in this
case has no duplicate, and the trick if well presented is almost as
effective as the other, with the more elaborate ending.



We have now gone through the average performance of the Indian
Jadoo-wallah and have, I trust, some idea at any rate of how his
tricks are done. Though this is as far as I know the first time that
such explanations have been published in detail I do not want anyone
to accuse me of trying to deprive the poor fellow of his means of
livelihood, which is far from my intention. In fact, though people who
have read these pages have a glimmering of how he does his tricks, few
of these will be able to imitate them, and those who are really
interested will probably call in the next Jadoo-wallah that appears,
to get him to give his show with the intention of checking my
explanations while the tricks are being performed. I sincerely trust
that this will be the case as I shall have done at least one
Jadoo-wallah a good turn.

It is true that conjurors have a code of honour--this may not be
believed of such deceptive people--in that they do not divulge each
others tricks which are performed exclusively. For instance, suppose
that Mr. A invented a new trick and showed it to Mr. B, who is also a
finished artist. Though Mr. B could see the modus operandi of the
trick he would be quite unjustified in giving it away or in doing the
trick himself without the permission of Mr. A. This is an inviolate
law of Members of the Magic Circle and applies equally, or should do,
to showmen who do not belong to the circle.

There is no harm, however, in one of us explaining tricks that have
been performed for centuries and are almost common property. These
tricks have lost, as it were, their patent rights. Personally, I do
not mind explaining any tricks of my own that I am certain an
unskilled person could never possibly do.

Having completed the average programme of our Jadoo-wallah, I feel
sure that people will say to each other "Yes" but what about the Rope
trick? He cannot explain that and has avoided the best known trick of
all Indian conjuring tricks.

In self-defence therefore, we will deal with the Great Rope trick. I
will describe it as it has been described to me.

The performer, in one's own compound, throws up the end of an ordinary
rope into the air. By some mysterious means this end remains suspended
in mid-air, without any visible means of support, so much so that the
little boy assistant climbs up the rope to its very highest point,
whence, after an interval, he entirely disappears. The performer then
takes a sword and waves it in the air, when the legs and arms,
disjointed, and finally the trunk and head of the little boy fall with
a profusion of blood upon the ground at the foot of the rope. By means
of an incantation these resume their natural positions, and the little
boy gets up and walks off, apparently none the worse for his most
trying ordeal.

This trick was first described in writing by one IBN BATUTA, an Arab,
who made a journey round the world about the year 1368. (I am not
quite sure of this date). As far as I remember he saw it in China. He
gives the most blood curdling description of the trick, and ends up
with "so much so that we had to have another drink." Please note the
expression "another drink." I am of opinion that "this other little
drink" did all the harm.

Missionaries have from time to time stated that they have seen this
trick performed, though in no instance do they give the place or the
name of the wonderful man who did it.

Although I have been most anxious to see the trick for the last
twenty-three years, during which period I would gladly have travelled
from one end of India to the other to do so, I have never yet met
anyone who has definitely told me that he with his own eyes had seen
the trick. There is one exception to this statement, an Irish
bandmaster of a Gurkha regiment, who was I think, trying to pull my

I have met innumerable people whose aunt's sister's cousin saw it
done, but never have I had the pleasure of meeting anyone directly
deceived by it.

A reward of a year's pay has been open to every sepoy (or Indian
soldier) I have met, who has seen the trick and can give me the name
and residence of the performer. This for 23 years. So far there have
been no acceptances.

Eminent conjurors have travelled throughout India on purpose to get
into touch with any man who does the trick, but their travels have
been in vain. Large rewards have been offered for such a meeting, and
larger still for the performance of the trick. One single performance
only, not the exposition of it. These rewards have never been claimed.
The late Mr. Charles Bertram was one of these eminent men, and though
he travelled twice throughout India, he returned to England without
having been shewn the trick.

In 1918, Captain Holmes, V.C., gave a lecture on this illusion before
the members of the Magic Circle at Anderton's Hotel, Fleet Street,
London, at which all the press correspondents of the leading
news-papers were present. He produced a snapshot of a man purporting
to be showing the Rope Trick in Poona, or Kirkee, one of its suburbs.
Captain Holmes explained that though the boy did climb up what he
(Holmes) thought was a rope, he did not disappear at the top, nor did
the disgusting exhibition of blood and disjointed limbs take place.
This snapshot was carefully examined through a powerful magnifying
glass, and the supposed rope had distinct joints in it similar to any
bamboo pole, which Japanese jugglers use when showing the feat of
balancing a pole on their chins and allowing a boy to climb to its
top. A trick that most of us have seen many times in the music halls
of London. At his lecture, Captain Holmes stated that he did not see
the man throw the rope up into the air, as he arrived late just in
time to take a photo of the boy while in the air.

Many explanations have been given from time to time as to how this
mythical trick has been done. The most amusing is that which was
quoted at the Mass Meeting referred to above, and as far as my memory
goes I will quote it here.

"The trick is performed during the heat of the day, when the sun is at
its zenith. The performer gets his audience to sit in a verandah
facing the most powerful glare of the sun. The rope is thrown up and
the boy climbs to its topmost end. On the explosion of a gun the boy
completely disappears only to re-appear from the other side of the
house or garden.

The explanation is simple, on the sound of the gun, when the audience
are somewhat startled, the boy jumps from the rope on to the top of
the verandah up which he climbs, coming down the other side of the
house and re-appears."

I make no comment on this explanation. It is not worthy of one.

"It is done by mesmerism." How many times have I heard this futile
remark when discussing the Rope trick. What always defeats me is this.
Supposing it could be done by mesmerism, why does this wonderful
mesmerist, hypnotist, or suggestionist limit his powers, marvellous as
they are, to making people believe that they see a boy climb up a

Why does he not make people believe that he is Mahatma Ghandi and the
Ali brothers rolled into one? As the trick is done for a means of
livelihood, why does he not make people see him as Dr. Barnardo asking
for funds for charities. His limitations are unbounded, yet he sticks
to this absurd rope and the boy climbing up it.

"Tum tua res agito paries cum proximus ardet." I do not know what this
Latin quotation means, but I would like it to convey "don't you think
it rot yourself?"

Ask any medical man about the explanation of hypnotism and kindred
other "isms" being accountable for the performance of this trick. I
understand that a hypnotist can persuade a patient to believe that his
finger is momentarily stiff, and that when released from this
suggestion, the patient can remember that it had been made to him. But
in order to persuade a person that he sees such a thing as a rope
being thrown in the air and so forth, that person must be so much
under the influence that when he is released from it he is totally
unable to remember what he saw when under the trance. How then, can he
describe what he saw when he comes to?

Some people say that photos have been taken of the trick and that when
the plate was developed it was found to be blank. As I say, a person
to be sufficiently mesmerised to imagine that he sees the trick being
done, must perforce be so much under the influence that he cannot
remember what he saw or anything that he did when under that
influence. How does he know that he took a photo? Or that anyone else
took one? Or remember anything at all about it?

I hope that the above arguments will do away with the plea of mesmeric
power being accountable for this myth. The plea is to my mind too
absurd for words, yet it is wonderful that many people put it forward
in all good faith.

While on the subject of photography, let me now point out that
although the magicians of Europe and America have for ages been trying
to get in touch with the trick, and although the ubiquitous Kodak has
been in vogue for at least thirty years, not one single photo or
snapshot is available that depicts any part or portion of this trick.
If there is such a snapshot, and its owner cares to communicate with
me through my publishers, I can get him a good price for the plate or
film, even for a copy of the picture. A really handsome price for it.

To sum up I maintain that the trick has never been performed out of
doors. That is to say that a rope thrown up into the air has not
remained suspended in mid-air, nor has any boy ever climbed up it.
That when at the top he has not disappeared and that after his
disappearance he did not come down in bits, covered with blood or

I further maintain that no one has seen this trick, as described
above, or in any way similar to the above description, who can come
forward to give the approximate date, of such a performance, the
place, and the names of the performer, his assistants, or of any two
other persons who saw the trick done at that time and place.

I only wish there might be such a person. We might then get in touch
with the Indian Rope trick and Ibn Batuta's character might be

I offer Rs. 5000. (_£_300) to anyone who will show me the Rope Trick
in the open. This amount will be payable to anyone who will arrange
that the trick is performed for my benefit, in my presence.

The trick must be similar to the description given by Ibn Batuta, and
must be brought to a successful conclusion before the reward can be
claimed. It is to be performed at a place selected by me, either in
India or England.

This offer holds good for five years from the 1st January, 1922.

My address is:--

Major L. H. Branson, M.I.M.C.,

The Magic Circle,

Anderton's Hotel, Fleet Street,

London, England.



The best trick I have ever seen in India during my 23 years in that
country, was one that was performed especially for my benefit twice
before I tumbled to the way in which it was done.

We were in our own compound or garden in a military station not far
from Bombay, having tea on a small lawn--green grass--of which we were
inordinately proud. Suddenly we heard the chanter of the itinerant
Jadoo-wallah, and as usual I called him in to ask him if he had
anything new. I wanted a really wonderful trick.

"Yes Saheb" he replied "I have something really good, that few sahebs
have seen before."

"What is it" said I, thoroughly aroused by his earnest manner, and
hoping that at last I should have an opportunity of seeing an oriental
miracle worthy of the spurious reputation held by Eastern Magicians.

"It is a trick with some snakes and a crocodile" said our friend "and
if the saheb will sit down with the memsaheb, and will call the
orderly, I will show it now." No sooner said than done. We sat down
and called Aba Nalaode, our Mabratta orderly.

[Illustration: Filling the Assistant's hands with earth.]

While he came from his quarters, the Jadoo-wallah proceeded to divest
himself of all his clothing, with the exception of his dhotie or loin
cloth. On the arrival of our orderly, he too was made to take off his
shirt, leaving him dressed in a similarly negligé manner to our
entertainer. The Jadoo-wallah then took some earth and made our
orderly hold it in his two hands held together in front of his body.
He then pranced round the orderly two or three times, making, as he
did so an imaginary circle round his assistant. He next called our
attention to the fact that he had nothing concealed about his person.

[Illustration: The Performer showing that he has nothing concealed
about him.]

[Illustration: The actual moment of the appearance of the Snakes and

We could see that this was so as regards his bare chest, arms and
waist, and to convince us that he had nothing hidden in his dhotie he
showed us one bare leg at a time, avoiding barely any immodesty.
Concealing our blushes, we felt satisfied that his dhotie was the
only worldly possession that he had with him at the moment. He picked
up his chanter and continued to circle round and round our orderly,
gradually closing into him. Suddenly he ran towards the outstretched
hands with a crouching movement and struck them a smart blow, causing
the orderly to pull his parted hands away and a small cloud of dust to
appear from the falling earth. The cloud faded in a moment and there,
to our intense astonishment, on the ground at our retainers feet were
three snakes, two of which were cobras, and a baby crocodile! Needless
to say that as soon as our orderly saw these unpleasant creatures
writhing at his feet he cleared off to a safe distance. The
Jadoo-wallah caught the reptiles and placed them in his snake basket.
I took him aside and asked him to divulge the secret of the trick.

"Ha! Ha! saheb" said he "at last I have shewn you something that you
do not know. I will not tell you how it is done, but will come again
in a week's time and will perform it once more for your benefit."

I agreed, and after the usual remuneration or bucksheesh, with a
little extra, had passed hands, away went our friend down the road to
the bazaar.

The following week he sent word that he was coming on a particular
day, and that if I got some friends to come he would repeat the trick.
The more friends, the more bucksheesh!

I gathered a few people in to have tea, and in due course the magician
arrived, and with our head servant again performed the trick with the
same wonderful result.

This time I solved the mystery. I told the performer my impressions of
it and was glad to get his corroboration.

There was of course no collusion with the volunteer assistants.

The secret of the trick lies in a bag suspended mouth downwards from a
string round the magician's waist so that it lies between his legs.
This bag contained the three snakes and the small crocodile. The
mouth of the bag was threaded with a string, and naturally remained
closed until the string was pulled right away when the weight of the
wriggling contents caused the mouth to open and the reptiles to fall
upon the ground beneath. The crouching position of the magician
enabled him to get his legs spanning the ground immediately beneath
the orderly's hands, and the earth falling in a dust prevented the
possibility of our seeing the snakes during the brief interval of
their falling from under the dhotie to the ground. Needless to say
that the cobras had had their fangs extracted, that the third snake
was harmless, and that the baby crocodile was too small to inflict any
damage, though all four participants could hiss like a young steam

It was, as I say, the best trick I have ever seen in India, and from a
magician's artistic point of view, the beauty of it lies in the fact
that the bag is concealed through the modesty of the performer, and
that in consequence the trick is not likely to be found out except by
reasoning and the careful watching of all his movements.



This little book is written on Indian Conjuring, and with the
exception of a dissertation upon the great Indian Rope Imagination, we
have confined ourselves to tricks that we ourselves have seen, and
which are common to the Indian conjuror. It would however, be
incomplete without touching on one or two other broadcast myths that
are frequently talked about.

Messrs. Maskelyn & Devant used to show a very clever illusion called
the New Page, in which a page boy was tied up in an upright position
in a cabinet just large enough to contain him. The showman then took a
doll--a small model of the page boy--and illustrated that whatever
happened to the doll would happen to the boy in the box. As a
convincing example he turned the doll upside down. Miraculous to
relate, when the cabinet was opened the page boy was found to be
upside down with the original knots and seals intact! This experiment
according to the excellent patter of the showman, was based upon the
prevalent idea that in India certain magicians make a small effigy of
a person on whom some dire calamity is intended, and that whatever is
done to this doll, happens to the unfortunate person at any distance,
but at that identical moment. I am glad to say that I have never seen
or heard of this myth being verified.

On one occasion a medical officer knowing that I was interested in
Magic, told me that he was attending an idiot girl who was covered
with sores and that the common idea in the bazaar was that some
person was working "Jadoo" upon her, using this doll method of doing
so. He kindly allowed me to visit the girl with him, and, being an
ordinary mortal and unused to horrible sights, I was shocked at her
appearance. She had nasty open sores on her cheeks, arms and forehead.
She was certainly an imbecile. Her father was adamant in his belief
that "Jadoo" and nothing else accounted for her state. Her imbecility
was due, we found, to her having had a fall as a baby. In order to
ascertain the cause of the sores the medical officer removed her to
the cantonment (Government) hospital, where after a period they
yielded to treatment and were eventually cured. Evidently the "Jadoo"
had ceased. On her return to her ancestral hut, these sores again
appeared. With the permission of the medical officer and the parents,
I employed a reliable attendant to watch the girl. In three days I
received the following report. The previous evening, when the girl
thought that she was not being watched, the attendant saw her take
something from a hiding place and rub her face with it two or three
times. He watched her replace whatever it was, and later found it. He
gave it to us with his report. It proved to be a piece of nut used by
"Dhobies" or Indian Washermen to mark the clothing committed to their
destruction-care, I should say. On every article of clothing returned
by the "Dhobie" there is in one corner a small brown mark,
corresponding to the stitched mark used by Laundries in England, by
which the owner of the article washed is identified. This nut is
called, I believe, "Areca nut." When applied to the human skin it
causes a sore. The illness from which the poor girl was suffering was
an "inclination to maim or disfigure oneself," commonly found with
imbeciles. (I have touched wood, you medical people, so please don't
abuse me if I am wrong!)

As the parents were not fully convinced that "Jadoo" was not being
worked, we again took the girl to hospital and again was she cured of
the ghastly sores.

This is the only case of such "Jadoo" that has come to my personal

There is another form of "Jadoo" that is believed in by the
inhabitants of the bazaar. A maliciously inclined person has a spite
against another. He makes a small bouquet of tomato leaves, or cabbage
or some such herb, sprinkles it with salt, green powder, and so forth
and so on, and lays this down as close as possible to the door of the
person to whom he wants to bring bad luck for 12 months! It is true
that we had this delightful bouquet thrown into our compound on one
occasion, and that shortly afterwards--

     (1) our gardener's wife died in childbirth.

     (2) my wife got hay fever.

     (3) my agents declined to meet any more of my cheques until
     they had received a substantial instalment.

     (4) we were again ordered to move to another Station.

I regret to say that of the above, 2, 3 and 4 were of such frequent
occurrence that we did not assign them to the receipt of the bouquet.
The gardener however, was convinced that it caused his wife to die in
childbirth as she had never done so before. I have no explanation for
the "denouément" and give the story as it happened, allowing my
readers to judge for themselves whether or no any credence should be
given to the fable after such convincing proof.

       *       *       *       *       *

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