It is 3am. It is time to have tea at the 24-hour tea shack near the bus stand in the small town of Ambala. It is also time to wake up the cops who were stationed at night near the shop, where drunkards, madmen and beggars come together, waiting for the day perhaps.
At times the place is noisy. At times it is quiet.
Tonight the agenda of the conversation between strangers is how rains have been missing in Ambala this monsoon. That desert coolers have failed. And that fans had become irrelevant many days back. The humid night is grim.
Two little boys with skinny legs jump up. They say they know why it is not raining. Nobody asks them why. But they carry on: "Jadugar Aanchal, who has been in town for a month, doesn't allow clouds to come this way."
Someone asks why, in between a drag of cigarette. "So that her shows, held in a tent, are not spoilt."
Someone laughs. Someone else butts in, "Don't laugh. They are right, the whole town is talking about this."
The sub inspector who patrols this area and makes it a point to tell this journalist at least once a week that the latter must be making lakhs (despite the fact that he has been corrected many times that the figures are in crores) by interviewing politicians, is listening.
He asks, "Do you also believe in such things?" He gets a nod.
The boy is called and asked to tell more about what the town is talking about Jadugar Aanchal. The cop moves his chair closer. The boy says he will tell only if he gets to sit on the old shining motorbike.
He is promised two minutes, but only if he doesn't twist the accelerator on the stationary bike, like most Indians do for no reason. He agrees.
The boy says he also knows that Jadugar Aanchal has lost her pet parrot. There are posters about that in Sadar Bazaar. The parrot did not have any wings but it hopped its way out of the tent, and then made it to the top of a church at least 3km away. He adds that there it can actually make a conversation.
It's 4.30am now, the perfect time to call the person who will take the jadugar's pictures. He says "yes".
|Jadugar Aanchal was initiated into the world of magic by her father.|
Jadugar Aanchal's father's name is…. "Just call me Girdhari," he says in the Marlon Brando nasal tone.
He has emerged from the yesteryears. He walks with a swagger. Before anything, he wants to conduct a quick interview.
How is the magazine group doing? What is the circulation like? What about competition? Stiff? What strategies are followed to beat rivals?
He is not really impressed with the answers. He tells about the publications and TV channels that have covered his daughter who won the National Child Award in 2004.
He tells about the lovely headlines they have given. Those who have attended her shows - Baba Ramdev and his shadow (whatever his name his), Anil Ambani, and many ministers.
He is happy to meet us, just a bit disappointed that we are not from Aaj Tak. "It's the age of television. By the way, she was covered by them a few years ago. I liked how they asked the questions. They made everything so interesting."
He's assured we will do our best. At least try. He says it is important that we watch the whole show so there is "depth" in the questions asked.
He also says his daughter was a quarter finalist at India's Got Talent in 2011. "She is so gifted… don't worry, you will know by the end of the show".
As ordered, we watch the whole show. The crowd is a bit disciplined for Ambala. That's not good.
|Jadugar Aanchal wanted to be a dancer. She says music has always given her life new rhythm.|
Half an hour into the show, Jadugar Aanchal starts moving all over the stage, makes eye contact with the audience. She can feel the collective energy embracing her. She is excited now. She arches her eyebrows like an actor, strains her neck.
Everybody applauds when the magician says something in an American accent. It's getting lovelier by the minute. There are bright lights - neon, red, blue, green, yellow. Hues dance on Aanchal. The journalist applauds too loudly for the sensibilities of the couple sitting just ahead when she is cut in two.
And then, the magic girl is tied in mean chains. But she breaks free. The Statue of Liberty appears on stage. There are hundred collective gasps from the audience as music from Titanic flows in the background.
The person who takes pictures has tragedy written all over his face. "How I admire your taste!" is all he can say.
Two hours pass. The show is over.
Jadugar Aanchal emerges again. This time to applaud the audience. Like a beauty queen. She is throwing air kisses carelessly. Someone must have caught one. He whistles.
A crowd gathers. People can kill for a photograph with the star. Sorry, a selfie. She pouts her lips. Looks straight into tiny mobile cameras. A star.
Covered in sweat from all the hard work, she asks if we liked the show. Of course.
|Jadugar Aanchal is a star.|
She asks us to sit in front of a huge wicked-looking cooler. But we are a bit apprehensive. What if the machine sucks in all of us. "Oh! You are so funny. I like it," she laughs. The journalist almost claps.
Sukant Deepak: What's your age, Aanchal?
Jadugar: Ummm, you guess.
Sukant Deepak: Tough. I can write a fake age if you say… it will be our little secret.
Jadugar: I like that but you see, I never lie.
Now Girdhari laughs. He is proud of his daughter. The truthful daughter. He keeps one leg on the seat.
Sukant Deepak: You earned a Master's degree in psychology in 2014…
Jadugar: By the way, I topped Mohanlal Sukhadia University in Rajasthan.
Jadugar Aanchal was initiated into the world of magic by her father when she was two-and-a-half years old. No, Girdhari is no magic man. He and his wife are engineers who left their jobs "to concentrate on Aanchal's career".
Aanchal wanted to be a dancer. She says music has always given her life new rhythm.
"But my parents told me there were so many singers around, so it made more sense to get into something that many were not doing," she says.
Girdhari jumps in, "We left our jobs for her. We would go from one town to another on an old scooter, performing for a few people. Slowly audiences increased. Once it rained heavily, we all were drained. I think we should not have gone in the rain with little Aanchal." He is sad.
Are you happy doing this Aanchal? "I am very happy. I cannot imagine doing anything else."
The question is repeated. "I don't like doing too much of hard work. Why should I? I am unique, you know."
Jadugar Aanchal dreams that one day when you type 'magician' in Google, her name will be the first one to pop up. She is not told that something called search engine optimisation exists. She is wished luck.
Sukant Deepak: Tell us more, about your dreams maybe.
Jadugar: Let me think… ok… I want to be as popular as Kapil Sharma.
Sukant Deepak: And we will pray that you have better sense of humour.
Jadugar: I love Kapil!
Sukant Deepak: Of course, that's what we meant.
Jadugar: I also want to do ticketed shows in Las Vegas, win international championships. But I also want that magicians should be given respect in India. We don't get much.
Sukant Deepak: You are so popular. What about men?
Jadugar: Well, I get a lot of proposals. I have had crushes too. But certain things didn't work out. You see, magic is better. It listens to me.
Jadugar Aanchal laughs. We laugh.
Aanchal has an alternate life too. "Like normal girls".
She says that whenever they set base for their shows, she goes to the market to eat, to shop. "But I dress up in a way that nobody recognises me. I don't want to be mobbed. Believe me, deep inside I am a simple girl."
All those people who come and click pictures with you… how do you feel? "Oh! I love attention. If the audience doesn't meet me after the show, I get depressed. So depressed that only my Pomeranian can lift my spirits. Do you want to meet him? He is so cute."
No, thank you.
There are important questions to be asked. Like why you have stopped the rains. The town needs it so badly.
"But I swear to god that I have not done that. See, how rumours spread. Everybody is accusing me of this. Now, even press people have got to know about it. It doesn't matter to me if it rains anywhere, just that clouds shouldn't come over my tents and spoil the show. I want people to be happy. You never know, the moment you step out, it might rain."
The magician is then asked about the parrot without wings that hopped its way to the top of an old church. "It's definitely not mine. People say anything. Don't believe them. I used to have white pigeons two years ago. One of them died. It broke my heart. I let the others fly to freedom."
Sukant Deepak: But you do know magic, right?
Jadugar: Listen, let's be clear about this. I am brilliant with tricks. Now don't tell me that you also think magic exists in the real world. I admit, many women come to me after the show and beg that I should do something so that their husbands stop looking at other women. But I tell them I can't do that. I can just entertain people.
For around ten months in a year, their troupe travels across cities and small towns. Jadugar Aanchal has a room to herself. So this is home. Not Udaipur where she belongs.
"When we go back to our respective places for two months in a year, everybody starts texting each other - when do the shows start? We have a group on WhatsApp you see."
The magician has a hectic schedule. Sometimes she wakes up at 5am and sleeps at midnight. "I know if I work hard, I will have a name. That will make my parents proud. Engineers, who left their jobs to make my career…"
As we step out, the first thing we notice is the sky. No clouds in sight.