The Invisible Man

‘Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts.  The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician picks up the ordinary: a tiffin box.  The ordinary picked up from the audience to make one believe that is real, unaltered and normal. But of course, for the magician it probably isn’t. The second part is called “The Turn”.  The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. He assembles it within similar such ordinary objects and makes it disappear while dazzling the audience in trivial indulgences. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third part, the hardest part, the part called "The Prestige" – the act that awes the audience with joy, surprise and elation.’

ACT I

SCENE I

inside household of an urban family in the suburbs of the city.  To the left is the kitchen with organized open shelves, the black kitchen counter top slightly hidden with utensils, and cut vegetables.  The kitchen is slightly dark with the only light filtering through is from the rear window ordained with grills. The grills overlooking the modest quiet neighbourhood through the stuffed towels and kitchen gloves.  On the right is the living room distributed with morning paraphernalia required to leave for work and school. A half open manufactured wooden finish ply with a peep hole beside the safety grill outer door marks the main door of the house

 

The woman appears sliding along the length of the kitchen counter, overlooking the rice, assorting the vegetables with few quick movements of the palm over her face to dry of the perspiration. Knowing that the kitchen ritual is concluding she draws out the 3 storey stainless steel box – arranges it on the kitchen counter and neatly fills up each box and then placing one over the other locks the box and adorns it with a clothing. 

The clothing is specific and detailed. A neatly stitched blue and green, slightly rusty old cloth fitting perfectly the 3 storey box. As she zips the bag on the top, a smile gently slides across the face – a smile of relief and happiness that for today the food is ready. Then she adjusts the creases, so that the alphanumeric numbers – the cloth code printed on the cloth are clearly visible. Holding with utmost care, she walks towards the main door and carefully places it outside the door on the floor – keeping the door slightly open so that she can keep an eye on it.

   

As the woman gets busy, briskly walking up and down she is suddenly reminded to look out for the time but her thought ceases halfway; for her attention shifts to the approaching footsteps. These are not thuds or a rush up across the staircase but almost a glide – soft yet brisk, hurried yet attentive, as the woman stoops backwards focusing on the door.

The magician appears.  The woman can’t see him, only the shadow slightly growing larger through the open door overlapping with the light passing through the grill door, and while the woman stares at the shadow a quick white sleeved hand appears at the bottom of the door the box is swept from the floor followed by a sound of the similar glide down the stairs.  The woman smiles with relief for she knows it ought to be 7:50 am.

(END OF SCENE)

a typical suburban two-way street dotted with 3 storied apartments punctured with neighbourhood parks. A few citizens walking down the footpath, some to work and others as part of morning rituals under the rain tree cover.  An auto stand, a tapri (small shop) with some hovering vehicles populating the street with a distinct sound of traffic noise of the BEST bus from the junction where the street unwinds.

ACT I 

SCENE II

 

The magician appears again, this time in form. A neatly draped white pyjama and kurta with a distinct head gear known commonly as the Gandhi topi. You don’t see his face, (for he doesn’t want your focus on that) but the blue – green striped clothed box -  that is his prop. That is what he wants you to see.

To make it apparent, he hooks the prop at the back of a cycle, on top of other similar looking objects but of course the cloth code distinguishes it from the rich mix matrix of colors. The placement is ordered, systematic and yet smooth, the other objects not altered or moved but almost adjusting itself to accommodate the prop. He throws his legs across the seat and rides. 

With each pedal, the spokes of the wheel turning faster, and the prop displayed almost with pride and care to each passer by -  each peeping eye, and more importantly to that woman from whose kitchen this long winding street is visible.

The magician does not look back, (for that not his not part his trick), but he pedals with focus and assurance and with a panache to ensure that the prop is safe as he dissolves at the far end into the greater city.

(END OF SCENE)

ACT II 

SCENE I

in a crowded slow local train compartment, people are adjusting on their seats, some are staring outside the window, a few others hanging outside the door; a faint breeze diluting with the murmur around, and legs shifting from one place to the other to make space.

 

The magician now seated  on the floor – seated with a few others who look just like the magician. The quintessential modest attire -  the gandhi topi, the white kurta and the pyjama. The prop is seen now placed in a large container – with other similar clothed props.

One can identify the prop – for the magician has made it obvious – and you believe that the magician in the opening scene is probably the one sitting closest to the prop. But is he the same, is he the one next to the closely seated or is he there at all? It all starts to blur.

To enact his magic trick – these doubts are necessary for the magician.  But not just doubts, the magician now begins to entertain.  The magician breaks into a song -  a rural folkish song with beats supplemented by the clapping of hands and the beating of the steel around. The music picks up, roaring in symphony and tone with the wheels of the local train, the sway of the bogie and the magician sings in a greater tempo to disillusion the crowd around. The hands clapping, the others syncing in tune and sometime off tune, but beating rigorously to the metal sleigh bells orchestrated by the magician. Almost crafting a spell through the dramatized performance. It is like an artist at work - hallucinating the audience by dissolving notion of time, space, noise and sight.

The surroundings of the mundane now have a flavor of the extraordinary. The local doesn’t seem quite a struggle, the magician has managed to make the crowd bouyant – almost making them participate in their act with enthusiasm and excitement. The entertainment has no ending, the magician just outgrows his versatility every now and then till he deliberately diffuses the crescendo and lets the chaos and the murmur suddenly take precedence.  The crowd around settles downs, breathes back into normality as the magician troop deliberately makes gestures to draw attention to that large container.

Everyone looks closely, keenly and suspiciously only to realize that the prop- the neatly stitched blue green clothed box cannot be now detected. The number of boxes as earlier arranged in the container are the same, but there are now certain newly clothed boxes, within certain older ones. Nothing is really missing, but something has just disappeared. 

(END OF SCENE)

on a railway platform in the middle of the afternoon. Flocks of people moving across the platform, up and down the staircase. A train arriving at the backdrop as a surging crowd waits in anticipation

ACT II 

SCENE II

 

The magician with his similarly attired troop crafts a space on the platform. He is seen shuffling boxes like the prop into and from the stationary train. The platform is the stage he owns -  it is his ground to take charge. Seemingly ignorant to the crowd, his hands work at a brisk pace – sometimes the naked eyes even missing a few of the actions of sieving and arranging.

He unfurls his ingenious acts. This time it is not about distractions but merely his grand gestures or his arms and the rhythmic pattern of his fingers with the body seeming focused and determined but swaying in a music unheard in the chaos of the platform. He swings in passion, juggles around the boxes under his arms, shuffles them over his head, passes it around in zeal and twists to deceive. The magician is in trance and the audience beguiled by the moves of the performer.

  

Unnerved by the surrounding, the magician displays his tricks of sorting and passing the boxes from one head to the other and sliding them in order turns the backdrop static. As if the entire platform is a blur, working at a pace that is much slower and non-significant in comparison to the frequency at which the magician operates. Such is the theatrical performance and the aura of the magician at work, that one cannot even start to search the prop, unless the magician chooses to make it apparent and reappear.

(END OF SCENE)

(BLACKOUT)

ACT III

SCENE I

inside design studio office, earmarked by small lobby adjacent to the swanky interior space; a lot working tables with desktops neatly arranged along the glass window that celebrates the city’s skyline. The backdrop wall hosting posters of the completed projects with a glass hinged entry door located at the corner

 

(END OF SCENE)

The girl amongst a few others on the table, is seated with her constantly shifting between the screen and the paper in front of her. A few scribbles on the paper, followed by quick inputs on the keyboard keeps her occupied punctuated by glances on her wrist watch.

The legs that were entangled with each other under the chair, now starts to drag in and out with a few stretches showings signs of slight anticipation.  The setting is suddenly abrupted with a sway of the glass door that has the same oscillation as the rest of the days. 

The girl stoops slightly and carefully piercing her eyes through her glasses surveys that table in front of the door. The observant eyes now appearing larger in happiness, and joy - silent glow in the eyes as she quickly leaves the chair to run towards the door only to hear the faint footsteps dissolving away with the glass door behind reflecting the same oscillation of her excitement.  She turns back, walks through the swaying door in elation that has touches of bewilderment and picks up the box and unzips it from the top.

The magician brings back the blue – green, slightly rusty, neatly stitched clothed box in the act without even for once making himself appear.  Not only does he not appear, he even performs without making his presence felt.    

Cities are not just definitions of society, architecture, nomenclatures and resources. They are a stage where everyone is performing. So be observant, fill yourself with inquisition, search and look out. Watch beyond efficiency and organization, “and above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”  - Roald Dahl

- thanks to THE PRESTIGE (Film, 2006)

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