Well, you might think I am using a metaphor or something.
Some of you might think, especially after you’re through with this article, that I’m actually using the magician metaphor for something else. Knowing me and having read my tons of blog posts so far, some others might think the E Train is actually a metaphor too: maybe, it means the Economy train, or perhaps, Employment train. Or, perhaps…Energy train. Something…or something else…imaginations could run wild.
But, believe me, I am not using any metaphor. I am actually talking about a little magician on the E subway train here in New York City. The only creative liberty I’m taking as the author is with the word “little,” only because, as they always say, ordinary people are little people.
This magician I’m going to talk about is a no-name magician, I’m sure; otherwise, he would not play his magic in front of a reluctant, tired New York subway audience, and jump from car to car to make a living. I tend to believe this is not even his primary job; who can live and feed mouths in Bloomberg’s only-for-rich New York on enchanting a few, sleepy subway commuters late in the evening — with their magic or music?
I’m only telling you this story because it was so exceptional. I’ve never seen anything like it in my un-magical life. I even gave him a dollar — an exceptional act of benevolence if you knew my miserly middle-class Indian-Bengali upbringing. My sense of charity and benevolence could easily match up Shylock of the Merchant of Venice!
Ah, well…getting back on with the story.
I was tired and trying hard not to doze off on the train — I became extra careful to stay alert since a few months ago, a bunch of kids tried to pull a prank on a sleepy me on the G-train. I taught myself about the necessity to stay up especially in these difficult times. Phone snatching, pickpocketing and other such untoward things here in Bloomberg’s only-for-rich New York has now become commonplace.
I was tired and trying hard not to doze off on the train, and contemplating on the mundane-ness of a commuter’s life…or something philosophical like it. Or, maybe, I was just thinking nothing. Something like it. Then, this guy got on the train and things changed in a few seconds…like magic!
He was a tallish, whitish, middle-age’ish guy who showed visible signs of lifelong strife and struggle. Maybe, he is a loner. Maybe, his wife and children left him and his inability to make a decent living. Seeing his manners and magic, I remembered Satyajit Ray’s short story on the little Bengali magician Mr. Tripura Mullick who said to his one-and-only student: “Look, I know all these tricks, but the only trick I don’t know is how to make money.” And that little magician in Ray’s magical story was also a loner, with nowhere to go and no place to live.
This little magician’s tricks — unthinkable and quite unbelievable — also reminded me of Ray’s little magician: they were all done without any use of pomp, grandeur or big stage or footlights, or without the help of any glittery woman assistant — or for that matter, without the typical, non-stop patters magicians often use to distract the viewers. He didn’t do any of the above. In fact, all the tricks this guy did were so right front of my eyes that unless I knew he was pulling tricks, I wouldn’t believe he was pulling tricks. That’s how magical they were!
His games were also not something I’ve never seen; in fact, I’ve seen them many times. I’ve seen the cut rope trick where the magician pulls out a piece of white rope, asks someone in the audience to hold the two ends tight spreading it apart, and cuts it in the middle. He then measures the two halves and shows that they are indeed much shorter than the original length. He then gives one half to a member of the audience and keeps the other half. He does an abracadabra on the half he has, rubs his fingers a little magically, and snaps it! Walla, suddenly the half length of the rope becomes a full length again!
(At this point, YOU — some of my longtime readers, now familiar with my way of pulling my own writing tricks, would say: “Okay, wait a minute, we know what you’re up to. You’re trying to say that these little, no-name people are the ones who are constantly pulling the broken pieces of the economy back together with their unsung heroism — acts like magic that nobody knows and nobody cares about: magical acts that behind the scene put the world back together especially in times of serious crisis — like the crisis the American society is now going through, or especially at this difficult time after Hurricane Sandy. You’re telling us to compare the incredible, magic-like work of these small, low-wage workers — electrical workers, plumbers, construction workers, subway workers and so many more — that New York Times or CNN would not talk about. Right?” — Well, I could easily have said that and used this whole article as a metaphor; but really, I’m not doing it because repeating something over and over again is the last thing an intelligent author would do because it drives even his ardent, admiring readers crazy and totally disinterested. You are welcome to judge using your own judgement. I leave that up to you.)
So, on with the story (I hope not to be interrupted again…please).
The little magician went on to show a few little tricks — the usual stuff we see on TV or in a theater — like changing the color of handkerchiefs and all. Remember, all of it is happening just over six or so minutes on an express stop between Forest Hills and Jackson Heights; he would hop on to the next car as soon as the train stops. Now, the final game — with some small amount of cheerful talk from a not-so-cheerful-looking magician: the card trick.
He pulls out a pack of cards and juggles with all fifty two of them in a way that I could only imagine in my dream! Up and down, side to side, inside out, and outside in. He takes the pack in his lifted right palm and throws them down on his left — in a never-ending chain with no cards misbehaving. He then obviously asks one of the subway commuters to pull a card of her choice — and the poor magician had a hard time finding a volunteer because everybody was so reluctant to do it for the fear that they’d probably have to show some gesture of charity which they would not want to do. He then turns his eye away from the woman who volunteered; she now put the card back in the pack the magician was holding out. The rest of the game we all know: he does some more abracadabra, walks his long, uncanny fingers on the pack of cards, and wallah, he pulls out the right card the woman chose!
Finally, in the last thirty seconds or so, the magician shows us something I’ve never seen before in my life. He pulls out a number of cards from the pack and starts spinning them horizontally in the air — halfway between the train floor and ceiling, and the cards floated and danced and circled around in an incredibly synchronous movement, and it appeared they would never stop, as if they were all held together by an invisible string.
Again, it reminded me of Satyajit Ray’s little magician Mullick who trained a coin to come out of his wallet, walk to another coin on the floor, and walk it back together into the wallet. Our little, no-name magician on the E-train also instructed his cards to stop their wild dance and come together quietly into the pack. It was time for him to pack up and hop on to the next car on the E-train. Jackson Heights had arrived and the train had stopped. He collected a few dollar bills — one from a totally inspired and woke-up me, without saying even a word of thanks.
He was not one of the talkative, patterful magicians. He was not David Copperfield of America or P. C. Sircar of Calcutta. He didn’t know the tricks to make a decent living. He never learned that magic.
I hope to see him again some day — on my way back from work on the E Train. He certainly deserves an extra dollar from me…or two.
Brooklyn, New York