Abracadabra: No strings attached

Published: September 25, 2011
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‘For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.’ — Joseph Dunninger. PHOTO: NEFER SEHGAL

‘For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.’ — Joseph Dunninger. PHOTO: NEFER SEHGAL

‘For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.’ — Joseph Dunninger. PHOTO: NEFER SEHGAL 
‘For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.’ — Joseph Dunninger. PHOTO: NEFER SEHGAL 
‘For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.’ — Joseph Dunninger. PHOTO: NEFER SEHGAL

‘For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.’ — Joseph Dunninger.

Shamsher produces a pack of cards. “Pick one,” he says. I oblige and see that it is the king of spades. “Put it back face down,” he says. Obediently, I put it face down on top of the deck in his palm. “Now watch,” he orders. He shuffles the deck; his hands moving deftly as he riffles, strips and slides the cards. “We’ll use a locater card to help us find your card,” he explains and picks up the first card from the deck; it is the ten of spades. “Hold it between your thumb and index finger,” he says and I oblige. He looks at the deck in his hands and cuts it. He slowly searches for my card. The seconds tick by and finally he admits “sometimes this trick doesn’t work, but…” I suddenly have the sinking feeling that I have been holding my card all along. I turn it over and there it is… the king of spades.

Shamsher Razzak does not look like a magician, he does not possess a waxed moustache twirled at the ends nor does he sport a top hat and coat-tails. Although I admit that is not how magicians dress these days but that is the first image that comes to mind when someone mentions a magician. “I think the costume is too old school,” explains Shamsher, “I think I am more David Blaine than Harry Houdini.”

Shamsher is not a full-time magician, he is actually a cadet pilot in the PIA, “My father is a pilot and I have been sitting in a cockpit since I was a kid,” explains Shamsher, “I always had a passion for it, you get to tour the world. Flying is a life of adventure.”

Shamsher started practising magic when he was 15 years old after a neighbour gifted him a book on magic. “I was instantly hooked, he explains, “I started watching magicians on TV and figured out how to do some of the tricks on my own.”

You probably have seen him on a variety of local TV channels but what Shamsher aspires for is to do a live show. “People usually come up and argue that it’s all camera tricks. I want to do a live show so people can see it with their own eyes.” He receives a variety of responses to his magic. “People are usually astonished but in one of my TV appearances a caller said that what I was doing was black magic but I set the record straight,” says Shamsher.

Shamsher aspires to one day saw himself in half, in front of a live audience. “I want to do it without a box or curtain obstructing the view, it’s something that’s never been done in Pakistan,” said Shamsher, adding “a lot of things I do are a first in Pakistan.”

The magic scene in Pakistan consists mostly of parlour tricks and simple sleight of hand illusions which are quite popular at children’s birthday parties and such. A simple internet search reveals that a reasonable number of local magicians are listed on international websites, with one magician even claiming to have the ability to make the Minaar-e-Pakistan disappear. “There are not a lot of professional magicians,” Shamsher explains. “Some have contacted me after seeing me perform on TV but magic in Pakistan is something that is usually seen at kids’ parties and is not really that big here.”

Shamsher picks his pack of cards again. “Pick one,” he says. It’s the queen of hearts. “Put it back face down,” he orders. He then starts shuffling and invites me to shuffle as well so I can make sure he hasn’t rigged the deck. I shuffle the deck and hand it back to him.”Now picture your card in your head,” he says. He picks out five cards from the top of the deck and asks me to tell him if my card is one of them but not to reveal what my card is. Surely enough, my card is one of the five he has picked out. He hands me the deck while he holds on to the five cards he picked out earlier. His hand hovers over the five cards and he makes a throwing motion at the deck in my hands. “Turn over the first card of the deck in your hand,” he says. I turn it over and there it is: the queen of hearts. He shows me the cards in his hand, but strangely enough he now only has four cards instead of five.

Magicians usually have a stage name, the amazing this, the great that – but Shamsher prefers to call himself by his birth name. “I always wondered, if I did keep a stage name what could it be?” he says, “I  would never put great or amazing before my name, I think it’s too egotistical.“

Shamsher is sort of an all rounder in magic, dabbling in all the different branches. “I do all kinds of magic but these days I am very much in to mentalism,” says Shamsher. Mentalism or mental magic is where the practitioner appears to have highly developed mental or intuitive abilities. “It is a more mature form of magic,” he explains, “It is kind of like neurolinguistic programming or psychological direction. Basically it is the study of human behaviour.”

A mentalist can literally guide a person to behave in a certain manner and it is one of the hardest forms of magic but it is incredibly useful in real life. “You can tell people’s moods, how they feel or even if they are lying but it’s not 100% accurate as it is in fact a series of educated guesses,” he says.

When asked if it was like his super power, Shamsher says: “Well not really, I prefer to look at it as a slight advantage, it’s not something you can control people with.”

Shamsher suddenly points at my watch, “Want to see something cool?” he asks. I nod and he motions for my watch. I hand it over and he looks it over. He hands it back to me and tells me to look at the second hand, the hand is steadily moving, his hand hovers over my watch and suddenly the second hand stops!

Shamsher has also dabbled in minor illusions like levitating and making spoons bend, “I won’t call myself am illusionist; an illusionist is someone who makes elephants disappear.” The question is, could he make the Mazar-e- Quaid disappear? “I could, but some heavy duty capital is needed to pull that off,” he jokes.

Shamsher has fashioned himself around his idols, the magician/endurance artist David Blaine and Criss Angel, the stuntman magician.  “David Copperfield is another favourite magician of mine, he is a great illusionist,” he says, “he is a brilliant performer; magic is useless if you don’t have flourish and Copperfield has it in spades.”

Shamsher picks his deck of cards again. “Pick one,” he says again. I oblige, it’s the seven of clubs. He motions for it and I hand it over. He keeps the card in the palm of his left hand while his right hand hovers over it. The card trembles and starts to levitate, it suddenly leaps out of his hand, it glides and twirls like a jet until Shamsher deftly catches it with his right hand.

He did it a few more times to prove that it wasn’t a one-time thing. Don’t worry, I checked. There are no strings attached.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 25th,  2011.

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