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The youngest ‘Magic Queen’ of Bengal, 9-year-old Mimi Haldar unlocks a world of fantasy

8 April, 2023 17:23:52
The youngest ‘Magic Queen’ of Bengal, 9-year-old Mimi Haldar unlocks a world of fantasy

“Mimi, Mimi, Mimi…..” Nandan auditorium reverberated with the sound of an enraptured audience yelling and clapping incessantly demanding an encore from a little girl who stood on stage confidently after mesmerizing her audience with her jaw-dropping sorcery at the 13th State Children and Youth Festival. For nine-year-old ‘Magic Queen’ Mimi Halder, this adulation is nothing new or unusual. She performed on stage for the first time when she was barely five or six years old and since then, fame has followed her everywhere. She has a vast fan following in her school -- not just her classmates and seniors but all teachers and staff encourage her and shower her with praise for her confidence and deftness.

Mimi is the youngest member of the Federation of Indian Magic Associates or FIMA. Since 2007, FIMA has been working to promote magic as a creative and interesting art and foster the interest of the members of the federation related to service, culture, academics, and other common interests. Like the previous years, this year too, FIMA had set up an open-air stall at the festival in Nandan where a large number of upcoming magicians rubbed shoulders with well-known veterans. The members of FIMA had hosted regular magic shows along with shadow art, ventriloquism, sand art, juggling, etc. at the stall. An impressive crowd thronged the stall. The general audience as well as all the magicians who watched Mimi’s show were hugely impressed and suggestions to present solo or joint shows poured in.  
Back in the 1970s till the 1990s, regular ticketed shows were held at Kala Mandir and Mahajati Sadan in packed halls and magicians like P.C. Sorcar (Junior), Subir Sarkar, Hakasa, K. Lal, M.N. Mukherjee, and many other enthralled the audience with a medley of magic, music, dance, and comedy. Imagine a magician picks up a coin, conceals it in his hand and, after a magical gesture, it mysteriously disappears, only to reappear from behind your ear. As you watch this performance, you fully understand that objects cannot simply materialize from thin air, yet this is exactly what you have just experienced. Conjuring is one of the oldest forms of entertainment and throughout history, tricksters have amazed audiences by performing illusions of the impossible. They were magnificent illusionists, conjurers, and hypnotists and their shows were appreciated by the common public as well as the cognoscenti. However, magic lost much of its attraction with the advent of technological invasion that drove Gen X and Y to the world of the Internet. 

But then something magical happened on June 26, 1997, with the publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ in the UK. Magic appeared as one of the major themes in the book. In this novel, author J.K. Rowling presents the reader with two worlds, the magic world as different from ours that is called (in the books) the Muggle world. The novel points to the possibility that beyond, around, and beside the material world in which we live, there is also one of magic, wonder, and miracle. The two worlds are not entirely separate but impinge upon one another, and travel is possible between them in both directions as seen in King’s Cross platform 9 ¾ amongst others. The book's imaginative storyline about a boy wizard made it an enduring hit globally with both children and adults. Thus, the generic interest in magic was revived. 

A band of veteran FIMA magicians has been working to arouse curiosity and enthusiasm about magic in the minds of children. The NGO has been carrying out regular training programmes for budding magicians and rookies who want to take this art as a regular profession and aims to form self-sustaining groups of magicians in every district town. During the lockdown, FIMA organized several online workshops.

Mimi was inducted into the world of magic by her father at a very tender age. The former student of the famous magician 'Peter Pan,' opened the doors to the world of illusions for Mimi, and from then on, there was no going back for her. As an art form, magic is an informal form of theatre that resides in the niches of contemporary culture. A magician is an all-rounder and has to be proficient in music, dance, drama, communication, and all other aspects of performing arts to keep his audience glued to his tricks. Mimi’s father insists: “Magic has opened a host of opportunities for Mimi and in the future, if she wants to pursue any other art form, magic will help her tremendously. Parents need to encourage their children to pursue magic as a hobby.”

Veteran magician Shyamal Kumar too shares a similar view. He has been working for decades to popularize magic among children and has already authored books like 'Sohoj Taser Magic' (Easy Card Magic) and 'Esho Magic Shikhi’ (Come, Let's Learn Magic) which are must-read for all magic enthusiasts. “Practicing magic helps to increase concentration in children, wards off stage fright, and helps them to enhance their ability to express themselves effortlessly,” says Kumar. 

 After all, the idea of India as a mystical place has its roots in the 6th century BC when historians, geographers, missionaries, pilgrims, and royal chroniclers began presenting the region as a land of strange beasts and fantastical races, ascetics and saints, soothsayers and snake charmers, wonder-workers and necromancers. While such accounts were often highly exaggerated, over the years, Indian street performers did develop a mind-boggling repertoire of illusions. Feats such as the “Hindu Rope trick”—a piece of a rope appearing to stay erect of its own accord, and a little child climbing it only to disappear above—shocked onlookers. In the past, magic was primarily performed on India’s streets by the poor, marginalized communities with just a handful of props and enough charisma to draw a crowd. These street magicians performed on village or town squares, drawing hordes of onlookers who marvelled at the magicians’ acts. Now the onset of the 21st century has definitively changed Indian lifestyles, making it harder for such artists to earn a living.

Magicians were hard-hit during the lockdown. All stage shows came to a standstill. Amid this situation, FIMA members supported the magic community through different social impact schemes and activities and organized digital outreach programmes. The members of FIMA firmly believe the art of magic never lost its appeal, and even in our modern lives dominated by science and technology, we are still captivated by experiencing things we believe to be impossible. This universal appeal can be traced back to a deep-rooted psychological drive to explore things we do not understand. Indeed, from an early age, infants are captivated by events that confound their understanding of the world, and the same is true for adults. Most people simply think of magic as just another form of entertainment, but the ancient art of conjuring is now helping scientists uncover some of the mysteries of the human mind. Magic deals with some of the most fundamental psychological and philosophical questions. What do you believe to be possible? What is consciousness? How much control do you have over your thoughts and your actions? And yet, until recently, the art of magic has received little scientific attention. Magicians have spent hundreds of years developing the art of deception and by doing so they have discovered powerful tricks that capitalize on cognitive errors, a field of regular scientific study now. FIMA is engaged in sensitizing people to this aspect and training youngsters like Mimi, who will take up the baton and work to revive magic’s lost glory.

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