Empire of Enchantment: The story of Indian magic
Scribe, $32.99 pb, 416 pp, 9781925713077
Almost before drawing breath, we meet two troupes of Indian magicians. One appears in the court of the Emperor Jahangir, early seventeenth-century Mughal ruler and aficionado of magic. In the first of twenty-eight tricks, this troupe of seven performers sprout trees from a cluster of plant pots before the emperor’s eyes, the luminous foliage heaving with fruits and songbirds. Four hundred years later, a group of jadoowallahs (street magicians) charm a hand-to-mouth living from the urban sprawl of modern-day New Delhi. In a small park, they levitate for audiences and magically escape the binds of knotted ropes. With similar – but less spectacular – effect to that woven by the performers of a Mughal court, they spirit a shrub-like tree out of what seems like thin air.