Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 20, 2022
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Nothing up his sleeve

Nothing up his sleeve:

Every third Thursday of the month after I come home from the office, I barely have enough time to change, grab a bite to eat and go to my meeting of the Hat and Wand Club, or, as it's otherwise known, IBM ring #235.

The International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) is, with thousands of members, the largest and most prestigious magic organization in the world. There are local clubs, called Rings, in every major city in the world. I have been a member since 1974 and, a few years ago, I was honoured by being awarded the title of Order of Merlin, denoting 25 years of continuous and active membership.

It all started about 40 years ago in India when I was a young medical student. One of my colleagues was a reasonably accomplished magician and was often called upon to perform at school-related social events. To help out, I started serving as his assistant and gradually became fascinated by the art form.

Normally, after serving faithfully for some time, an assistant becomes privy to many, if not all, of the secrets of his "mentor." However, in my case, I toiled for a few years doing all this magician's grunt work without any reward at all. Eventually it dawned on me that it didn't matter how long I worked with him, he wasn't going to teach me.

And that is how my quest for learning started. As in any discipline, it is initially hard to know where to get the information you need. I found a few books, and read and practised -- and practised and practised and then practised some more. The progress was slow and disheartening. I would show my tricks to family members and other good-hearted souls who were too nice to say anything negative.

One day, I met a professional magician and showed him my favourite card trick. Not only did he like it, he couldn't figure out how it was done. That was a good feeling. He asked me to teach it to him and I did.

The next morning I had a surprise visitor -- the same magician. He had come to tell me that the night before he had to perform in a nearby city and he had incorporated my trick in his act. It was a big hit and he had come to thank me. He then offered to teach me a few important principles of magic.

These are basic moves and manoeuvres -- such things as False Shuffle, False Cuts, False Deals, Pass and False Count -- that are essential and have to be mastered in order to proceed further.

That was the start of a long but very enjoyable road to becoming a magician. This craze, as some of my family and friends called it, began to occupy most of my waking hours that were not already consumed by medicine, which has always remained my day job.

My wife still tells people that when we first got married she spent her honeymoon being asked to "pick a card, any card." Though she was quite tolerant of minor infringements on her time, my wife absolutely refused to do such things as hide in a trunk, let me cut her in pieces or be suspended in mid air.

Once, while practising, I accidentally swallowed a coin and it lodged in my throat. My wife, who is also a physician, came at me with a kitchen knife, intent on doing a tracheotomy. I had a hard time explaining to her, without speaking, that I could still breathe and that she should wait a little bit. Fortunately, she finally understood and I was luckily able to remove the foreign object without benefit of a tracheotomy.

In 1974, after being in Canada for a short time, I learned about the International Brotherhood of Magicians and managed to fulfill all the requirements to become a member. Since then I have learnt an extraordinary amount about this incredible art form. I have performed for friends in small and not-so-small gatherings and medical meetings. I'll perform for anyone who will put up with my antics.

Our local IBM group consists of about 30 people, including a few professional magicians, some budding young sorcerers, a couple of schoolteachers, an accountant, some students, a few retired individuals and a psychiatrist -- me. The main thing these people have in common is the love of magic.

Once a year we have, as a guest, a prominent, world-famous magician who teaches his techniques and reveals his secrets. Recently, our guest came from Sweden. He had won first prize at the Federation of the International Society of Magicians championship -- which is held every three years. To be invited to participate is a singular honour, to win it is divine.

To me, magic is the most fascinating of all activities. To go to an international magic convention is a lot more enjoyable than an international psychiatry convention. You meet a lot of very interesting people. There are lectures and seminars, small-group teachings, close-up and stage competitions and gala shows every evening. It is a week filled with magic, and nowhere else can you see so many adults behaving like kids and loving it.

My stage name is the Incredible Swami, a reflection on my East Indian heritage. Over the years, listing this fact on my resume has drawn more attention than any medical accomplishments I might have.

It also helps me make friends and meet people. When I was younger it was a great way to meet girls! There is nothing like showing someone a magic trick to break the ice. The downside is that my wife doesn't enjoy any magic show anymore because she knows how it's done. And when my kids were in school, unlike other normal kids, every show any more and tell or talent contest had something to do with magic. The other downside is that no one will play cards with me and I am excluded from all poker games.

All in all there are many more upsides and, even after close to 40 years, it is just as exciting to master a new trick and, especially, to fool a fellow magician. For, as my fellow magicians will tell you: amateurs do tricks; we perform miracles.


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