Mick Brown

Fakir News

Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic

By

Hurst 396pp £25 order from our bookshop

Travelling by train from Calcutta to Assam in 1979, John Zubrzycki found himself unavoidably delayed at a small, out of the way station. Wandering into a dusty square, he came across one of India’s most confounding mysteries. Surrounded by a crowd of curious onlookers, an old man was helping a small boy clamber into a cane basket just big enough to hold him.

Chanting incantations, the man reached for a large sword, which, without warning, he started plunging into the basket: ‘Blood covered the sword, and the boy’s screams were terrifying.’ There seemed no way, Zubrzycki writes, that the boy could have avoided the blade. A blanket was then thrown over the basket. A few moments later, the blanket and the lid of the basket were removed and the boy appeared with the sword through his neck. With the hilt in one hand and the tip of the blade in the other, the old man lifted the boy off the ground, presenting him to the astonished – and, one imagines, distinctly queasy-feeling – audience. ‘When sufficient baksheesh had been collected, the boy was lowered back into the basket’ and the blanket was thrown over it. Shortly afterwards the boy emerged completely unscathed.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Jane Ridley writes on Who’s In, Who’s Out: The Journals of Kenneth Rose, edited by D R Thorpe ,
    • 'Lucian Freud was never short of confidence. In the 1990s he painted a small head of an especially rich individual… ,
    • Robin Simon's review of Lucian Freud, edited by Martin Gayford and David Dawson ,
    • 'Lenin regularly communicated with his agents in Russia by postcard and Stalin sent girlfriends cards depicting ero… ,
    • RT : Could any book publishing people share with me their route into publishing roles for a sixth former I am working wi… ,
    • Donald Rayfield reviews Greetings From the Barricades: Revolutionary Postcards in Imperial Russia by Tobie Maythew ,
    • 'Citadel of the Saxons manages to turn the slim pickings of the surviving evidence into something like a consistent… ,