Practical magic: Maneka Sorcar on carrying forward her father PC Sorcar Jr's legacy

Maneka Sorcar — the daughter of the famed magician PC Sorcar Jr — tells us about her own journey into the world of magic

Rohini Nair July 31, 2016 09:28:51 IST
Practical magic: Maneka Sorcar on carrying forward her father PC Sorcar Jr's legacy

Sunday, 31 July 2016, marks the release of the highly anticipated book Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It is the script of the play of the same name that is currently playing in London’s Palace Theatre.

For fans, the date is doubly special — 31 July is for them “the day of magic”: Not only is it Harry Potter’s birthday, it is also his creator’s, JK Rowling.

Read our Harry Potter and the Cursed Child review: JK Rowling casts a neat time-travel spell with this eighth book

Back in India, in Kolkata, it’s a “day of magic” for another reason — it marks the birthday of the iconic magician PC Sorcar Jr.

This week, Firstpost spoke with Maneka Sorcar, PC’s eldest daughter, and a gifted magician herself.

Magic runs in Maneka’s blood — she is the ninth generation to take up the art (or science, depending on how you view it). Her grandfather was the late, renowned PC Sorcar. Maneka’s upbringing was unusual, to say the very least — filled with observing her parents on stage, hearing of her grandfather’s historic feats, and trying to make her own place in the family practice.

PC Sorcar (senior) came to India as a refugee from Bangladesh, or East Bengal, at the time of Partition. With very few possessions, the family was reduced to living on the platform of the Sealdah Station. He only had his love for magic, and the firm determination to have it recognised as a craft, that drove him to leave the railway platform behind.

Practical magic Maneka Sorcar on carrying forward her father PC Sorcar Jrs legacy

Maneka Sorcar

“What my grandfather did was truly magical, in that his was a real rags-to-riches tale,” says Maneka. “It was very important to him to make people aware that magic was not about any mantra-tantra. To him, magic was the forerunner of science. He felt that magic had a universal language; a ‘miracle’ in any language or culture is the same.”

If PC Sorcar’s struggle was to have his art form recognised — he would of course, go on to become India’s most famous magician — for his son (Maneka’s father) PC Sorcar Jr, it was about convincing his father that his passion for magic was as great as his.

“My father was interested in magic and the arts right from the get go,” recounts Maneka. “But my grandfather was very strict, he knew how difficult it is to gain any kind of recognition or success. So he insisted that my father complete his formal education; otherwise, he felt people wouldn’t take his son seriously.”

PC Sorcar Jr would go on to get several degrees — a BA, BSc, MSc and even a PhD (Maneka too followed suit; she has an MBA from the University of Ohio, and hopes to earn her doctorate soon) — and carry forward his father’s legacy on stage.

Read on Firstpost: Harry Potter's magical legacy — How JK Rowling's creation endures, 19 years later

For PC Sorcar Jr, the father he had at home (the one who, as Maneka puts it, could be quite stern) was a very different man from the flamboyant personality who walked onto the stage and performed breathtaking illusions.

But Maneka experienced a different atmosphere growing up. PC Sorcar Jr and Jayashree Sorcar were encouraging parents who believed in being very open and approachable with their three daughters (Maneka and her sisters Moubani and Mumtaz). From a very early age, Maneka was fascinated by her father’s magic shows.

"However”, she says, “the magic that intrigued me was the one that happened behind the scenes…all the hard work that goes into imagining and conceptualising an act and presenting it before an audience. And the adulation my father received — I wanted that too!”

Stories from Maneka’s childhood make for lovely listening. There’s the time she ran onto the stage when her mother was performing a dance routine: Maneka — wearing a miniature replica of her mother’s costume — was waiting in the wings. When the nanny let her go for a minute, the tot (Maneka must have been about three years old at the time) rushed towards her mother and began performing the steps she knew from watching Jayashree rehearse them at home countless times.

Then there’s the time she would replicate her grandfather’s famous 'Waters of India' magic trick (where a small pot is emptied a number of times but never runs out of water; symbolic of the perpetuity of life) in the confines of the bathroom: “I would fill a mug with water and pour it over myself again and again, and call it ‘Waters of India’,” Maneka shares with a laugh.

When PC Sorcar Jr would sit in his office and receive visitors, or huddle with workmen over sketches or models of new magic acts, Maneka would be sitting in a corner of the room, copying his actions, with a drawing book and some colouring pens to aid her ‘impersonation’.

She also remembers proudly showing her father her first idea for a magic trick — a magician who held his (presumably severed) head by the side of his torso, and spoke to the audience. Her father gently told her that the initial step to becoming a magician was to think of a solution to make something work; Maneka did come up with one, although it was “not very foolproof”, she tells us.

Maneka’s inclination for magic may have manifested at a very early age, but when she declared that she wanted to pursue it full-time, her parents did advise her to not rush into it.

“My father was elated,” Maneka says. “But the world has very rarely seen a woman magician. Even in fairytales or folklore, women who practice magic are usually depicted as evil, as witches. If you take a comic book, how many iconic female superheroes do you really have? And how many of them do you find not depicted in a certain sexualised way? I would get annoyed when my father would say, ‘You still have time’ (but understood his point of view).”

Maneka points out that while she certainly isn’t the only woman magician in the world, it would be difficult for most people to come up with the name of one off the top of their heads. She doesn’t claim to understand fully why that is. One of the explanations she offers is that magicians need to be seen as all-powerful on stage; for some people, seeing a woman take centre stage and wield that much power, might be unpalatable.

What Maneka found unpalatable was when people would look at her father and say pityingly, ‘Oh you have three daughters…there’s nobody to carry on the Sorcar lineage’. “That used to grate on me,” says Maneka. “It still does. I don’t know why we have this idea in India that a family’s lineage can be carried forward only by sons.”

Such attitudes, however, only made Maneka more determined than ever to establish herself in the male-dominated preserve of magic. “I said I’m going to barge into (this world) and make my dreams come true,” she tells us. “After all, making the impossible possible — isn’t that the essence of magic?”

Read: Beloved Witch — Ipsita Roy Chakraverti on being India's most famous Wiccan, and witchcraft

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