India is a land of miracles, where godmen and mystics mesmerise audiences with wondrous feats of magic. In great cities and remote villages alike, these mortal incarnations of the divine turn rods into snakes, drink acid, eat glass, hibernate and even levitate. Some live as kings, their devotees numbering hundreds of thousands; while others – virtually destitute – wander from village to village pledging to cure the sick, or bring rain in times of drought.
As a child in rural England, Tahir Shah first learned the secrets of illusion from an Indian magician. Two decades later, he set out in search of this conjurer, the ancestral guardian of his great grandfather's tomb. Sorcerer's Apprentice is the story of his quest for, and initiation into, the brotherhood of Indian godmen. Learning along the way from sadhus, sages, avatars and sorcerers – it's a journey which took him from Calcutta to Madras, from Bangalore to Bombay, in search of the miraculous.
In Calcutta, Shah is apprenticed to Hakim Feroze, a tyrannical master of illusion, who sets out to crush his student's spirit through gruelling physical trials. Eventually, his pupil's skin bruised and raw and his temper strained, the magician unlocks the door to his secret laboratory. The miracles of India's godmen are at last revealed one by one: how to swallow stones, to stop one's pulse, turn water into wine, and many more. Next, as a cryptic test, Shah is sent to ferret out the secrets of Calcutta's Underworld – entering the confidence of the city's ageing hangman, its baby-renters, and skeleton dealers. Then, just as Shah is making headway, Feroze announces that he's to pack his bags and set out at once, on a 'Journey of Observation'.
A quest for the bizarre, wondrous underbelly of the Subcontinent, Shah's travels lift the veil on the East's most puzzling miracles. The Journey of Observation leads him to a cornucopia of characters. Illusionists all, some are immune to snake venom, others speak through oracles, or have the power to transform ordinary water into petrol. Along the way Shah witnesses a 'duel of miracles', crosses paths with an impoverished billionaire, and even meets a part-time god. Revealing confidence tricks and ingenious scams, Sorcerer's Apprentice exposes a side of India that most writers never even imagine exists.
About the Author
Tahir Shah is the author of fifteen books, many of which chronicle a wide range of outlandish journeys through Africa, Asia and the Americas. For him, there's nothing so important as deciphering the hidden underbelly of the lands through which he travels. Shunning well-trodden tourist paths, he avoids celebrated landmarks, preferring instead to position himself on a busy street corner or in a dusty café and observe life go by. Insisting that we can all be explorers, he says there's wonderment to be found wherever we are - it's just a matter of seeing the world with fresh eyes.
Shah's forthcoming novel, TIMBUCTOO, is inspired by a true life tale from two centuries ago. The story of the first Christian to venture to Timbuctoo and back - a young illiterate American sailor - it has been an obsession since Shah discovered it in the bowels of the London Library twenty years ago.
He recently published a collection of his entitled TRAVELS WITH MYSELF, a body of work as varied and as any, with reportage pieces as diverse as the women on America's Death Row, to the trials and tribulations of his encounter in a Pakistani torture jail.
Another recent work, IN ARABIAN NIGHTS, looks at how stories are used in cultures such as Morocco, as a matrix by which information, values and ideas are passed on from one generation to the next. That book follows on the heels of the celebrated CALIPH'S HOUSE: A Year in Casablanca, lauded as one of Time Magazine's Top 10 Books of the year.
Tahir Shah lives at Dar Khalifa, Casablanca.
About Tahir Shah
See more books from this Author
Published April 12, 2013
by Secretum Mundi.
Biographies & Memoirs, Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference, Travel, Professional & Technical, Action & Adventure.