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Old world magic still charms

Prof. Vazhakkunnam's famous trick of `cheppum panthum' is faithfully enacted by his disciple P. P. Nanu. K. PRADEEP watches this trick with a few young friends.

Magician P. P. Nanu takes kids to a different, magical world. Photo by Mahesh Harilal

PLOUGHING A lonely track with a bagful of simple tricks is magician P. P. Nanu (Kuttiyadi Nanu). He does perform some of those popular, modern tricks on stage but is more at home with his traditional, close-up tricks. His magic is all about the dexterity and sleight of hand. `Kayyatakkam' or `Kayyothukkam' perfected by many years of toil, carrying on the tradition of Prof. Vazhakunnam Neelakantan Namboodiri's famous 'Cheppum Panthum.'

The tricks are basically about hiding and moving objects with that sleight of the hands to various parts of his body. He still performs with an amateur's zeal, not really concerned about the commercial possibilities of his art.

Dream come true

Like most children, Nanu was drawn towards magic in his schooldays. "There was this magic show at the school where I studied. I remember how thrilled all of us were, clapping and shouting. But there was this friend who sat near me who seemed to be unmoved. When I asked him the reason he said that this was nothing when compared to the tricks performed by Vazhakunnam. That was the first time I was hearing that name. In fact, I even thought he was one of those legendary magicians of whom we hear so many tales. It was then that I came across a newspaper announcement of a magic show by Prof. Vazhakunnam at the Samoodiri High School, Kozhikode. I went for this and then I knew that my friend was right. This was real magic, I was simply spellbound," recalls Nanu.

Prof. Vazhakunnam was the man who gave a new dimension to this art in the State. He is so rightly referred to as the father of magic in Kerala. For more than half a century this man had the power and skill to keep his audience in a charm with his simple tricks, devoid off elaborate stage, props and costumes. He was particularly famous for `Cheppum Panthum' (cups and balls) a trick in which small cups and balls are used to create some mesmerising formations with quicksilver movements of the hand. He was one of those traditional magicians who did not believe that hypnotism and mesmerism was pure magic, but still performed such tricks along with some of the usual ones like disappearing act, card and bullet tricks. And Nanu was on cloud nine when Prof. Vazhakunnam acceded to his request to train him.

"From 1974 onwards I trained under this great man. I used to travel two or three days a week to his `illam' at Thiruvegappura, stayed there to learn the tricks of this art from him. Till the death of my `guru' in 1983 I was with him, travelling for his shows in the country and for his Gulf tour. There were so many memorable moments I shared with my `guru,' but one that I would never forget was perhaps when he chose me from among his students to carry on the great `cups and balls' tradition," says Nanu.

Perfecting the art

It took nearly seven years for Nanu to perfect this art and he began public performances only after the death of his `guru.' "Even today it requires a few hours of rigorous practice to be confident before a show. This version of the trick is completely different from what is being practised by the Westerners. There they do it on a table that is sometimes well covered with sheets, which means concealing the balls becomes easy. We do it with no such props, with the audience sitting very close and sometimes even around you. It is this trick that has won me accolades, including some first prizes at national competitions conducted by organisations like the Indian Brotherhood of Magicians."

For Nanu magic is a profession. His show is a mix of the modern and traditional with `cups and balls' still being the most sought after item. He also teaches magic at his home in Kuttiyadi. "The students are not very regular, they come and go. Among those who have gone about seriously is one from Udupi and an American who was with me for almost a year. But he still has not been able to perform the `cups and balls' trick so far."


At the Kishat Study Circle, Thripunithura, recently Nanu held a crowd of little children and elders in a magical spell for nearly two hours. The occasional laughter, clapping, sighs of disbelief and awe sometimes broke the charm. Nanu went on picking out objects from the air, changed blank paper into currency, rounding if off with the much awaited `Cheppum Panthum.' The show was over, it took hardly five minutes to pack the cups and balls, towels and the other things into a small suitcase to board the train back home.

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