Martyrs and Magicians


This blog entry about the events of Monday, November 15, 2004 was originally posted on November 21, 2004.

DAY 394:  Chennai, India’s fourth largest city formerly known as Madras, isn’t exactly on a backpacker’s must-see list.  Cuckoo in Mumbai warned me there wasn’t much to see there in terms of tourist sites.  Geeta said it’s primarily a place where people travel to for business.  Some Indian girls at the guesthouse said that in terms of nightlife, Chennai was “a sleepy town.”

Chennai did host an old fort and some decent museums — just as many other Indian cities — but it did have one major thing that separated it from other places:  it was here that in 72 A.D. that St. Thomas, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, was martyred when he was pierced to death by non-believers on the top of a nearby mountain.  It should come as no surprise that a shrine had been erected where he died, making Chennai on the must-see list of Christian pilgrims.  I was templed out and forted out already and gave it a whirl.

“How do I get to St. Thomas Mount?” I asked Geeta after breakfast.  She showed me where it was on the city map hung on the wall. 

“You come with me,” she suggested.  “I’ll bring you [halfway.]”  St. Thomas Mount was about 12 km. from the city center in the same southeast-bound direction as Geeta’s workplace, a software company where she worked as a Japanese translator.  I hopped on the back of her motorscooter and she whisked us away wearing her helmet and dust mask.  I hopped off the scooter and jumped into an auto-rickshaw while we were stopped at a traffic light.  Geeta negotiated a reasonable fare for me and zipped off to work. 

The “auto” (as auto-rickshaws are called locally) took me to the base of the mount, the beginning of the upward path lined with the Stations of the Cross, depicting the scenes of the Passion of Jesus Christ, from the carrying of the cross, the nailing and ultimately to the crucifixion itself, sculpted in life-size scale at the top of the mountain.  Aside from the nice view of the haze above the city, the top of the hillock also had a church built by the Portuguese in 1523, consecrated in 1986 by Pope John Paul II in his visit to Madras.  The building held a relic (a piece of bone) of St. Thomas himself, as well as several ancient paintings of the Jesus and his apostles.  The most notable holy item in the church was the stone cross that St. Thomas was praying to when he was killed which, according to Christian lore, bled every December 18th (the anniversary of St. Thomas’ death) between 1551 and 1704. 

THE DAY TURNED OUT TO BE A SCORCHER by midday, so I just chilled out in the “harem bed” in my room with my laptop to catch up on Blog duties and flip through the additional DVD content of the Bollywood film Dhoom that I bought the day before.  Amanda came home early from work and stopped by to see what our plans were for the night.

Chennai might be a “sleepy town” as the whole, but fun can be found if you just look for it.  It was Tom’s last night in town before leaving to Nairobi to present a documentary he shot, and we decided to go out to the big to-do in town:  the magic show of Jagudar Anand (picture above), performing his last week at a big auditorium in Chennai.

Amanda, Chrissy, Tom and I joined Shakti and his partner (I forgot her name), a Chennai couple that ran an indie film and video production company that worked with Tom.  We piled in Shakti’s car and rode not too far away to the auditorium just before the show started.  All the cheap 50-rupee seats were sold out, but we got a row to ourselves in the 200-rupee section.  We passed around the bags of spicy popcorn that I bought until the show began. 

Shakti told us that magician Jagudar Anand was in the Guinness Book of World Records for the busiest magician in the world, with the most performances per year than anyone else, or something like that.  The Great Jagudar Anand had been performing in Chennai for forty days straight thus far, twice daily at 4 and 7 p.m.  When the show started, his exhaustion was evident as the first act was a barrage of off-the-shelf tricks that he did left and right as assistants brought them over in rapid succession, all without the enthusiastic flamboyant flair that most stage magicians have.  Rabbits disappeared and reappeared, birds flew out of cages and paper flowers “magically” materialized from thin air.

Covering the bags under his eyes was caked on make-up that made him seem plastic and a bit frightening.  (Chrissy said that and his turban, he looked like Jambi from Pee Wee’s Playhouse.)  It was this same kind of make-up that was used on his younger female assistants, who were probably covering not just their exhaustion, but their drugged out looks since they were most likely strung out on morphine to keep the show going twice daily.  We swore the girls were probably kidnapped and forced to work in the show; whenever they walked off the stage after a trick, they moped with the most unenthusiastic (and therefore funny) waving of the hands to the audience. 

The show went on with its 70’s funk-meets-80’s video game music soundtrack as Jagudar narrated the entire show on a microphone.  His creepy demeanor was made a bit more freaky with his soft spoken, yet somewhat raspy voice that made him sound like a child molester or something.  In fact, in one of the acts he sort of played the part of such a fiend since he had his hands all over some young volunteer boys from the audience.  One of the three boys luckily ran off before the big part of the trick with the excuse that he had to go to the bathroom — he narrowly missed what Jagudar did to the next boy over:  unzip his pants and magically make him urinate milk from a funnel he placed over the boy’s crotch. 

THE MAGIC TRICKS GOT BETTER as the show progressed.  It wasn’t anything new, just your basic saw-a-woman-in-half, move-a-woman’s-head-independently-of-her-body, and turn-a-woman-into-a-“gorilla” sort of thing.  “Now we will turn a beauty… into a beast,” he said in his dramatic, child molester voice when he introduced the latter.  “Ask yourself, can a body… pass through… another body?” he said to the audience to introduce the trick where he stood behind a free-standing box where his unenthusiastic assistant popped out of, seemingly passing through him.  Afterwards, she walked off stage with her drugged out wave to the audience. 

The one trick that we were looking forward to see wasn’t his final trick as expected:  an elephant named Lakshmi walked from the back of the auditorium to the stage, and he “magically” made her disappear after a quick flash of light and then quick period of darkness.  An elephant wasn’t the only thing he made disappear.  A guy assistant playing Harry Houdini magically escaped out of a box, only to magically appear in the aisle of the auditorium.  “I’m here!” he yelled from the back.  In that trick, just as in every one, no one knew exactly when to clap.  Often after a trick there would be no applause from the audience except for when a little five-year-old girl started clapping her hands off. 

Not all of the show went as planned.  When Jagudar called for a girl to volunteer from the audience, one of the girls in the row in front of us ran up — only to have Jagudar motion her “not this trick, the next one.”  When she finally got up to “volunteer” in a trick where he’d magically pierce a skewer straight through her neck, she freaked out and ran off.  (Perhaps she was creeped out by his child molestation behavior.)

AFTER TWO AND A HALF HOURS OF MAGICAL HIJINKS (and dancing midgets), The Great Jagudar Anand ended with a levitation as his assistants danced around in Mexican costumes to Mexican music.  “It’s magic,” I said.  “He’s turned Indians into Mexicans.”

The Mexican theme continued when a waiter brought over a plate of nachos at Zara, a hip, modern Spanish tavern that we went to after the show, a place where Chennai’s business class hung out over cocktails and entertained clients.  The six of us shared an assortment of tapas over drinks and conversations about the show.  “You think that boy’s going to be scarred for life?” Tom said.

“I think we’re all scarred for life,” I said.

Chrissy and I shared a pitcher of “Indian sangria,” which was just like regular Spanish sangria with an Indian twist that we couldn’t really figure out.  Regardless of that twist, it got both of us pretty drunk; Chrissy made us laugh with her dead-on impressions of the unenthusiastic assistants walking off stage with their hand waves.  Later on our amusement continued when we flipped through the 80’s Indian music videos on TV, all of which starred really beautiful Indian women and really sleazy-looking Indian men all of which sported thick moustaches.

IT WAS A SHAME NO PHOTOS WERE ALLOWED during the magic show — I was even busted when I tried to get a photo of the elephant walking down the aisle — but in lieu of that, watch now as I magically make this can of Coke... disappear.  That may seem pretty lame, but at least it didn’t involve any child molestation.

Next entry: The French Connection

Previous entry: Female Condomania

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Comments for “Martyrs and Magicians”

  • MORE TO COME… I hope to catch up to at least the beginning of Thailand before the WHMMR (Western Hemisphere’s Monday Morning Rush)...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/20  at  02:09 PM

  • LOL - the child molesting magician

    Posted by Liz  on  11/20  at  03:58 PM

  • Hey Erik,
    Glad to hear you safely made it to Thailand. I thoroughly enjoyed your very detailed, amusing, and accurate description of Jadugar. I’m back in Seattle now, and I must say, that despite the cold, it’s great to be home. Let me know what you think of Bangkok and the rest of Thailand! Hopefully you’ll get to the weekend market in Bangkok?
    Take care,

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/20  at  05:28 PM

  • I’ll remember not to see this magic show, while on our trip. I don’t want a Jombi-like magician playing with my sons fly.
    Mecca Lecca High Meca Hinny Ho

    Posted by HeatherB  on  11/20  at  05:54 PM

  • Wow! Please please please tell me how to do the Coke can trick!!! I won?t tell anyone, I PROMISE!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/20  at  08:58 PM

  • hey Erik. Inspired by your India accounts I went last saturday for a Bollywood movie at the old Colisseum theater in Kuala Lumpur’s Little India. Didnt work though, as I didn’t want to wait 3 hours for the next show.

    It was all fine when at the food court later on a “skol bunny” came to offer me the ‘new beer (!) on promotion…

    SO I won’t be around late january. Tentativelly I am booked to fly back home for good January 31st. I finish everything at the office just before christmas and I will travel for a while before heading back to KL, pick up my stuff and go be unemployed in Sao Paulo again.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  02:55 AM

  • AMANDA:  Hey there; glad you had a safe flight…  Keep in touch!  Next time you’re in Princeton, Halo Pub’s on me…

    Welcome aboard The Blog, enjoy and pass the word along!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  04:06 AM

  • HEATHERB:  Mecca Lecca High Mecca CHANNY Ho…

    Be careful not to say today’s secret word or those flowers on the window sill will go INSANE!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  04:15 AM

  • MICHELLE:  Magicians never tell!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  04:16 AM

  • LETS:  What movie did you see?

    BTW, do you happen to know a Carol from Sao Paolo?  (Brazlian born of Korean descent, to appear a coming entry.)

    Skol bunnies in KL?  I’m goin’...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  04:18 AM

  • Erik, I forgot what whas the movie on at the Colysseum last saturday. I didn’t see it anyway, I got there like 30 mins after the beginning of the session and the next one would be 3 hours later and would end up way too late for me to commute to my little suburb.
    The Colysseum is this very old theater, and there’s one screen only. Right by the Colysseum hotel and restaurant, which was built around 1922, and it has NEVER been restored ever since. It gives me the impression that the waiters are also from 1922. Seriously.
    Funny place to go for a drink, but I wouldn’t reccommend the food.

    So, I know many Carols in Sao Paulo. But none of them is of Korean descent…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  06:31 AM

  • That show sounds terrible. But think of the jokes that will keep you and Chrissy laughing for years.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  01:58 PM

  • You used the word HILLOCK - I love that. smile

    Magicians can be creepy or just plain weird.

    I’m seriously even more jealous now - so cold here in LA - yeah, like 42 at night… when I go home to Seattle in three weeks, I’m going to freeze my buns off! And you’re WARM - phooey!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  02:02 PM

  • I love the descriptions of the magic show.  Hillarious.  I can’t wait to read about Thailand/Chiang Mai since I’m going there in 3 weeks!  I want to go NOW.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  03:12 PM

  • speaking of “mr. herman, paging mr. herman”

    seasons 1-5 of peewee’s playhouse and the xmas special are now out on DVD!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/21  at  05:38 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Female Condomania


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