Though a magician's hands must move faster than your eyes, unanswered fan mail from all over the world has been stacking up in PC Sorcar Junior's Kolkata residence. It's not age so much as life that has been causing 74-year-old Prodip Chandra Sorcar to postpone replying to the fans he calls his "creators". Sharing space with this mountain of correspondence is a mountain of his personal collection--comprising everything from letters from Indira Gandhi to a box full of love letters from swooning Japanese women he doesn't know. Deep within this mountain, is an autograph book bearing his father's first signature to him when he was eight. Some day, he will search for it and find it. In the meantime, the magician ferrets out memories of the times he held a pen instead of a wand
What's your earliest memory of seeking an autograph?
The earliest collection of mine was of my father, P C Sorcar. Since my childhood, I used to think that I have two fathers. One is Baba (in Bengali) and the other one is P C Sorcar. They both were so different. Baba at home was so stiff and full of dos and don'ts. And the other one was P C Sorcar was always smiling onstage, not scolding anyone and shaking hands with children. I loved that father of mine more.
So when I was presented with an autograph book in 1954, I extended the book in front of my father. He flashed me a special look, smiled and wrote in two languages. First he wrote in Bengali: "Manush ho" ("Be a total man"). Then, he wrote in English: With Blessings. And then he wrote 'With best wishes' in English. And then he wrote P C Sorcar and wrote in brackets in Bengali, 'Baba.' It was like poetry.
I still have that book. It is somewhere under the mountain of memorabilia that I have accumulated in my house. I'm sure the gem is buried there. I will find it if I look for it.
Which are your other prized autographs?
After my father's autograph, other autographs lost their importance. Once an international makeup artist named Carol Wallace had come to Calcutta. He met my father. They were good friends. He gave an ad in the paper that he would be walking alone from The Grand hotel to a certain place on a given day and anybody who can catch him would get a thousand rupees. I don't think he came out of the hotel. People chased many unsuspecting women thinking it was the artist in the guise of a she.
I never cared for politicians so much so I don't have their autographs but in later years, I would write a lot of letters to Mrs Indira Gandhi. I also got a lot of letters from her. Although this is not a part of my autograph collection, it is a prized possession. In the early 1960s, when she had come to West Bengal, some political parties threw stones at her. I was there and I wanted to listen to her speech. I found all the cops running away from the spot, leaving her alone. I stood like a barrier in front of her and the stones. "Please get aside," she said but I refused to budge. She asked me to hand her the microphone that had fallen on the ground. I picked it up, gave it to her and when she started speaking, the rain of stones immediately stopped. The crowd turned peaceful within minutes. It was the first instance of real magic I ever saw.
I don't know what she said but I believe it was "Shabd Brahma"--the vibrations of the words are more important than their dictionary meaning. It was the vibration that came from those words that turned the rowdy mob around. They all kept quiet.The mob has got no character, it is the leader who leads them. I came back home and wept because it was not the Bengal I knew.
I wrote her a letter without knowing her address and without giving mine. I said in the letter: "As a Bengali, I am feeling sorry. Please excuse us." She somehow found my address and replied. Later, I realised that she was curious about the young lad who had come forward to protect her. Since she had photos of the event, she got to know that it is P C Sorcar Junior. And she began the letter saying: "My dear Pradeep Sorcar...."
When was the first time you gave an autograph?
(laughs) As a kid, I used to copy my father. Once, I slid into his room and started mimicking him. I imagined people around me and that I had just finished my show and people were chasing me for autographs. So I gave my first autograph mentally.
Interesting. And when did that dream come true?
When I was doing a show in Japan. Someone approached me for an autograph. I wrote my name in Japanese. Since the language does not have the letter 'r', I have to write my surname as 'Soca' which, in Japanese, means "Is this true?" It is so apt for a magician. (laughs)
I had learnt Japanese when I used to accompany my father, not as his son, but as an assistant who would unload trucks and settle the auditorium. I was 18 years old then and there were other Japanese students who used to do such jobs for extra money. They taught me colloquial Japanese when our friendship grew. They also taught me that Japanese had three types of scripts and has a shared history with Tamil. They told me that, many centuries ago, Dravidian gurus had given Japanese monks those letters. I would tell them about Kalidas or Tagore and they would tell me about their great poets and introduce me to short poems and haikus. Since I wanted to be a public entertainer, I knew language was important. It is a weapon that penetrates.
My father, who had a contract with the Japanese organisers for doing 60 plus shows, died after the 5th show. To keep my father's promise, I stepped in and fulfilled the contract. Japan still remembers those shows. In fact, on my suhaag raat, I opened a box full of 10,000 love letters from Japanese women as old as me, in front of my wife. She said: "You should have told me earlier. I would've burnt them." I still have the box.
Have you had strange encounters with fans?
I don't call them fans. I call them friends or my creators as they made me what I am today. Japanese fans would come to my shows in India to meet me but the security guards would stop them, which I did not like. Sometimes, when my daughters come and tell me that someone climbed up in to their balcony and that they had to get protection, I tell them "history loves repetition".
So, fans have climbed up to your balcony?
Yes. I call them friends. Fan is not a good word. Besides, fans have regulators.
How did you manage these friends?
That's too personal.
Do you still get fan mail?
Yes. I try to be regular in replying but one day for me, is equivalent to six months for them. I am that busy. I am reminded of a time in Tanzania, when I was out shopping with my family. When I brought the money out of my pocket to pay, the beautiful girl at the cash counter said she did not have change to pay me the balance. I told her to leave it. "How can I forget it? I've got a chance to pay you," she said and, quicker than a magician's hands move, she planted a big kiss on my cheek, in front of my daughter and wife. "Come on, don't steal my husband," my wife said. You know what the girl said? "I have stolen your husband's shadow."
So, she knew who you were?
Yes. Because in that same store, a carpenter was chiselling a statue. Impressed with how engrossed he was and how meticulously he was chipping away at the piece of hard ebony wood, I approached him with my camera and asked whether I could take a photo of him at work. He asked me why. I said I was impressed with the product he was creating. He said, "You just want to show how dirty, ugly and primitive we are." He then asked me if I was a tourist. I said everyone is a tourist. He told me I sound like a philosopher. I told him I was interested in buying the product. He quoted a price that was too high and gave me three reasons for overcharging: It is made of ebony, it is made in Tanzania and it is not made in China.
He asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a magician. I still can't believe what he said next: "So, you want to become PC Sorcar?"
I told him I was P C Sorcar. He didn't believe me. Then when I started smiling, he started to believe me. He told me 20 years ago, PC Sorcar had performed in Nairobi's City Hall and that he would go daily to watch him. "Please smile again," he said to me. "It has to come naturally," I said, smiling. He embraced me and said that my smile told him that I was P C SOrcar. I paid him in full for the figure. He is of the Masai tribe and still writes me letters to this day. Isn't that wonderful? I love Africa.
Autograph from the collection of Mr. Anmol Jain.
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