Mind over matter — magic or just tricks, you decide

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Mind over matter — magic or just tricks, you decide
The next prime minister of the country better requisition the services of Nicolai Friedrich quick! Although if the PM is Narendra Modi, it may appear odd for an ultra nationalistic leader to have a good looking young German in his delegation. But how useful would Friedrich be! Accompanying the prime minister to a summit meeting with the Pakistani PM, he would instantly read the opposite side’s mind, and pass on a chit to our side saying. “He’s saying this, but he really means this….”

Friedrich is a mentalist, the word coined by the legendary Israeli Uri Geller, who astounded the world 50 years ago by bending forks and spoons just by looking at them, and sending various pieces of cutlery scurrying around the table of their own accord. This column had mentioned the exploits of Lior Suchard, who came to Mumbai and gave an astonishing Geller-like performance a while ago.

Friedrich, brought to India by Ashvin Gidwani Productions and whose performance I caught at the Sofitel hotel, stands alone on the stage with none of the magician’s props and no female assistant in a bunny costume. He doesn’t need them because all he needs to use is his mind. For example, he called for a volunteer — anyone who had a photograph of a person in his/her wallet. A girl went up on stage. “You have a photograph of a young man with straight black hair and … (here he gave a description of the young man’s looks). And, yes, his name is Vishal. And yes, he is a Virgo. I will now give you the date of his birth. It’s 17th September, right? “He was right.” Do you mind if I give the year of his birth?” He got that right too.

Then he called up another volunteer, a journalist I know. “Think of a number between 30 to 100, but don’t tell me,” Nicolai Friedrich said to him. While he said this, the mentalist was furiously scribbling across a large sheet of paper, words or lines we couldn’t see. “Have you thought of a number?” Yes, said the journalist. “The number is 87,” Friedrich said. It was. He then turned the sheet of paper so it faced us. It was filled with numbers. “Add the numbers in each row,” he told us. Each row added up to 87. “Now add the columns.” Each column added up to 87. “Now add the diagonals …..” Not only had he got the number right, he had woven a whole grid of numbers around it in advance.

There were so many other astonishing feats like this that they are a blur to me (I am obviously not a mentalist). The two I remember came at the end, one climactic act following another. In the first, he placed a small, transparent glass box at the centre of the stage. “I have six keys,” Friedrich said, “But only one will open the box.” He then went around the room distributing the keys. The recipients came to the stage one by one; the first four failed to open the box. The fifth was a young woman —her key worked instantly. What’s inside the box, she was asked. “A piece of paper,” she said. “Would you read out what’s on the paper?” The paper said, “This box will be opened by a young woman with a pretty smile and straight black hair. She will be wearing a dark blue dress with a white stripe down the middle, black shoes with small heels and a blue clip in her hair.” The description matched exactly. Was she a plant? Faced by the inexplicable, we resort to cynicism.

I know the next volunteer wasn’t a plant because she is my infinitely better half. On the stage on an artist’s easel, was a giant jig-saw puzzle of Mona Lisa. It had one large piece missing — a part of her famous enigmatic smile. “Here is a bag with a thousand jig-saw pieces,” Friedrich said, producing a large, transparent plastic bag. Another volunteer was asked to pick up pieces, none of which fitted, thus establishing that all the pieces in the bag were dissimilar. “OK lady,” he said to Amy, “It’s your turn now. Please pick up that one important price.” It fitted perfectly. That’s not even mind reading. It’s magic of a kind that’s beyond our comprehension.

So how does he do it? The mental games were of an order I can’t even begin to fathom. Perhaps one of you has an insight?

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