Controversial Baba Bageshwar’s claims of having a supernatural gift from god to peek into your mind, has compelled mentalists to come out and set the record straight
Mentalist Naman Anand played a variety of tricks with the writers of Sunday mid-day, including guessing the numbers on a dice. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
As a child, this writer remembers attending a magic show, where her then five-year-old brother was called upon by a magician, and made to drink half a glass of water and pee on stage. While the audience had a good laugh, he was shocked—his pants weren’t wet. Almost 25 years later, another magician, a mentalist to be precise, played tricks with writers of Sunday mid-day—from guessing the numbers on a dice to accurately telling us about our childhood crush. But it was his last trick, also his signature one, which blew our minds. He made this writer call two of her colleagues at the same time without even touching her phone.
“Mentalism is a branch of magic, which revolves only around the mind. It is a combination of behavioural psychology, neuro-linguistic programming and body language,” says the mentalist and Lokhandwala resident Naman Anand, 25, leading us into his tricks. Anand was eight years old when he started performing magic. By age 17, he had already gravitated towards the nuanced art of mentalism.
Akshay Singh and Suhani Shah
The performing art has been at the centre of controversy ever since “mind reader” Dhirendra Krishna Shastri aka Baba Bageshwar, head priest of Bageshwar Dham temple, Madhya Pradesh, claimed that his talent was a gift from god. “I am against using the art of magic in a fashion that encourages superstitious beliefs,” says Powai-based Suhani Shah, 32, a mentalist, who was on television for a good part of last month decoding what Baba Bageshwar exactly does and how it is anything but supernatural.
In India, magic is seen as a form of wonder whereas it is an art form, notes Shah, adding that people are surprised and see her as a godwoman when she tells them what they have been thinking or guesses their ATM number. “[But] I don’t read minds and only give an illusion of reading it. The art is a mixture of studies like NLP, body language, eye pattern movement, micro-expressions, logic, linguistic deception and more. This combined with great showmanship makes for a good mentalist,” says Shah, who has been travelling from one city to another for work since she was seven.
Andheri-based psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Syeda Ruksheda, says the science of the mind is a serious study in medicine, and even otherwise. “As a psychiatrist, what I am doing is observing—how you react to a question, did you hesitate or dart a look at someone or move in your chair, and on the basis of this observation, I formulate my follow up questions.”
Not every magician feels illusion can be relegated to art alone. Paranormal illusionist Akshay Singh, 25, incorporates mentalism, magic, hypnosis, and spiritual stories associated with Indian culture to replicate supernatural phenomena. While he doesn’t claim to have any supernatural powers, he says that there are some people “who can use the power of yoga to do things that I only replicate”. “These people, however, don’t make a song and dance about their powers. They are yogis who prefer staying far from publicity, aware that their power can be used and abused by people,” says Singh.
Whether people believe in mind readers or not, there is a huge market for it, says Xerxes Antia, co-founder and chief operating officer, Seventy Event Media Group. “Mentalism is most sought after for corporate events,” he says, adding, that everyone loves and enjoys a good trick.