I remember it like it was yesterday. I was dressed in a stylish dhoti, adorned with a hand-crafted golden crown, armed with a puny yet beautiful bow and arrow – all making the complete package of Lord Ram. I cried so loud and threw enough of a banter to ensure I never climbed down from the arms of my loving Ajja (grandfather).
True! I was just over five years of age and in upper kindergarten, yet I do remember that occasion of fancy dress competition like it was yesterday. I also remember that not many got to see what I was wearing, since I never went on stage.
Then there was the time when I was in fifth standard. I used to host these "meetings" at home, with my cousins in attendance. We even had our own parliament! Each would play-act the role of a President, Vice President, Chairman, even an Army Chief; we would all give our long speeches, regaling in the pretend world of red-tapism.
So it seemed natural that I would don the guise of 'Chacha Nehru' for Children's Day celebrations at school, dressed in a cute white kurta-pajama, with a Nehru jacket, and a plastic rose to boot. My Ajja typed out this really nice two minute speech, that would have made Nehru proud.
There I was at the side of the stage, peering through the door, awaiting my turn to go on stage. The name was called; I walked up the steps (or perhaps I was pushed in?), went to the microphone, looked at the other kids that made an enormous audience, and made a bolt for my life!
God save the speech. I did not care about it anymore. Nor about Chacha Nehru.
Then there was the time when I was in ninth standard, around which time I was trying my hand at learning magic. Some good hearted soul in the classroom told the class-teacher, "Nakul knows magic"; and as may be expected, the teacher decided that it was the perfect act for the upcoming talent day.
So there I was a few days later, clutching a small bag with a couple of bulky magic props, praying fervently that they did not call my name. Well, God does exist I realised that day, for they did not call my name and I did not have to go on stage to make a fool of myself!
Yet, in less than two years, life would change to an extent I never thought was possible. I would suddenly take to the stage and make it my own – not just in college, but all over the town, district, state, and country! The stage shy boy had suddenly and rather inexplicably transformed into a stage person and the local celeb!
What was the magic that made all this possible, I too often wonder.
It was right around the age of five that I discovered a comic book "Mandrake The Magician" and allowed my life to be an extension of this imaginary character. I loved the fact that Mandrake could "gesture hypnotically" and make the most amazing magic happen: guns turned into bananas, army tanks into giant frogs, and people sunk neck deep into the earth – all with a mere wave of his hand!
Right about those days – where I ran around with a bath towel tied round the neck in lieu of a cape and a rolled-up newspaper for a top hat – I began to take an active interest in magic. My dad got me this children's kit (aptly called Learn Magic Kit) and I began play acting as a magician. And with that began my foray into magic.
Yet it took two of the best known magicians from Udupi to make me go on stage. The world-renowned Prof. Shankar and Junior Shankar visited my home one day and saw my feeble attempts at performing magic, gave me a few valuable tips, and promptly gave me my first public show.
There I was again, at age 15, my name on a hoarding, standing behind a curtain with about 500 people waiting expectantly on the other side of it – with nowhere to run. Yet, this time things would be different. For I had learnt the power of magic. No fear of stage or public speaking would now come between me and my audience.
I had heard that speakers mentally tell themselves that they are the topic experts; that those in the audience know nothing and are there only to be educated. This was the recommended trick to get over stage-fright and gain confidence in public speaking.
Yet here I was, suddenly in a unique situation when this was absolutely true! Only I, the magician, knew how the tricks worked and the rest of them were there to be amazed and entertained.
Before I knew it, my confidence was boosted to no bounds and all stage-fright wiped out. I found myself hosting quizzes, emceeing most college events... in fact getting on a stage with just a microphone in hand or not and have the audience eating right off my hands!
The only explanation I have to this phenomenon – a miracle even – is my learning the art and craft of magic; that I took to magic and somewhere aimed at being a real-life Mandrake. For if not for that, I would still be the stage shy, introverted boy I was most part of my early life.