Spreading public awareness - with a magical twist
By Anurag Dey, Zahirabad (Andhra Pradesh), March 22 : He stands at just four feet, but can make a full-grown man disappear. The tricks of 57-year-old magician Sayeed Nannu are not just enchanting; they come with messages that spread awareness among the masses about various government schemes.
His effortless way of enlightening the masses, especially children, has made Nannu an integral part of the union government-organised public information campaigns (PICs). He trots the districts across Andhra Pradesh disseminating useful information while keeping his audiences spell-bound.
Born to a large and impoverished family, Nannu never got a chance to go to school and had to wear the magician's hat - his familial profession - at an early age.
"Without education life is like an unending dark night. I did not want other children to suffer my fate; so during my shows I made it a point to emphasise on the need for education," said Nannu, who has long suffered from kyphosis - a curving of the spine which leads to a hunchback or slouching posture.
His popularity as a magician in the rural parts of the state coupled with his unique knack of spreading awareness, led the authorities to rope him in for the PICs which use cultural programmes to draw in the rural crowd and disseminate information on government's welfare schemes and projects.
Nannu has travelled the length and breadth of the state, educating people about the importance of education, family planning, health and hygiene, among others, while pedalling his trade.
While he teaches young men and women about the importance of having a small family, the magician sheepishly admits he has a large family with seven children.
"Nobody taught me about family planning and the sufferers are me and my family. I could neither educate them nor feed them properly. Do not repeat the mistake I made. A small family is a happy family," he tells his audiences.
Appreciating Nannu's contribution, T.V.K. Reddy, who heads the Hyderabad unit of the Press Information Bureau, said: "He has been a big asset, helping us in educating people.
"When he does a trick showing water flowing out from his ears, he tells the audience about the importance of drinking filtered water as well as water conservation and the message stays with the audience," said Reddy.
Nannu, who learnt magic from his father during his adolescence, has mastered many a trick, but his favourite is 'Anekta Me Ekta' (Unity in Diversity) wherein he makes different coloured ribbons turn into the national tricolor just with a snap of his fingers.
"I wish I was a real magician. Then I would have done away with all the differences we have in the name of religion, caste and region," he said after yet another hit show, this time at the Zaheerabad PIC in Medak district.
Nannu has a big regret - that he was not "allowed" to be a Hindi film star.
"During the shooting for the Hindi movie 'Mandi', there was a scene in which Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri were watching one of my road magic shows. I had displayed my best tricks and put on my best clothes. But later I learnt the scene was deleted. They prevented me from becoming a movie star," said Nannu with a chuckle.
Though Nannu might not be a movie star, he has a prized possession which he never fails to display during his shows - an autographed picture with the lead stars of the 1983 Shyam Benegal-directed movie.
"Both Om Puri and Naseer Bhai were impressed with my performance. I always carry this photograph," said Nannu, proudly displaying an image which has the diminutive magician in the middle of the two tall icons of the Hindi film industry.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at email@example.com)