Just over two weeks ago, I led a discussion for PhD students and professors at Tata Institute’s Homi Bhaba Center for Science Education. The topic was science and magic. Through my years of performing magic, I have found that more often than not, scientists have difficulty accepting magic. They ask too many questions. Magic is an art rooted in secrets. Yet, as a student of science and future physician, I have been taught to question how the world works. Do these two worlds clash? I was invited for this discussion by the sister of my friend and former Gonzaga professor, Dr. Haydock. His sister, also Dr. Haydock, has taught PhD students at this prestigious Mumbai institute for many years. While we did not necessarily reach any conclusions, I performed some magic and we shared our perspectives for over 2 hours. I came away from the discussion thinking this: Science affords us with an informed understanding of how the world works. Magic extends our preconceived notions of the limitations that exist within our reality. Therefore, as scientists, I believe that magic invites us to ask new questions and to look at the world with a refreshed perspective. Although I did not have the nerve to say this during the discussion, I also believe it is crucial to recognize that science has its limits and some details are better left to Mother Nature and the universe. I do not think that our cognitive conscience is capable of thoroughly understanding the complexity of every detail in our world – much of what we once believed to be true has now been disproven and this will continue to be the case. Thus, I think the question can bring us to a point of balance that teaches us when it is appropriate to question and when it is wisest to accept and embrace.
Meet my new host family: Dhananjay, Jaya, and Mummy (Dhananjay’s mother). I am thoroughly enjoying my time with them in their beautiful home. Dhananjay worked selling calcium carbonate to pharmaceutical companies and he now volunteers full time (6, sometimes 7 days a week) as director of Our Children. He is a dedicated servant leader. Jaya is a retired school teacher and a very attentive grandmother to her son’s two daughters who live just outside of Boston. Mummy is amazing and I really enjoy her company – she reminds me of my wonderful 98 year old grandmother at home. They both are incredibly sweet and joyful.
It was wonderful having Tom in Mumbai for the last two weeks. He added an important burst of energy to our program so that I can make the most of this home stretch and wind down my 3 month stint with a bang. Tom is a dear friend, a mentor, and a source of inspiration to me and many others. I am grateful for the work we do together and look forward to the adventures and learning that lie ahead. We are currently in communication with Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the United States. I am hoping to launch an MWB chapter teaching magic to some of their homeboys and homegirls. Learning magic fits with Homeboy’s goal of teaching important soft skills for employment and I think teaching magic to them once a month will help me keep my head clear in the midst of medical school in Los Angeles.
During Tom’s visit:
We attended Our Children’s annual May 1st Children’s Meet which takes place in what was once Asia’s largest theatre. Our Children brings 2,200 children from different institutions and orphanages to participate in a dance competition. They have professional judges select three winners, but really everyone wins. It is a chance for children to expand their small worlds and meet children from other institutions. Each child receives a generous gift bag with items ranging from personal hygiene supplies to snacks and toys. Tom always makes a priority of attending this event and I was thoroughly impressed by the dances and Our Children’s dedication to put on such an event for over 30 consecutive years. They even provide roundtrip transportation for all 2,200 children.
Tom and I recently returned from a 6 day intensive magic camp at the beach with ten of our 14 magic students from Prerana. Each day involved about 14 hours of being ‘on duty.’ Not only were we teaching magic, but we were constantly playing psychologist evaluating and discussing the personal issues of each girl and how we can best support them in a sensitive and intentional manner. I was very grateful to have Preeti Iyer’s presence at the camp as she is one of the directors at Prerana. I don’t know how we could have managed without her insights, support, and translating. At the camp, our students performed 7 magic shows for different institutions brought to the camp by Our Children. The camp was a beautiful collaboration between Magicians Without Borders, Prerana, and Our Children. Our magic students made immense progress at the camp – I feel they transformed into well polished performers, they learned four wonderful new magic routines, and many girls are close to mastering juggling. Additionally, all 3 of the magicians whom I have networked with came to the camp and taught at different times throughout the week.
As I wind into my final stretch in India, the dots are becoming more connected. Priyanka, one of our veteran magic students has assumed the role of group leader. After I leave, she will be responsible for teaching and reviewing previously learned magic with our students each week. She will send us monthly progress reports and we will give her a small savings stipend to do this. My magician friend, Tarun, has agreed to meet with the girls once a month to teach them new material, focusing on magic with ordinary objects. My other magician friend, Peter, will also be teaching a session about once every month. The logistics are complicated in Mumbai and the girls stay about 1.5 hours outside of the city. It is incredible that we have these two dedicated magicians to help us with our mission of entertaining, educating, and empowering the forgotten children of the world.
Tom is enthusiastic about expanding our program in India. I will be meeting with the directors of a boy’s orphanage, DNC Surar, where we performed at during Tom’s visit. We will discuss the possibility of teaching magic to about 10 of their boys. It is an incredible institution and their boys are bright, well cared for, and enthusiastic. Before I leave, I will likely be meeting with the Cultural Affairs Officer at the Embassy to explore how we can collaborate as we have done with the embassies in El Salvador and Colombia. On Sunday, we performed for Caring Friends supporters and are looking forward to visiting and performing for more of their rural NGO’s as I did in Agra, Delhi, and Kashmir. At that presentation, we were fortunate to have our students, Kavita and Priyanka, perform with us. This was a new audience for them as it was comprised of highly educated professionals. Kavita and Priyanka performed and spoke with such poise and confidence that our Caring Friends collaborators were thoroughly inspired and awed. I am proud of the wonderful young women these girls have become and I am grateful that I have been able to learn magic with them over the past few months.
It’s the home stretch. My life is on the verge of a major transition. In one month I will be seated in my first medical school class during the summer sciences program. As I reflect on the period of discernment that led me to decide on this 2 year gap before medical school, I remember how risky it felt at the time. I decided to trust my inner knowing. What has happened during these last two years is far more than the realization of a dream; it is the actualization of when preparation meets opportunity cultivated by the simple three letter word: “yes.” There are certain aspects of life that science cannot explain. The series of events that have led me to where I am now are no exception. The wisdom of a four hundred year old tree may extend far beyond our understanding of its existence. I have learned to trust my intuition and many times that intuition contradicts the most logical course of action. Life is short; and at times, logic can hinder the limitless possibilities that exist. I dare you to say yes.