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The Indian Rope Trick
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The Indian Rope Trick
Elegant cruise liner passengers are entertained by an enigmatic Indian mystic. One passenger determines to discover the secret of how it's done ...
[1,201 words]
Nyman Perkins
Nyman Perkins is a citizen of the world whose ambition is to escape from the large black dog.
[February 2006]
[email protected]
The Indian Rope Trick
Nyman Perkins

It was the golden age of ocean travel. The White Star Line’s elegant ocean liners represented the ultimate maritime achievement and the quintessence of Edwardian style. The MV Calypso was a floating city that never sleeps, and it was not to be caught napping. Whatever time of the day or night, if a passenger ordered oysters they would be delivered, on ice, garnished with lemon and a little caviar within minutes. If a companion ordered rare Chateaubriand, Lobster Thermidor, Anguilles à la Grècque, the whole order would be freshly prepared, delivered with a smile, and served on immaculate white linen and china. The passengers of the White Star Line were not accustomed to being refused anything.

Amami Mhabarat Thapik had no interest in such extravagance. His was a simple existence spent travelling, meditating and accepting such hospitality as he was offered. He had lived a long life unencumbered by wife or authority and he travelled now towards Uttar Pradesh to end it in the same way. When the ship docked at the Diamond Harbour he would follow the course of the Ganges up into the mountains, lay himself down and die as he had lived; on his own terms.

The Captain had been happy to have him on board. He ate frugally, had refused even the most basic crew cabin and chanted convincing daily prayers for fine weather and smooth passage. A blanket, his grubby robe and a mysterious wicker basket were his only possessions. Besides, he provided diverting local colour to jaded passengers and gave a nightly performance of a most intriguing spectacle.

Cross-legged now on the thin blanket, eyes closed, skin reflecting the pale glow from the phosphorescent Indian Ocean, the Amami Mhabarat sat immobile as two young men in evening dress approached from the first class staterooms.

“He’s asleep, Cavendish.”

“No, he’s not, he’s sitting up.”

“Maybe we should leave him alone. We could see him tomorrow.”

“Certainly not! I said I would prove he is a fraud and I shall. A gentleman never goes back on his word, Garth.”

“Go on, then.”

“Right, just as soon as I’ve found a lucifer for this rather fine cheroot.”

The Amami Mhabarat, eyes still closed, reached out a hand. A match ignited spontaneously in his fingers. Cavendish lit his cigar and knelt painfully on the deck.

“I say, we’ve seen your trick and we think it’s jolly clever. We’d like to know how it’s done.”

The Amami made no response.

“Come on, old man, we were there tonight, we saw you climb that rope, and then disappear! It’s jolly clever, but we’d like you to tell us what’s the trick of it.”

The Amami opened one eye. “Some things are better left unknown.” he said.

“Look, I have money. I can give you a hundred pounds if you’ll tell me how it’s done.” Cavendish waved a leather wallet under the Amami’s nose.

“Put your money away. There is no trick.”

“You had better show me, old man, or I shall tell my uncle – the Captain – that I saw you fill your basket there with silver from the dining room.” Cavendish’s companion, Garth, began to look uneasy, but Cavendish was not to be dissuaded. He took a penknife from his waistcoat pocket and held it to the old man’s throat. His voice was low and his eyes sparkled with menace, as he hissed. “Show us the trick.”

“Put the knife away. If you insist, I will show you.”

“That’s better.” Cavendish wore a smug grin as he straightened up.

The Amami closed his eyes again. “Come to the performance tomorrow evening.” he said “You will be my assistant.”

There was, as always, an air of expectation around the stage the following evening. Cavendish and Garth made sure they had front row seats. They had no intention of letting the old man go back on his promise. Most of the passengers had seen the trick before, some many times. It was a fine spectacle and not one of them could see how it could possibly be done.

A hush settled as the curtain rose and the Amami stood in a spotlight. The baggy robe gaped as he moved to the front of the small stage and made a deep bow. Diamonds and rubies sparkled as society ladies whispered and giggled behind their hands.

Seated on a purple cushion the Amami took out a thin silver pipe and began to play. The tune was hypnotic and the air grew heavy as sensuous notes flowed from the pipe to hang in the air like wisps of smoke. Slowly, very slowly, the lid of the wicker basket began to raise. It moved and toppled as a rope climbed towards the ceiling, twirling sinuously to the melodic rhythm as though it were a thin snake. The audience barely breathed as they watched the Amami stand and tug on the rope, which now hovered, one end near the ceiling and the other still hidden within the basket.

At this point he would ordinarily begin to climb the rope. Cavendish and Garth had seen him do it with their own eyes, but what made the trick the more sensational was what happened when he reached the top. You could not say how or precisely when, but everyone had seen the Amami reach the top of the rope and just disappear.

Instead of climbing, after a couple of tugs on the rope the Amami beckoned Cavendish forward. As Cavendish gripped the rope the Amami stood back and once again made a deep bow. Slowly, his heart beating rapidly in his chest, Cavendish climbed the rope. When he looked ahead, all he saw was a vague mist which he reached and climbed through. At last he was going to discover the trick of it for himself.

After what seemed to be a very long climb his head broke through the mist. He whistled as he looked around him. He was no longer in the small theatre of the MV Calypso; all around him was mile after mile of scrubby red sandhills, low-lying shrubs and brilliant blue sky.

He left the rope and stood perspiring and squinting in the bright sunlight. Well, here was a trick, indeed! He laughed out loud as he planned to go back down the rope and steal the basket and the pipe from the old man - imagine the reaction at the society parties back in London, when he performed the trick there. What a blast!

Cavendish removed his dinner jacket and loosened his tie. After a while the Amami’s head appeared through the hole followed by his scrawny be-robed body. He pulled himself up and looked round at Cavendish.

“So, you have your wish.” he said.

Cavendish was lighting another cheroot. “This is fabulous!”

“I am pleased you are satisfied.” said the Amami. “Goodbye.”

A sandstorm blew up around the old man and the hole.

“Hey!” called Cavendish “What’s going on? Hey!” The Amami was barely visible now within the rapidly swirling sands, but his calm gaze remained on Cavendish as he spoke again for the last time.

“It seems to me that although you are satisfied with the trick you have learned, the trick you really needed is not the one for disappearing, but the one for coming back!”

And with that the sandstorm, the hole and the Amami were gone.



"I enjoyed the story. I knew how it was done. But that's another story. Suggest a further edit. Condiser the 'hook' for the story.It is an important aspect. I looked a little way down your work and found this: “Certainly not! I said I would prove he is a fraud and I shall. A gentleman never goes back on his word, Garth.” It is a good place to start our story. Then follow on with your explaination. Add more feeling into the plot; make the reader imagine they are actually there. Thank you for the mention of Diamond harbour;memories there." -- Cleveland W. Gibson, England.


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© 2004 Nyman Perkins
February 2006

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