Monday, August 07, 2006

Mind over magic

Permission to reprint this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Deepak Rao stuns audiences with his key bending and mind-reading skills
Shevlin Sebastian
Mumbai
Deepak Rao, 48, places the fork on the marble floor of his office at Mahim. He gets down on his haunches and stares hard at it. Then he stretches out his hands and placing it a few centimetres above the fork, he seems to be pushing the air. Incredibly, after a few seconds, the fork moves to one side, in a neat arc. As soon as the movement is over, Rao falls back, as if he is physically pushed and lets out a deep breath. A few minutes later, he composes himself, picks up the fork and holds it sideways, with a stretched arm. He moves it up and down in slow motion as he peers intently at the instrument.
Suddenly, in the middle of one such movement, the fork gets crumpled from the neck downwards. He shakes his head, blinks and takes deep breaths. He hands me the fork and it is bent. I am standing too close: there is no visible subterfuge. So, is Deepak Rao India’s answer to Uri Geller, the world famous psychic? Or is what he does “impossible”, as most people say when I describe what he has done.
“What I am doing is achieved through training,” he says. “There are no powers involved. It might look miraculous or supernatural, but I am just being extremely sharp, alert and observant. I just present shows, I charge a fee and I entertain people. That is all.”
Geller, 60, in an e-mail from his Blackberry, says, “I can’t comment [on Rao] because I have not seen the shows. Besides, I have moved away from spoon bending.”
Impressive skills
Meanwhile, Rao continues to impress. He calls his assistant Neha into the room. Then he asks photographer Santosh Harhare and me, to jot down our favourite single digit number next to each other on the back of a visiting card. As we do this, both of them stand facing the wall. When we finish writing the number, he asks us to place it face down on the table. He turns, sits down on a chair and says, “I need two minds to do this. I want you both to look into my eyes and honestly tell me the number through your mind.”
Both of us do so. He closes his eyes and wrinkles of concentration appear on his forehead. For a few seconds, there is a silence, punctuated now and then by the irregular hum of the air-conditioner. Finally, he says, “Neha, receive my thoughts.” She is still standing, with a pencil poised over another visiting card. “Write the first digit now, (Neha notes it down) and here is the second digit,” he says.
She writes the number and places the card on the table. It is right: 79. When I prod him to explain how it is done, he is unwilling.
In my two and a half hour conversation, it is this hesitation to explain his skills that made me feel that something is not right. In the end, he is honest enough to say, “It is a trade secret and I don’t want to reveal it.”
Busy as a bee
This former advertising professional is having a highly successful career of doing one-hour entertainment programmes, apart from mind opening training sessions, for corporate clients like Hewlett Packard, ICICI Bank, Aditya Birla Group, Nicholas Piramal, Standard Chartered, Hindustan Lever, Jet Airways, etc. He shows me several circled dates, on a table calendar, which are bookings for shows, for the month of August. He does around 80 to 100 shows a year, most of them in India but, sometimes, he travels to Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, Europe and America.
So what exactly happens during these shows?
At one of his shows at a hotel in the city, for a corporate company, he is able to effortlessly hold the audience in his grip by bending a borrowed key, figuring out the name of a personality written on a folded slip of paper, and a ‘premonitions’ segment, which is stunning in its accuracy. The show is punctuated by clapping and sighs and cries of “Wow!” In other shows, he says, he also does telepathy, telekinesis, levitation and use of intuition.
The objective view
So what do others think of him? Narayan Gad, CEO of Panacea Biotec, who had invited Rao to do a show for the firm, says, “Rao is India’s equivalent of Uri Geller,” he says. “In India, I have not met anyone else who can do extra-sensory perception.”
Gad says there is nothing fraudulent in the bending of a key. “It is called focusing on the transfer of energy, like Sai Baba does,” he says. “Or, in other words, making the inanimate respond to a mental command.”
Says Joyita Bandopadhyay, who had seen an earlier show: “I am sure he has extra sensory perception. In other words, he has a genuine skill.”
But, there are the predictable stone throwers. Sanal Edamaruku, President, Indian Rationalist Association, says Rao’s claim that he can bend keys or forks with mental power is nothing more than a hoax. “Our people are gullible and sleight of hand tricks are not seen by them,” he says. “I challenge Rao to show his feat in fraud-proof conditions. He should allow our experts to verify the keys or fork beforehand.”
But Rao is not taking the charges lying down. “Any rationalist who makes comments on me, without seeing my shows, is hasty in his comments, brashly outspoken and absolutely irrational," he says. “My audiences are an intelligent breed and not village bumpkins or fools to be gullible.
“If I do bend objects, it is by using my mind.... not mind power. It is my ability and my technique.... I do not like to use the word 'Power'. In fact, I am more of a rationalist and those who know me will endorse the same.”
Rao goes on to say nobody has accused him of cheating people or extracting money. He says he is a recognised corporate trainer and entertainer with over 100 blue chip corporate clients, who “book me repeatedly, all across the globe.”
This global entertainer has an intense personality and yet there lurks within him a sense of humour. At the show I attended, he spoke about the problem of communications when he goes abroad. In Singapore, he called three women up on to the stage, and asked them to write a single digit number on a white card. “The first woman wrote her mobile number, and when the second woman saw that, she wrote her telephone number and…” he pauses, gives a naughty grin, and finishes with a flourish, “the third woman gave me her room number.”

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