Life is unfolding like magic for Dr Abracadabra
SEETA PERSAD Sunday, June 18 2006
When he was just twelve years old, a Spanish lady performed magic in the village of Debe (south Trinidad). He became a voluntary assistant to her and she taught him the first trick, ie, the stick with the ring and cloth.
Celebrated magician, Dr Abracadabra whose real name is Deoraj Seunarine was born in 1929, grew up in Debe, lived at St James and went to school in Port-of-Spain. Presently he lives at Marabella. Recently, the local magician joined with world class act of “The Pendragons,” at the Centre of Excellence for several breath taking stints before a packed audience. Together with his wife Chandra Seunarine, Dr Abracadabra performed in several countries including the Caribbean islands, United States, Venezuela, England, India, Germany and Italy. The couple performed on several cruise ships including “Serenade of the Seas” to Alaska for many months. In 2003 he received the National Award, named “The Medal of Merit” from the state. Prior to this he received several other awards including one from the Trinidad and Tobago Magic Circle in 1967.
Right here in TT, it is common to see this couple performing at many functions from birthday parties to yagnas (Hindus prayer meetings). Apart from magic, Dr Abracadabra is also a well known ventriloquist, comedian, cultural activist and actor.
According to writer Ashram B Maharaj of central, Dr Abracadabra remains one of the first East Indian to attempt magic in TT.
In recalling his youthful days at the Debe Presbyterian School, he noted that magician Woolly Wong did a most inspiring performancefor him. As a teenager he saw an American woman known as Cleopatra perform at the Gaiety Cinema in San Fernando. Watching these performances whet his appetite to learn more about magic. It took three years in research and practise before he came out as a magician.
His first show was held at the Hummingbird Cinema at Debe in 1945. He was just 16 years old at the time and he received enormous applause from the crowds. “I could still remember even today just how the first crowds reacted to my magic. This response really inspired me to learn more and to cointue practising,” he said. Shortly after this stint he performed at a birthday party in Marabella, and received his first payment of $4.
Through the years he dabbled in writing and drama and acted in several plays including the Indian production of, Shakuntala and Krishna Leela. Later he won Best Actor Award for his role in Shakuntala.
He is largely self-taught since he never really had any formal training. Just how did he learn so much magic? He answers, “W hat really happened is, I saw an advertisement for magic apparatus. I subscribed with my twenty dollars and got my package. I also borrowed and read lots of books on magic at the Carnegie Library at San Fernando. For a while I worked as an assistant with another English magician known as Magee (Arthur Lucien de la Pernelle).”
Dr Abracadabra is among the early pioneers of the art of magic in TT. He is a former school principal and presently a Commissioner of Affidavits. He comes from a family of five boys an four girls. His paternal grandfather came from Uttar Pradesh in the 1880's as an indentured labourer and worked at the Phoenix Park Estate, California. Dr Abracadabra and wife Chandra has two sons, Visham and Vimal. The entire family is involved in the art of magic. Chandra herself is a magician in her own rights and is probably the only known female magician in Trinidad. Dr Abracadabra grew up in Debe and went to school at Debe Presbyterian. He then attended Malvern High School where the late Pat Chokolingo was the principal. After secondary education, he did several odd jobs including insurance salesman and law clerk. Eventually, he got into the teaching profession and attended the Naparima Teachers Training College. he has taught at many institutions including Mohess Road, Clarke Road, Suchit Trace, Woodland, Happy Hill and Guaracara Hindu School.
Among the many people who influenced him was the late Pandit Jankie Persad Sharma, who taught him Hindi. Persons such as R S Brahmadath, George Seepaul, Pat Chokolingo and Lionel F Seukeran all played major roles in his life.
Back in the 60s there was a group called, Trinidad and Tobago Magic Circle. The Governor General was the patron. He joined this group as well as another known as Brotherhood of Magicians (USA). In these groups, one got the opportunity to trade tricks with other magicians. Locally, Mahjee, a guy that he trained and gave initial lessons is now known as Hugo del Rio. Hugo is now practising magic in many countries of the world. Among the international magicians that Abracadabra shared the stage with are, The Pendragons, Cleopatra, David Copperfield, Houdini and “Penn the Teller.”
He recalled the time when he was credited for raising the dead. “ It was in the 1960s at the Woodland Hindu School. This is probably one of the most embarrassing things that happened to me in show business that actually worked as an advantage. There was a fund-raiser bazaar and the organisers wanted to attract the largest number of people. One of the persons responsible for publicity printed fliers which read ‘Dr Abracadabra is going to raise the dead!’ Of course this was without my knowledge. When I saw this I became furious and confronted him. However, the damage was already done so good practical sense set one thinking about creating an illusion that would take care of the claim. I came up with a plan and borrowed a casket. I had to get someone to lie in the casket which proved to be a problem. Finally, I convinced a female friend from Port-of-Spain and with special make-up made her appear dead. The casket was housed in a room with one exit and entrance. Candles were placed so that the shadow fell across her chest so that her breathing could not be perceived. I must admit she acted and looked like a corpse. When the time came people were charged one dollar admission.
“I started my procedure by demanding complete silence. ‘Open thine eyes, you who have been deceased — for three days. After some incantations, slowly she opened her eyes and on my command she raised her head. I had a pre-arranged signal with someone who dropped a tray of cans. It was then that all hell broke loose, there was total pandemonium as people scampered for the exit.” he explained “When the driver came to collect the casket he said, ‘next time I request a body, please make sure it is freshly deceased, not three days old, this was extremely difficult.”
As a result of this fiasco, he became a legend of sorts as the story was retold and embellished.
The magician enjoys music, meeting people, travelling, languages and new experiences. And he did not forget to talk about his favourite dish which is a good dhal, rice and bhaji.