Theme: Sui Generis aka Uniqueness
Topic: Magic begins where logic ends
Hi, I am a storyteller. I tell real stories about real people to fictitious characters. Because I do not know fiction from reality! Does reality even exist? What if it is just a figment of our imagination? Well I will let you decide, after you hear my stories. I hope you like stories? How about fairy tales? I bet you have heard those magical tales of Aladdin and the magic lamp, Snow white and the seven dwarves, Alibaba and the forty thieves, or of Cinderella and the glass slipper. But have you heard the untold tales of an unknown girl named Boi?
I’ll be your fairy godmother today and narrate to you Boi’s stories. Boi is a modern version of Cinderella and her big big dream was not just to meet Prince Charming, but to see this big big world with all the magic and adventure in it. Boi lived alone in a small island country located on the Indian Ocean, called Singapore.
Story 1: Those days Boi was studying Computing at her University and also learning German. There were some students from Germany at the University on exchange programs and her German teacher occasionally invited them to class for informal interactions, movie screenings or Stamm Tisch. Most of her Singaporean classmates had already gone to Germany for a semester or two on exchange programs. Boi too yearned to go to Germany but she could not afford the cost of living of a whole semester in Europe. It was only a dream because there was no real possibility for her to go there. Yet Boi was so mad that during her exam times, she used to go to the Changi airport with her books and study there at the viewing gallery while waving at all the planes bound Europe, “say hello to Germany for me”, “Tell Europe, I am coming soon”. When I saw Boi doing that, I laughed so hard at her childlike fantasies, but how was I to know then that the crazy girl’s wish was going to come true in the most magnificent way? Boi told me it was the morning of her Statistics final exam and she was sleeping! In her sleep, she kept having a recurring dream that the exam got cancelled due to heavy rains. She saw this dream in the same sleep again and again, like in a loop, until she suddenly woke up and realized it was just a dream and the exam was still on. By the time, she rushed to the exam hall all the students were already seated. Boi found her seat and felt unsettled. Soon the exam began. But as Boi looked at her question paper, she could not make head or tail of it. It all seemed Greek and Latin as her mind blanked out. “Oh boy, didn’t you have the common sense to get up and tell the examiners that you weren’t feeling well or something, so they might have rescheduled the exam for you?” I scolded her. When the time was up they took away her paper and predictably Boi had failed her stats paper in her final semester! “Pathetic! What an irresponsible girl”, I thought. So just to clear that one subject, Boi had to repeat an entire semester. “Why did I blank out?”, “Why did I have that dream prior?” Boi tried to reason with me. I could only shake my head in pity! The following semester started, then one day Boi told me she got an email at her University mailbox from a University in Switzerland that invited students from all over the world to write an essay and if selected they would win a trip to Switzerland! As soon as Boi saw that email, she told me why she had that dream, why she failed Statistics, why she had to repeat an entire semester, because she was going to Switzerland! Ridiculous! I laughed so hard at her crazy conjectures that I fell out of my seat! Do you know what happened then? Exactly 3 months later Boi’s crazy conjectures came true! She was dangling this plane ticket in front of my face. Boi had won an all-expense paid trip to Europe!
“Had I not still been a student, I would not even have qualified to apply for that symposium” she said to me in a loud voice. “True” I thought. Boi had never failed a subject at University before, but she had to fail a core module in her final semester, so her graduation was postponed and she could go on this dream trip, her first outside of Asia. If she had failed German, nothing would have happened because that was a cross faculty module. It was magic delivered by the Universe with exact precision. “You see it was not something I could have planned or executed with logic or reasoning but maybe my crazy trips to the airport had some magical powers after all!” she laughed at me now and I had to concede to her this time.
Okay so that was one story. Let me narrate to you yet another magical story.
Story 2: This time Boi was in Africa. After Europe, she had caught the travel bug and joined a student organization at her University to do foreign internships. In her very first month in Nigeria, she got robbed. All the American dollars Boi had carried with her were stolen, leaving her with zero money in a very difficult to survive country like Nigeria on the meagre salary of student internships. It had already been a year and a half in Africa and it was time for Boi to leave the continent. She told me that she had saved every month she worked there and by the time she was ready to purchase her tickets back home, she had managed to gather about 150,000 Nairas. When she checked the ticket prices with various travel agencies, all gave her a quote of more than double of what she had, above 300,000 Nairas. No matter which travel agency she called, no one could give her a quote even close to what she had saved. But Boi had to travel by a certain date, because she was going to attend a friend’s wedding in another country so she wanted to leave Africa before that. I wondered how she would manage to leave the country with so little money. Then one day as Boi was taking her bucket bath, getting ready for work, she told me something within her said “Have faith! You will go.” And I said to her, “You are imagining things, little Boi! There is no way you can leave this country with so little money. You’ll need to stay here another year and slog it out before you can save up for your return.” But Boi told me that she had faith in the Universe. Of course, I did not believe her. That day, Boi decided to visit some Airlines’ offices. She took half a day off and went to Victoria Island, the posh part of Lagos city. First she went to Ethiopian airlines. The officer was very friendly and Boi told him she only had 150k Nairas with her but she needed to go home. He searched through his system but could not find any price even close to her budget. He was shaking his head as Boi kept repeating in her mind: oh god, one day, one slot, one magic is all I need. Suddenly his face lit up and he found, one day, one slot, one magic for her! I could not believe my ears when Boi told me that he quoted her 160,000 Nairas. What? Wow! That’s a miracle! “Book that slot for me,” Boi exclaimed. He did and asked her to purchase the ticket within a week of the booking. Boi was overjoyed. “Now I can at least even think of traveling”. She told me. “But still this ticket is 10,000 Nairas more than what you have” I responded. “Where will you get 10k from?” But her mind was working like lightning. She told me, if one airline could give her that price then perhaps she could show the booking at other airlines and ask for a further discount. She walked confidently into Qatar Airways and showed them the Ethiopian Airlines booking slip. She asked if they could give her a cheaper ticket. The official looked through his system and shook his head. “We cannot even match that price”, he added. There were no tickets for anything less than 300k. Boi thanked him then went to Turkish airlines. There too she was told the same thing. She was now losing hope. “One more try”, she told me and I just shook my head in disbelief. Egyptian Airlines was nearby and Boi walked in. Inside was mayhem. It was overcrowded and the officials were shouting at all the clients. Boi found a chair at the back and sat down, observing the scene in front. She saw one young girl, with no hair on her head was shouted at twice by two different officials. “Poor thing”, Boi thought. She had no wish of repeating that same fate for herself so she got up and went to the door. Boi thought her share of magic for the day was over. But as she went outside, it was raining heavily. Boi did not have an umbrella, so she came back inside and sat down again. She thought of approaching the officials for a quote but the queues were too long and discouraging. After some time, Boi got up again and went to the exit. It was still raining. Boi stood there watching the rains outside, when suddenly she realized someone was watching her. She turned and saw that strange looking girl with no hair on her head smiling at Boi. You know Boi was a white there, so she kinda stood out of the crowd. The girl asked if Boi was able to get her travel deals. Boi figured she was another wretched traveler like her desperately trying to get a cheaper deal, remembering how she was shouted at by two different officials inside. Boi decided to tell her about her own pathetic situation, so that girl would feel better knowing she was not the only poor person there. Boi told her about the Ethiopian Airlines deal but that she was looking for something cheaper. The girl asked to see the booking slip. Boi showed it to her, and she said, “I am a travel agent and I will give you a further discount of 10,000 Nairas on it”. My jaws dropped when Boi told me about that. I could not believe what I was hearing? Double magic in a single day! The girl gave Boi her office address and asked her to buy the ticket within a week else the booking would be cancelled. Boi thanked her profusely then took her leave. As she walked a few steps, Boi turned around…
“By the way, what is your name?” Boi asked her.
“Faith”, said she!
“You have a beautiful name. I have never met anyone with that name before”. Boi quickly turned away so the girl would not see the tears already rolling down Boi’s cheeks.
I was flabbergasted when Boi told me about meeting Faith. Money comes, money goes. It is an energy that flows. But magic is for real! Once again the Universe had delivered her dreams in exact precision, you know, the abracadabra kind of magic! Just as Aladdin called for the genie who granted his every wish, or when Alibaba shouted “open sesame” and voila, presto that door opened, or when Cinderella met her fairy godmother who turned her life from rags to riches and more such magical tales that inflamed your imagination, provoked your fascination, sparked your creativity as you lived those fairy tales in your mind in childhood! But as you grew up, just like me, you too lost touch with that magical universe and learned how to cope with the daily humdrum of modern life, where our lives are stripped off any real joy or magic, and we are taught logic, planning, reasoning to execute a very boring life, dulled with everyday chores, duties and responsibilities with no room for stupid things like magic. But Boi never grew up. She spoke to the stars and the shooting stars and the owls in the night sky. Because Boi always believed in fairy tales!
Do you know the meaning of Abracadabra? It means, I will create with my words. “Have faith, you will go!” that’s what Boi had said to herself during her bucket bath. And a few hours later she actually met Faith, who gave her her ticket to leave the African continent. How much more precise can it get than this? It almost seems like those airy fairy kinds of stories, the pie in the sky type of magic, no? Do you believe this story is real?
Oh well, let me finish the story first. So the African story does not end there. A couple of weeks before her flight, one night Boi woke up to find her bed floating. It had rained so much through the night that water was all over the place. All her belongings, expensive clothes, certificates, documents were floating in water! Boi panicked. In the dark, she groped for her passport and found it soaking wet, damaged by the rains. The following morning she rushed to the embassy to ask if it would work as she had about a week to travel. They took one look at it and said “no” that she would need to apply for a new passport. But her flight was in about a week’s time. So they told her they could issue her an emergency passport in less than a week but she had to pay 10,000 Nairas! “What? Now where would she get another 10,000 nairas from?” I thought. She had spent all of it on the ticket money! She had to take an advance from her boss for her last month of work to pay the ticket. She had barely enough to last the next few days. Boi had no clue how she would get this money. Now only a miracle could take her out of Africa. That weekend Boi was visiting a family she had befriended during her work there. Sometimes they invited her for lunch/dinner at their place and they had a little daughter who was weak in Mathematics. During her stay in Lagos, Boi often visited them and at times helped her with her Math. That day was her last visit to their house and she was giving her last lesson to the daughter. As Boi took their leave, the father told her he had slipped something in her bag. Boi could not even guess what it was but she bade the family goodbye, thanked them for the delicious food they had fed her and left. When she got home, Boi opened her bag and saw an envelope. Curious, she opened it and then started howling. A river of tears flowed down her cheeks. She counted the money again and again and again! Inside was exactly 10,000 Nairas, delivered by the Universe at her doorstep! Once again I could not believe my ears as Boi narrated her experience to me. By now, I too started believing in her magical tales. You see, Boi never told them she needed money or that her travel depended on it. They were her work contacts and Boi was careful not to share her financial details with strangers. How on earth could they have known what exactly she needed? Till date logic escapes my mind. But I knew Boi was ready to leave Africa, having learned whatever her soul needed to learn there, hence the entire universe was now helping her to leave in the most magical way.
I am boi! That storyteller you heard from just now is my logical mind that tries to reason me out of doing ridiculous things, the naysayers of society who always try to stop me. But I don’t listen to them. You have to believe in magic to make the impossible possible. Magic only happens to those who can imagine it. Same with faith. It only exists for those who make it real in their imaginations. But we live in a society where we are taught to execute such boring lives, expect the expected, predict the predictable, love the lovable, so much that we end up in such average, mediocre, mundane existence. We spend our younger years slogging through school or college. Then we are married off or get a job, then family, kids, their education, their marriage, grandkids, life insurance, diseases and death! Our descendants repeat the same life cycle as our predecessors, with a little bit of variation here and there. We live such boring lives and die such boring deaths, devoid of any mystery, adventure or magic. We forget the meaning of being alive! We stop dreaming big because we are so afraid to be disappointed.
But magic is the opposite of all that. Magic resides in that which we cannot think, plan, expect or execute. It cannot be accessed by rational thinking, reasoning or analyzing. It resides in the unexpected, the unplanned, the unworldly! Because life is so much more than that big house or that flashy car or that trip to Disneyland! Life is about interacting with the magical universe all around us, engaging in its creative juices and experiencing ourselves as the co-creators of our own unique destinies! Magic has to be believed for it to be real in your experience. It is a kind of heart intelligence, a knowing beyond knowing, an inner ding that we rarely try to develop. It is instinct, intuition, impulse, a sixth sense that we are guided, that we are never alone and that help is just thought away. There are two things one needs in order to create magic.
- Faith: it is not the kind of religious faith. It is beyond belief. It is an inner knowing that life will work out no matter what. Living life from that space opens us up to great avenues of spontaneity and synchronicity. Yes, you can see others falling in front of you, perishing with the same challenges that you have to navigate, but you will not fall because you have the knowing they don’t have. You know life wants for you what you want for you. Faith cannot be explained through logic or meaning. It only exists because you know it does in your heart.
- Uncertainty: play with uncertainty, live in possibilities. Don’t try to figure it all out, don’t try to secure, guarantee, plan, everything. That way you strangle life and reduce it to a very finite experience, a 9-5 job, a routine life, a secure future, and all the creative juices of life dry out in the process. Live your life where no two days are alike. Leave room for that which you can never plan. Do you have the courage to live like that? Then you can experience real magic. And that is where true joy is created and expressed.
Life has ingenious plans for you, but you have to be willing to execute it with fervor and vigor. I am not saying it is a bed of roses or a path without challenges. Even Cinderella had to spend many dark nights of the soul before fairy godmother decided to help her, so did Aladdin before his genie appeared. Because it is through those challenges we come to experience ourselves as invincible, unstoppable, unsinkable, incorrigible!
Can you play? Can you dance? Can you sing the song of life? Then you will live a life of passion and purpose. Every moment of the struggle will become joyful as you walk the path of your dreams, one created by your own unique signature of life! Because life is abracadabra!
And I just told you two stories here but this happened to me not once, not twice, not thrice. This has happened to me over and over and over again, so many times that I realized there is this new dimension of reality called magic! You just have to tune into it, to experience it. If you go out of tune, then you won’t experience it.
In the end, I still like stories. I recently penned a book with 21 such magical stories from my escapades across the globe, titled “Life is Abracadabra!” But there are many, many more that I cannot even count or possibly write them all down. Magic is a lifestyle for me! Before leaving today, let me share with you a few lines from Ithaca.
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
Pray that the road is long,
Full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
The angry Poseidon – do not fear them
You will never find such as these on your path
If your thoughts remain lofty,
If a fine emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
The fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
If you do not carry them within your soul,
If your heart does not set them up before you.
The magic is contained in those last two lines. Read them again:
If you do not carry them within your soul,
If your heart does not set them up before you.
Ithaca is a Greek poem by Constantine Cavafy; I had read its English translation long before any of my voyages had even begun and whenever I felt despair, I turned to the words of Ithaca that solaced my soul at such dire times.
I will leave you today with one of my own quotes:
logic is tragic because it has no magic! ~Baisakhi Saha
Goodbye folks! Ah… magic is all there is!
Stills from the presentation:
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at ted.com/tedx.
Follow the event on facebook.
For more events and speaking gigs, subscribe to my channel, magicNine TV: youtube.com/magicNine.
23 January 2019, Wednesday, India International Center (IIC), New Delhi, India, by Indira Gandhi Delhi Technological University (IGDTU).