Thursday, April 05, 2007

Magic and the orange tree

Even as a kid I was fascinated by conjurors and magicians. You know, those chaps who could pull pigeon out of their ass, or make an egg unbreakable.

Magic is something that baffles us, amazes us and makes us believe that something that cannot be done has been accomplished. But then, any knowledge or technology that we do not possess will be indistinguishable from magic. Science breaks down belief by explaining how things happen. But I love magic and stage magicians, and trying to figure out how a trick was performed is an exhilarating challenge. At some time in my life, I tried to pick up some magic tricks from books and suchlike, and mostly failed to execute them efficiently. That was mostly because I was incapable of maintaining a poker face and an expression of mystical intrigue. A combination of my stupid grin and clumsy execution ensured that I would never become the next P.C. Sorcar or David Copperfield.

But I still love “magic” shows, and Lee Falk’s Mandrake comics. Given all that, last year was a good year for a movie buff (such as myself) who loved magic. There were two rather decent movies with magic playing the central part, The illusionist, and The prestige. In both movies, there were enough “how did they do that” moments to keep you involved throughout the movie. But I liked The illusionist more; for two reasons. The first is that the magic in The illusionist, while pushing the boundaries of the possible, remained within them. The prestige actually broke too many laws, including the law of conservation of mass. The second is that The illusionist stayed true to the spirit of magic throughout. It really was an old fashioned “how did he do it” movie.

But the third reason I liked The illusionist had nothing to do with the movie itself. The movie reminded me of a little childhood incident, and one of my earliest science experiments.

It was all about orange trees. I was young, perhaps around 3 years old. I was eating an orange when an uncle of mine terrified me by saying if I ate the seeds of the orange, an orange tree would start growing from within my tummy. I had swallowed a few seeds, so for a moment I panicked. Then I questioned him. He asked me where trees came from. I knew it was from seeds, and his impeccable logic struck me with cold terror. But I bravely carried out an experiment. I had already eaten some orange seeds along with the rest of the orange. I decided to wait, and observe carefully if any leaves started to sprout from my head or nostrils or ears, or anywhere else.

Nothing happened. Weeks later, leaves weren’t sprouting from my ears.

So, I confronted my uncle. With a twinkle in his eye he said there were no trees growing out of my ears because I had chewed up the seeds. The seeds had to be swallowed whole if they were to become trees.

So, idiot that I was, I tried a second experiment. I ate a few more oranges, and this time swallowed the seeds whole (almost choking and killing myself in that process). I survived, waited a few more weeks, but nothing happened.

No orange trees.

Of course, had I been smart, I would have gone straight to my sister or mom or dad and asked them if trees could grow out of little boys. I would have learnt sooner.

But I wouldn’t have figured it all out myself, would I? And that would have been no fun.


CuriousCat said...

Seems to be an experiment all of us did! (I only drank water for a day or so after swallowing a seed till my mother found out and put a stop to it and a friend of mine told me he ate mud!)

Raj said...

Hey, orange trees really grow out of stomachs. You've got to eat the seeds whole and water them, by drinking a bucket of water every day. Do try it out.

Wavefunction said...

...and while you are at it, eat a gram of superphosphate everyday to accelerate growth.

It's always interesting how all of us science types are always interested in things that ludicrously defy science. No doctor believes the ER is as depicted in 'ER', yet all doctors religiously tape it when on call. And climatologists' favourite movie is of course 'The Day after Tomorrow'. I think that's why we all find quantum mechanics and relativity so fascinating; it lets us get as close to magic as possible without actually trying to defy basic physics.

Sunil said...

heh...curiouscat....I think many of us ate mud as kids purely for the fantastic taste. mmmmmm....

Raj.....a bucket a day? That's too much water, you'll drown the seedling :-)

Ashutosh, you're saying ER isn't real? Nor is House? Darn.
I think the closest thing to magic right now must be string theory, which can explain "everything".

Anonymous said...

Once a mosquito buzzed right into my ear and I was worried for days it was crawling all over my brain.

Anonymous said...

Took me back when I had a similar incident happen to me. Since I am not a scientist, I ran over to my mom in a panic and got it sorted out!

Sunil said...

toe knee....if you hear a buzzing in your ear ever again, you'll know it is the spirit of that dead mosquito.

Shripriya.....did every kid in the world go through this?? :-)