Thiruvananthapuram: The journey of Kerala magician Manu Mankombu from obscurity to fame by performing 808 emergency exits is a thing of the past as now the 46-year-old makes a living making and selling crisps in a kiosk run by him in his native village – Mankombu.
Abject poverty and a life under a railway bridge in Kurla near Mumbai at the age of 16 did not stop Manu from pursuing magic – his only passion. In 1997, he began to perform on stage and made a name for himself by producing 808 fire escapes.
In a conversation with IANS, Manu from Alappuzha revealed his life trajectory which has been chaotic.
“My passion for magic started in sixth grade when I met local magician Poovathil Raghavan who trained me. A few years later, I was able to do my first show on stage. Soon the great magician of the time RK Malayathu asked me to share a scene with him in Palakkad, ”said Manu.
After failing in Class X in 1994, 16-year-old Manu decided to try his luck in Mumbai and boarded a train to Dream City quietly with Rs 420 stolen from home.
He landed in Mumbai without knowing anyone or the language. For almost 4 months, he slept under a railway bridge near Kurla station with dogs and pigs for company. For 10 days he worked as a cleaning boy in a bakery, but one day he was beaten by the owner without fail for making him leave.
“I used to draw well and while I was walking in slow motion under the railway bridge, I used to draw and got to know a local Jadugar. For some reason he fell in love with me and we became friends. One day I taught Jadugar a card trick and in turn he taught me three tricks and from that point our friendship grew and we moved near Ullas Nagar. He was selling small properties to do magic. Every day I got Rs 7 as a daily salary which I hid to hide the saved money in a big hole in a wall near the VT station in Mumbai, ”said Manu.
He said that when he was able to save 200 rupees for the first time, he decided to send a money order to his father who worked as a laborer in a field in Palakkad, Kerala.
“A few weeks after I sent him the money, while I was painting a picture on a wall near Ullas Nagar, when someone patted me on the back and turned around, I was surprised. to see my father and one of my cousins. He wanted me to come back, but I refused. Then my cousin found me an artist’s job in a painting showroom and for six months I worked there and after a year in Mumbai, I returned to my village, ”added Manu.
On his return, he bought a lot of items used to make magic shows.
“It was in 1996 that I did my first show in my village, for a local club where I received Rs 32 as remuneration. I took Rs 2 and returned Rs 30. In 1996 I formed Alleppey Magic Vision and in 1997 I made my first fire escape. After that I started doing shows and have now flown 808 fire escape stairs which is a record and I have all the papers to show all the fire escape stairs I have done ”, added Manu.
When life went smoothly, the worst Kerala floods of 2018 occurred. While he comes from soggy Mankombu and all his magical accessories have been washed away by the gushing waters.
During the floods, he had a fiber boat on which he rescued 65 people from his village to safety. His claim for compensation for the losses suffered due to the flooding is with the government of Kerala and he hopes to get it soon, Manu said.
After losing all his accessories, he was in great distress. His friends came to his rescue and pooled Rs 10 lakhs, which he took on loan and he regrouped his troops.
“In 2020, I was thrilled beyond words when I got a call from Ullas Nagar from Mumbai, where I was sleeping on the roads. After learning that I was a full time magician, they asked me to put on shows in Mumbai. It was the crowning moment of my life and on March 10th I reached Mumbai with my troupe and put on a show exactly where I slept years ago. When I felt Mumbai after running 18 shows, Covid was spreading. We reached one day before the foreclosure announcement and 21 stage shows have been booked at that time in Kerala, ”Manu said.
He said from the lockdown until today, due to Covid protocols, he couldn’t put on a single show and life had returned to rough days, almost similar to what it was when he was 16 years old.
“With no income and a girl in school, one day I remembered the beating I received from the owner of the bakery in Mumbai. The next morning, I decided to open a bakery in a small room that my mother has in my hometown, Mankombu. I opened the Vismaya Bakery and now I make hot steamed fries and at the end of the day I go home with around Rs 500 to meet our daily needs, ”said Manu.
Manu, despite the trying period, has not given up hope and just wants to get back to doing what he can do best: doing magic.
“I am still under the debt of Rs 10 lakhs that my friends have arranged for me and as the Covid protocols are lifted, I will return to magic and repay the debt, which is my priority,” added Manu.