The pioneer of close-up magic on Carnival Cruise Lines, Rakesh Syam, talks to e-Travel Blackboard about following your dream and not taking “no” for an answer.
Natalie: How did you become a magician?
Rakesh: In India there are a lot of snake charmers…they do it on the street and the first inspiration was when I saw this snake charmer.
It was at the age of eight and I saw them performing. People were so amazed…all kinds of people came.
I thought…he makes money, you know he produces money, he gets coins and everything and then after that he begs for the tips, so in my childhood, I don’t understand when he is able to produce money why he is begging!
I understood that also education was very important for everything that you do. In India, everybody holds a degree.
Then I started talking to other magicians and I learned a little bit of tricks from everywhere, not one or two magicians but plenty of magicians.
I got into magic but I’m an engineer. I did my diploma in engineering, I did it for one year and I thought, this is not my cup of tea.
In those days, 1995, there was no internet and if you looked at my college lecturer, he was working on a very low salary.
That’s the salary in India and that would be good.
My lecturer in college, the money he was getting, I can earn that money in like two or three shows.
I thought, ok why should I complete three more years and then look for a job, when I have skills and everything?
I feel happy, I work less and also there is always improvement in magic.
Then I quit my engineering…I got into magic.
Natalie: So how does that then take you to Carnival? I’ve never seen the close-up magic being performed in the dining room on other ships, but it’s great! It adds an extra dimension to the dining experience.
Rakesh : No-one has ever seen close up magic performed on any of the cruise ships in the world. As a matter of fact I was the pioneer, I was the one to introduce this close up magic concept in the dinning room, it’s the first time in the world for a cruise line.
I literally contacted them and they said, oh my god that’s an interesting story.
Engineering was my arranged marriage…magic is my love marriage.
So in India still, as I told you, people they don’t know what is magic. It’s like a taboo in India.
I was performing. I did shows, I did product promotions, I was pretty good at it. I was happy.
I wanted to get married, but what happens was my marriage got cancelled twice just because I’m a magician.
Natalie: Were these arranged marriages?
Rakesh: Yes it is traditional, done by the parents. The girl likes me, I like the girl, I like the family, they all like me, so we fixed the marriage.
The first time after three months we fixed the date and everything was fine.
So they’re ok with me, they want to tell their relatives and friends, we found a guy he’s a very nice guy, he’s working in a hotel, it was a big chain hotel, then they asked what he does.
They said he’s a magician and they said, “Oh my God a magician? You’re giving a girl to a magician?”
In India the first question is what does he do? Then the education comes. It doesn’t matter if the guy looks good, is he good at this, all this comes after what he does.
They thought that a magician means a snake charmer.
So they called me the first time and they said why I don’t change my profession. I said, “I earn more than my classmates earn. I work less so that I can spend much more time with your daughter and my family, so it’s a big advantage. What’s more than all this, I feel so happy.”
I know very few people who have that gift. I live for performing and everything, you know I want to be a magician from my childhood; I’m a magician now so you know, what is the problem with society. So I said no. I live for me and for my family
Natalie: Was your family ok with it?
Rakesh: Yes of course.
Natalie: So they didn’t mind that the whole marriage thing wasn’t happening because of your profession? They didn’t tell you to change?
Rakesh: No. The interesting thing is actually my Mum and Dad, they were trainers in the circus.
So we were all circus!
So that’s why they wanted me to become an engineer. They wanted me to go to school and everything.
But still I loved this option and they said, “It’s up to you, if you’re happy, if you think that you can make a career.”
So Mum and Dad did not have any problem at all and along came another girl, the same thing happened. Just because of the occupation they said, “no”.
So I decided to go abroad.
It is a great thing, it’s good for you, it brings a dignity and it’s a kind of a status thing now.
I got a job in China and then I got one in Malaysia, then the same time I got a job in the U.S.
So it was a very interesting story how I got into Carnival.
I was going to look for a job so went up to the cook and he came from the telephone booth and he said that there was a company hiring people. Carnival Cruise Lines. I said, “When are they holding the interviews?”
He told me the date and I thought, when the cook calls that means that it’s a restaurant and if there is a restaurant there may be an opportunity for me.
So I go to the interview and they told me that it was for a cruise line.
I didn’t know there was a concept called cruise lines until 2004. I had absolutely no idea!
So I called the agent and said I was a magician. They said they don’t hire magicians so I asked to speak to the person from Carnival. They said no and I said to give me two minutes to come in.
He said he’s not interested, then I spoke to him and he said, “We have no magicians, it’s not my department I work in food and beverage”, he said, “I told you I have no time now,” and he hung up.
Then I tried three times and it’s not happening you know.
I had to find out where is he staying, I didn’t want to give up.
So I went to the phone directory, they all said he wasn’t staying there and then one said he was! They said they didn’t know what time he was coming back but at least I knew he was staying in that hotel!
So what I did is I put all my photos, my profile, a TV interview, everything, I put in one profile. I made this and I went to the hotel and I was waiting.
So the person came and I wanted to speak to him. So he came to the hotel, he went to his room, I called his room.
He said, “I told you that we don’t hire, I don’t have time, I’m leaving now.”
I asked him to see me, let him see my profile. He didn’t know what I did and that was the problem. I thought, my hope was gone, but I didn’t want to leave, so I tried one last time.
I went to the reception with my profile, I said the guy lost this book and asked me to give it to him.
So then I got a call on the mobile, asking if I had two minutes time and I said I had all day.
He saw my profile and it looked different. He said to do something and I did…he was so impressed!
We had a 40-minute talk, I performed and I explained everything…he said he was impressed, but it was a new concept.
He said, “I don’t know any other cruise line who has this concept, otherwise it would be easy for me to understand.”
But he said he would talk to his company.
It took six months for me to free this concept. I was contacting him asking what was happening…they had nothing to lose.
I said, “Just give me a chance and let me come to you I could perform. I’m going to pay for my flight and my visa to you, just hire me for a month and if you don’t like me, fire me, simple as that.”
In the first week I got a great response and…well I’m still here now!
Natalie: How long have you been with Carnival now?
Rakesh: Eight years now. I was a table magician on the Splendour and there was so much interest that we hired more.
We placed advertisements all over the world in all the magic societies and everything and now we have people working from Europe, from the UK and India.
Natalie: So does your work come under the food and beverage department?
Rakesh: Yes and that’s because we work in food and beverage venues, we work in the restaurants and the bars.
Natalie: That’s really interesting because I would have thought it would come under entertainment. What are your hours like?
Rakesh: We work long times compared to other entertainers in the world.
One thing we have to remember is, working is different and performing is different. When you perform, you help your soul and energy, especially in magic, I have to watch other people I have to look at them, my hands are moving, I have to keep on talking.
All my senses are awake, I cannot think of something else. I give energy, people give energy, so I have to be energetic.
Words: Natalie Aroyan