Setting the stage on fire
He is lost in a world of his own, a meditative state of surrealism and peacefulness. He knows no one, and no one knows him.
It seems the fire-spinner does not even realise that an awe-struck audience stares at the stage, trying to grasp the brightness of the fire, the danger associated with it, the marvel of the flames, and mostly, the man controlling them all. The music is a sparkling addition to it, with the people clapping.
But all he hears is the crackling sound of the flames. All he feels is the heat of the fire. And that's all he cares about right now…
Behind all the heat
A plunge of darkness hit us as we (me and a band of fire-spinners) entered the rooftop. It was still Ramadan, and after iftar whilst many people indulged themselves in naps, a group of youngsters -- university students -- dove into their passion of fire-spinning.
You can perform fire-spinning mainly by using poi, sticks, or nunchucks. A poi is an arm-long chain with a sort of a container, if you will, attached to the loose end. It has wicking soaked in fuel that facilitates the fire. A fire-spinner performs with one set of poi in each hand. This is the most popular way of fire-spinning in our country.
During practice, though, that poi is substituted by socks and tennis balls. That's how you learn all the moves.
You cannot learn how to swim without accidentally choking some water in your system and you can't hope to ride a bicycle without a few minor bruises. Fire-spinning is no different. One of the students showed me some bruises on his fingers. Every fire-spinner lives with that.
Don't try this at home
Indeed, fire twirling is dangerous. Possibly, an amateur who is excited will not even think of practising the proper way and directly jump to try this with fire. Needless to say, the results can be scary.
The best protective gear a showman can ask for
But the element of fear and danger also exists for professionals. Shockingly, fire-spinners do not wear any protective suit or take other measures when fire-spinning. Then how do you protect yourself? “Through practice,” says Surid blankly, an avid fire-spinner.
If a move goes wrong, so might your entire fate. And you put your fate on the responsibility of your skill. You practice; your confidence grows. With that skill and the backing of confidence, you enter a meditative state of consciousness when you perform. You lose any of it, and at best you flunk one performance; at worse, you'll have to mourn for the rest of your life.
A burning passion
Even with the danger of getting hurt, fire-twirlers move forward. Maybe because it's a bizarrely spiritual feeling, to create art out of a destructive force and to leash something many people centuries ago worshipped. The dancing flames haunt a fire-spinner forever. And once you've mastered it, it just comes naturally to you -- so naturally that the fire is inside you and you're inside the fire; it has subordinated itself as a part of you.
Legacy of flames
Fire, given the right conditions, spreads swiftly. The art of manipulating fire, however, does not; at least in Bangladesh. An extremely few number of people know this art in this part of the world. Knowledge and information are powerful resources. You don't want to give that away easily.
“The guy who taught me actually agreed to impart this skill after a lot of fuss. Now, I'm teaching a few of my friends so that we can form a team of fire-spinners,” Surid informs. If everyone knows it, the exclusiveness will be gone.
Although the knowledge is concentrated in a few people in our country, fire-twirling is quite common in many places. In Thailand, for example, coming across a street performer playing with fire is no big deal.
Here, we have only started to embrace this culture. Fire-spinning has started to become quite common in shows, concerts and weddings. The venue is still an issue as many are still reluctant to allow fire. Lights are a substitute then.
But fire, if you think of it, is an inevitable, inescapable element. Fire will spread.
By M H Haider
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Special thanks to Surid and his up and coming team, Aitreyo. If you want them to perform at an event you're planning, please call 01717829810.