- Ishamuddin Khan became world-famous for his "Great Indian Rope Trick"
- Mr Khan is taking on archaic laws that criminalise street performers
- Mr Khan grew up in Kathputhli Colony in west Delhi
Angered by country's lack of support for his industry he is taking on archaic laws that criminalise street performers.
"I love to perform on the streets, but under the law I am not a busker but a beggar," Mr Khan explained.
"I can't fight the law on my own, but I am determined not to give up," he said, adding that he had enlisted the help of a legal centre to challenge the antiquated regulations.
But such trades are not valued anymore, he said, pointing to the decades-old Bombay Beggary Act, which treats millions of street buskers as a public nuisance and forces them into a state of perpetual illegality, where they must stay a step ahead of the law.
Because of this, there is little opportunity for tribal performers in the country to be celebrated, despite the country's rich history of mysticism and artistic tradition.
"In India, if you're talented it doesn't make any difference," Mr Khan told AFP, glancing wistfully at his rope basket and other magic props in his shanty home tucked away down an alley reeking of sewage.
"If you don't have enough money or a godfather with you, or (sponsorship) from the government or a businessman that is a big problem. And that makes me cry, sometimes I feel very bad."
Pursuing the impossible
Back in 1995, Mr Khan became the first to perform the rope trick for the public in an outside space -- considered a huge feat in the world of magic as it gives little option for props, lighting trickery or hidden aids.
The trick was first mentioned by European writers during the British Raj era, Mr Khan said. It was regarded so difficult that in the 1930s the Magic Circle offered a reward to anyone who could do it.
"I heard once that if somebody succeeds in doing the trick, he would get (money) from the British Magic Circle. So I spent six years to find the secret of the trick," he said.
He delivered the performance, complete with a child seemingly climbing the levitating rope, at the historic Qutub Minar to an enraptured audience of hundreds.
"Overnight I won international fame, I was world famous," he recalled, reminiscing how the crowd broke into thunderous applause at the sprawling Mughal-era ruins.
Tradition under siege
News of his achievement spread -- he was invited to perform abroad, sponsors took an interest, and even now foreign tourists seek him out when visiting New Delhi.
And yet at home there has been little interest in his repertoire, which also includes transforming mango seeds into a shrub by sleight of hand and regurgitating iron balls.
Calls for the government to amend the dated legislation have fallen on deaf ears, he said. The slum that he and some 2,000 other families of street performers call home is being razed, ending decades of tradition.
But Mr Khan, who speaks fluent Hindi and English as well as a little French and Japanese, is hopeful he can bring about change.
"I love to perform on the streets, and I should be allowed some public space so that I can entertain passers-by. Is it too much to ask?"
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