Sections: Information | Differences with “Henry Sugar” | Fun Stuff
- First published:
Differences with “Henry Sugar”
This essay by Dahl purports to be a true story of the famous Indian fakir Kuda Bux. He reworked the text twenty-five years later in his short story “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.”
- There’s no framing story in this version. It begins in the third person with doctors sealing Bux’s eyes, then switches to first person as Dahl recounts how he met with Bux to hear his life story. There’s no Henry Sugar at all, and no Robin Hood-esque story of stealing from casinos.
- Kuda Bux was a real person, whereas Imhrat Khan, Dr. John Cartwright, Henry Sugar, John Winston, and Max Engelman were all fictional.
- In this version, the doctors sealing Bux’s eyes as a promotional stunt before his show are located in Manchester, not Bombay. A second set of named doctors — “Professor Edward Andrade, professor of Physics, London University; Dr. I. G. Porter Phillips, superintendent of Bethlehem General Hospital, and Dr. C. Jennings Marshall, surgeon of Charing Cross Hospital” — later test covering Bux’s eyes in London. They also verify that Bux is able to stop the beating of his own heart.
- This version does not describe Bux’s actual performance. In the story, Khan performs many intricate feats blindfolded: shooting a tin can off his assistant’s head, throwing knives around him, and threading a needle.
- Both Bux and Khan were born in 1905 in Akhnur. However, Bux’s family were well-educated, middle-class people and his father was a railway engineer. Khan’s family was poor and his father was a ticket inspector.
- The story of how Bux met Professor Moor and was inspired to run away to learn magic are recycled almost verbatim in “Henry Sugar.”
- This version does not include this bit: “In fact, the true yogi believes that any yogi who misuses his powers will die an early and sudden death. A yogi must never perform in public. He must practise his art online in absolute privacy and as a religious service, otherwise he will be smitten to death. This I did not believe and I still don’t.” This was entirely made up by Dahl to add drama!
- In the story, Khan hears about the mysterious yogi Banerjee (who is said to be able to levitate) and embarks in an adventure to find his secret clearing in the jungle. Khan spies on him as he levitates and returns every day to beg the angry Banerjee for training. Eventually Banerjee consents to give him a letter of introduction to a yogi in Hardwar. The version in the essay is much simpler: There’s no Banerjee (and no levitating!), and Bux simply mentions that he had a letter and the yogi in Hardawar (sic) agreed to train him.
- The description of Bux’s training in Hardwar including the distinction of the conscious and subconscious minds is reproduced very faithfully in “Henry Sugar.” In both versions, the yogi tells him it will take about 15 years of training to be able to focus on one object for three and a half minutes. However, in “Henry Sugar” he goes on to add: “The time varies with different people. Some take ten years, a few can take less, and on extremely rare occasions a special person comes along who is able to develop the power in only one or two years. But that is one in a million.” That bit wasn’t in Bux’s story.
- Both Bux and Khan fixate on their brother’s faces, and both of them lose their sense of smell. The real Bux claims to have picked up the skill faster though. He says, “After two and a half years of daily practice, I am able to concentrate absolutely on my brother’s face for two and a quarter minutes.” Khan says that after three years of practice, he can concentrate for one and a half minutes.
- The recounting of Bux’s first firewalk in Dacca is mostly the same as in the story. Bux doesn’t describe the demonstration in detail though, and he doesn’t mention whether the firewalker was a yogi. Bux claims that three other young men burnt their feet before his attempt, whereas Khan only describes one.
- After the story of the Dacca firewalk, Dahl interrupts Bux’s story with a long parenthetical about another firewalking demonstration he did in Surrey in 1935 for the London Council for Psychical Research. Some of the details of this incident were used for Khan’s story in “Henry Sugar.”
- The description of how Bux uses a candle and playing cards to train his inner sense of sight is reproduced almost verbatim for Khan in “Henry Sugar.”
- Khan says that people don’t trust his act at first, believing it to just be a clever trick. He says even the doctor’s don’t believe him. The real Bux doesn’t mention that.
- In the essay, Dahl tests Bux’s ability to read Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, Volume II. In “Henry Sugar,” Dr. Cartwright tests Khan with Alice in Wonderland.
- In “Henry Sugar,” Dr. Cartwright questions Khan about playing cards, and Khan claims to have been able to see through them. In the essay, Bux doesn’t mention this. (Dahl presumably added it because it becomes relevant to the gambling story coming later. Bux also never mentions roulette.)
- The essay simply ends after Bux reads from the book. He doesn’t die. In fact, Kuda Bux lived to the age of 1975 and then died in his sleep.