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- In 1952 Dahl wrote an article about the famous Pakistani mystic Kuda Bux, who inspired this story. He reworked a great portion of that text into Imhrat Khan’s tale. You can read about differences between the texts here.
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This story was inspired by the real life Pakistani mystic Kuda Bux, who claimed to be able to see without his eyes.
Spoiler warning! This famous tale is actually a story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within-a-story. We start with Henry Sugar, a wealthy and idle playboy who likes to gamble and is not above cheating to win. One summer weekend, Henry is staying at a friend’s mansion and is depressed at the neverending rain outside. Bored, he wanders into the library and discovers a blue exercise book one one of the shelves. On the first page is written: “A Report on an Interview with Imhrat Khan, the Man Who Could See Without His Eyes” by Dr. John Cartwright. Henry sits down to read the whole thing.
Now we get to read Dr. Cartwright’s report. He explains that one day he was in the doctor’s lounge at his hospital in Bombay, when an Indian man entered and asked for assistance. He claimed to be able to see without his eyes. Cartwright and three other doctors agreed to help him promote his theatre show by bandaging his eyes completely. When they are finished, they are amazed to see him ride off on his bicycle through heavy traffic. That night, Cartwright goes to see Khan’s show. Afterwards, he invites Khan to dinner and asks him to tell him how he learned this amazing trick. Khan agreeds to tell him.
Now we get Khan’s story. As a young boy, he was fascinated with magic and ran off to be a magician’s assistant. He was terribly disappointed to realize it was all trickery and sleight of hand. He decides he wants to learn the strange power called yoga. It’s hard to find a teacher, because Khan wanted to learn yoga for fame and fortune, but real yogis are threatened with death if they perform in public. Eventually Khan manages to locate a yogi called Banerjee, and he watches in secret as Banerjee levitates during meditation. The yogi discovers him and becomes enraged, chasing him off. Khan comes back every day, though, and eventually the Banerjee agrees to recommend him to a yogi friend for instruction. So Khan finally begins the yoga training. He learns about concentrating the conscious mind. He describes all the exercises he does. He has a minor success when he’s able to walk across a firepit with barefeet. Eventually he succeeds in seeing without his eyes. He can even see through playing cards.
Doctor Cartwright is amazed with Imhrat Khan’s story. He decides that it must be published, that Khan’s abilities might pave the way towards helping the blind see and the deaf hear. Before he can speak to him again the next day, though, he learns that Khan has died in his sleep.
Now back to Henry Sugar. He finishes the story and decides to try the yoga training himself. He wants to be able to see through playing cards and win in casinos. He steals the book and begins to practice at home. He begins to make progress immediately, and discovers that he’s one of the one-in-a-million people that can develop yoga powers with amazing speed. Three years later, Henry can see through a playing card in less than four seconds. He goes immediately to a big London casino and proceeds to win over six thousand pounds. When he gets home, though, he realizes that he doesn’t feel as happy as he expected. The yoga training has changed his outlook on life. In the morning, he throws a twenty pound note to someone on the street and realizes that charity makes him feel good. Without a thought, he throws the entire pile out the window. A riot ensues and a policeman comes to question him. Henry is astonished when the policeman berates him for not giving the money to a worthy cause, like a hospital or orphanage. Henry decides the policeman is right and formulates a plan. For the next twenty years, Henry travels the world winning fortunes at casinos and sending it to his personal accountant in Switzerland. The accountant sets up orphanages in every country Henry visits. Henry also has a personal make-up artist who travels with him so he doesn’t get recognized. By the time he dies, he has won over one hundred and forty-four million pounds and set up over twenty orphanages.
Now we get to the last story. The author (presumably Dahl) explains that John Winston, Henry’s accountant, called him not long after Henry’s death. He wanted the world to know what Henry had done. The author is fascinated with the tale and agrees to write it up and protect Henry’s true identity. And the finished result is the story that we’ve just read.
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