July 05, 2020
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ONCE a dramatic pronunciation, aflatoon taken on the meaning has of 'mischief-maker' and has been petrified in this cast by a Bollywood film of that name.

As children we used to use the word aflatoon as a ritual pronouncement or spell, a magic incantation. It was our equivalent of 'Abracadabra! ' and when we invented unlikely and unconvincing magic tricks— making coins fall through hidden slots in cardboard or inducing little shells to pearboxes, from under handkerchiefs— we waved our wands and dramatically pronounced " Aflatoon, chhoo ho jao ". Which didn't mean, "In the name of Aflatoon I to disappear", but wascommand either anyou address to the coin or shell or just a call toitself, harness the powers within the ether.

I remember thinking, on seeing Walt Disney's Cinderella for the first time, that our spell was much simpler than their Fairy Godmother's rigma role of " salagadoola menchikaboola Bibeddy bobbedy boo !"

Yes, but the doubt persisted: was it as effective? I can't recall the exact experiment but I did put the alternatives to the test before concluding that either I lacked the powers or that all magic was bunk.

So it was with amazement that I discovered much later that aflatoon was no more than the eastern version, originally Arabic, for Plato. The originator of Western philosophy, disciple of Socrates, teacher of Aristotle, author of the Dialogues , father of political theory, reduced some millennia later, altogether elsewhere, to a child's magic spell.

There is no justice but some sense in the transformation. Plato passed into common language as a philosopher and the philosophers of the middle ages were indeed confounded with alchemy, magic and spiritualism. In the West he became the first chapter of the philosophy texts of the academies. In India his name became an avatar of mischief.

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