October 3, 2023
One day in London, in 1952, a 30-something Roald Dahl — before he wrote any of his beloved children’s books — encountered a mysterious and mystical Pakistani man who called himself Kuda Bux, who would one day become known as “the man with the X-ray eyes.”
Kuda Bux got his moniker from his ability to do a surprising number of things while blindfolded: read a book, thread a needle, and even ride a bike through New York City traffic. He told Dahl, who had never been to India or Pakistan, that he learned this ability from a yogi in Haridwar named Banerjee, who also taught him how to walk on fire. And soon, he was performing his tricks all across South Asia. As Dahl wrote for Argosy Magazine, “The business of seeing without the eyes was something that confused [the doctors] terribly. Scientifically, it was impossible…It was, to put it mildly, the damnedest thing they had ever seen, and they were unable to venture an explanation.”
Kuda Bux — an unlikely, yet very real character — would eventually become the basis of his lead tale in the 1977 short story collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, which prolific American director Wes Anderson has adapted into a series of shorts, all of which hit Netflix last week. Although both the original story and Anderson’s adaptation depict the mystical Indian trope, they’re also rare instances of Dahl and Anderson giving delightful life to characters of color. With a surprising authenticity behind it, the intersection of these two symbiotic storytellers proves to be more promising than problematic — if we look just a little closer.