I don’t know how it’s come to this. It’s a little after 10pm, and I’m in a dark room, surrounded by a jittery crowd – each one with iPhones extended, craning for a good shot – as I hold a metal rod between my sweaty palms and wait for an electric shock.
I’d like to think I take my career pretty seriously, but agreeing to let Serbia’s “Battery Man” – who is revered for allowing dangerous levels of electricity to course through his body and living to tell the tale – to use me as his first prop, might just be the farthest I’ve gone in the line of duty. Did I mention that he can cook a sausage with his bare hands?
There are a few jolts to my face and arms – akin to touching an electric fence – as he makes contact with my skin. It’s a service he performs as a form of electrotherapy to paying clients in Serbia, when he’s not doing so on hapless subjects such as myself on world stages, that is.
Cirque Le Soir’s booking of Battery Man, otherwise known as Slavisa Pajkic or Biba Struja (Biba Electricity), as its Friday night headline act last weekend may sound outlandish, but it’s just another notch on the belt for the venue. After all, this is the place that attempted to bring in the world’s most pierced man, but was unable to, as he was refused entry into country after landing at Dubai International Airport.
Pajkic is a return act, having performed in 2014, triumphantly coming back with two Guinness World Records under his belt. His first record was set in 1983; that was the year that he took on 20,000 volts and lived to tell the tale without as much as a scratch. To put that into perspective, an electric chair usually sends a current with about 2,000 volts of electricity – a jolt that immediately causes a normal human brain to stop functioning, while Pajkic handled ten times that. In 2003, Pajkic became the quickest man to heat a cup of water to 970C, in just one minute and 37 seconds.
No one seems to know why Pajkic is able to withstand such electrifying volts, with the only semblance of harm being a few charred fingernails and the loss of his hair. One theory is the fact he doesn’t have any sweat glands, which apparently makes him a good conductor.
"I am not worried about my health, as I know that I am a friend of the electricity. I've been experimenting with it all my life," he tells The National, through a translator. "[My family] are little bit concerned, because they think one day my phenomenon will disappear and I could get injured, but in the end I know that it is not going to happen."
It’s not often that an anatomical anomaly can spark (ahem) such international attention, but since Pajkic discovered his ability at age 17, he’s made a career out of it. He was working with high voltage cables in Serbia when he accidentally pulled a live wire from the ground – a move that should have been followed by a fatal electrocution. Pajkic didn’t feel a thing.
“I had a feeling the electricity knew me. I knew that I was different from other people as I never sweat. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why I can be a very good isolator.” That was the moment he believed he found a higher calling – one of frequently sending high voltages of electricity coursing through his body, simply because he seemed able to. But it doesn’t stop there.
The Serb is also capable of controlling the force of energy that’s leaving his body; it’s the type of dexterity that leaves him capable of powering a light bulb with his mouth, or cooking you a sausage with not a barbecue in sight. He does so on Friday night in front of an entranced crowd, holding out a frankfurter as smoke wafts from the sausage – all it needs once he’s done is some hot sauce and a foot–long bun.
"I feel like I am an alien, simply because I don't have competition on planet Earth," Pajkic says. Though he's been doing such shows for decades (he's now 61), his skills have – understandably – been met with disbelief. So much so, in fact, that at least once an audience member has attempted to try out the voltage himself. "It was very hard to prove to the people that what I am doing is not a trick but reality. I was faced with some uncomfortable moments. One time, someone from the audience didn't believe in my skills and wanted to try it. I needed to save his life," he reveals.
At 61, one wonders if Pajkic’s age might put paid to his career as a human electrode. He agrees his days in this line of work are probably numbered, but not before another record is broken. “It would be amazing for someone to organise a spectacle in Dubai for me, so I can break the fourth Guinness record – working with one million volts.”