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Return of Sherlock Holmes, as Indian writer's muse

delhi Updated: Sep 04, 2009 14:42 IST

Five thousand miles away from 221 B, Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes' legendary address, a Bengali man stumbles upon some letters and notebooks hidden in a wooden box...So goes a new story woven around the British detective by Indian writer Partha Basu.

Delhi-based Basu has penned his debut work of fiction in "The Curious Case of 221 B". He describes it as the "real and a slightly different thing" on Sherlock Holmes, Dr John H Watson and other characters famously created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

"I have been fascinated by this sense of things not being what they are made out to be - this 'other side' of things. When the man under scanner is Sherlock Holmes, the plot thickens. So, staying with the fiction, I felt it would be a challenge to create this 'other side'," Basu said in an interview.

"What if some of Holmes' celebrated successes did not happen the way we have been told? What if the characters were not what we knew them to be. I found the idea grist for a writer's mill," Basu said.

The book was published by HarperCollins-India last month.

It weaves several lives and time zones together. In it, protagonist Jit discovers a wooden box in remote Deogarh in Bihar soon after his parents are gunned down by assailants in the summer of 1970.

"Cleaning out the room that my father used as a study, I find a foot-square box of walnut wood and pushed behind some books in a deep alcove...The box contains a thin bundle of letters and two linen bound notebooks," narrates Jit.

One of the letters rivets Jit. It is a part of correspondence between "one Dr John Hamish Watson" and Jit's father.

The letter is an introduction to the two notebooks that record Dr Watson's versions of the "true stories behind eight whodunits - as seen and interpreted by the doctor who shared the digs and mysteries with the detective at 221 B".

Basu said he set his novel in India because "Deogarh sounded more intriguing than 221 B or Dr Watson's Chambers in Queen Anne Street in London".

The book has three parallel narratives - that of Watson's diaries, of Jit's own life that flows ahead with each story and a "mid word from Emma", one of Dr Watson's wives.

In the novel, Dr.Watson's notebooks begin with an account of "A Scandal in Bohemia" and also dwell upon stories like "The Serpentine Affair" and "The Illustrious Client".

Holmes comes across as a rather "supercilious" and "moody" man, as Dr Watson rips the layers off the private eye and his cases.

"Most of the work on Holmes either carries his story forward or backwards or fills in the missing years with fresh exploits," Basu said.

"Jamyang Norbu, a Tibetan writer, did it so well in 'The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes' by placing the detective in Tibet for two years after the detective's death under the Reichenbach Falls."

"The original elements of the stories in the canon are untouched as Dr Watson recorded them. It's only that new facts come to light and new stories develop - which happen to be quite different from the ones we read. The book probes the canonical truth," Basu said.

Basu therefore put in serious research for the book - "most of it on the internet and archives".

"It was an intense checking of facts. The Holmesian canon is riddled with chronological confusion. But, for me, the most difficult part of the book was the language - I could not lose the cadence of Doyle's prose and the atmosphere. It was the biggest challenge and joy," Basu said.

"I want to see translations of Sherlock Holmes in regional languages and more children to know about him like Harry Potter," Basu said.

The writer, a former corporate executive and traveller, has written on movies, management, quiz. The author is working on a book about the intersecting lives of three women in Silicon Valley in the US, where his daughter lives.