Monday, 8 March 2010



Sherlock Holmes can do no wrong. It could offend Holmes devotees, like me, to read that in certain famed cases Holmes actually got used by the clients and that he didn’t really solve the mysteries but unwittingly played the role of a cover-up. But Partha Basu, didn’t flinch in offering a whole new perspective of Holmes’s adventures in his fictional work The Curious Case of 221B—The Secret Notebooks of John H Watson, MD. Basu’s ‘take off’ on eight of Holmes’s 56 adventures unravels the “other side” of things, different from what we know from the Holmesian Cannon. But no, it’s not like some silly sexed-up screen version of the master detective as we saw recently. So please don’t fume.

In the book, some new light on Holmes — that he was error prone — is shed from the two secret diaries of Dr John Hamish Watson, the Holmes chronicler. The diaries are found by Jit, a young Indian, as part of the assets left by his parents who are killed by the militants. As Jit delves into the diaries, we get to read the actual facts behind Holmes’s investigations. Jit then moves from Kolkata to London where he meets Emma Hudson. Her mother Mrs Hudson was the caretaker of the Holmes-Watson household and later became intimate, as we are told, with the ‘lady killer’ Dr Watson. Emma gives a third diary to Jit and more stories come out about the fallibility of the master detective. The narratives in the book are by three people — Jit, mid-word by Emma and Dr Watson. There’s a character called Muddy Madhawan, who’s the founder-member of the Baker Street Irregulars of Bangalore.

Why a new book on Holmes, I quiz Basu who once participated in the quiz show BBC Mastermind India. “Most of the earlier works on Holmes carry his story forward, or backwards as Spielberg did, or fills in what the Canon registers as the missing years with fresh exploits,” says Basu. “The point in all this is that the Canon, as Dr Watson recorded it, is left untouched. This book probes the Canonical truths”.

According to Basu, “Holmes is primarily high adventure”, the hard-core investigators being Dupin and Poirot. Yet, for the corporate boss-turned-writer it was challenging to stay with the original fiction and show that the characters of Dr Watson, Mrs Hudson and others weren’t what we know them to be. “I found this grist for the writer’s mill,” says Basu. “I thought, what about enhancing, if that’s the word, Dr Watson a bit, too, as has never ever been done before?” Therefore in certain take-offs, Dr Watson gets the better of Holmes. Basu explains: “Watson was always being made a poor second best by Holmes and it was inevitable that he’d have his day”.

Talking about his research into Holmes’s adventures, Basu confesses that it was “intense, time consuming, and boring”. According to him, the Canon is “riddled with chronological confusion; names and events are wobbly”. Thankfully, there was large data available that helped Basu.

But the bigger challenge was to get the language of the period which Holmes represents. “The nuances had to be authentic, and consistent. The famed Sherlock Holmes Society, in their otherwise wonderful review, caught me slipping with names and idiom; but they admitted to just eight ‘inconsistencies’ in a 280 page book”, informs Basu who “never consciously chased a writer’s dream”.