Sherlock Holmes returns from Nepal


Nov 16, 2009
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More than 80 years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the last Sherlock Holmes story, the taciturn, relentless and utterly fascinating sleuth is back again - and this time from Nepal.

House no 583 Museum Marg in Kathmandu is as different from 221 B Baker Street as Dr John Watson is from Ted Riccardi. Yet it is the latter - an American scholar and Indologist - who has assumed the mantle of Watson, the chronicler of most of Holmes' adventures.

From his adopted home in Kathmandu, the 73-year-old has brought Holmes back from the grave in his first work of fiction, "The Oriental Casebook of Sherlock Holmes".

Narrating the British detective's fascinating exploits in Tibet, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and even the "Dutch Indies", the book was originally published by Random House in 2003, but has now been brought to Nepal by the Kathmandu-based Himal Books.

To scholars and linguists, Riccardi needs no introduction.

Former director of the Southern Asian Institute in the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia, and professor emeritus in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University, he also served as counsellor for cultural affairs at the American Embassy in New Delhi in the 1980s.

The nine stories in "The Oriental Casebook" purportedly originated when Holmes was presumed to be dead after an encounter with Prof Moriarty in the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.

"Holmes, unbeknownst to the world at large, travelled the globe locked in mortal combat with some of his most implacable enemies," says the preface.

The roamings take him to Tibet, where the Dalai Lama is revealed to be actually a little British boy, to Calcutta where Holmes earns the gratitude of Lord Curzon by solving a double murder, to Nepal where he solves the nearly 1,500-year-old murder of a king from the inscription on a pillar at the famed Chhangu Narayan temple, and farther.

Paradoxically, Riccardi wrote the oriental adventure of Holmes, regarded as a misogynist, as a birthday gift for his wife Ellen.

"We were staying in the Tibet Guest House in Kathmandu and it was my wife's 27th birthday," he explains.

"I needed a 27th birthday gift and thought of writing a Sherlock Holmes story. I decided to take the missing years from 1891 to 1894 when Sherlock Holmes could have been wandering through Asia."

For days, he locked himself up in his room with a typewriter to keep him company - computers had not been discovered yet - refusing to let an intrigued Ellen see what he was doing. "It's meant to be a secret," he would tell her.

When he finally presented her with "The Case Of The Vice-Roy's Assistant" - which is based in Kolkata - she was stunned. "Did you really write it?" she asked in disbelief.

The second story, "Murder In The Thieves Bazaar", was inspired by a Nepali writer."Paribandha", meaning circumstantial evidence, was written by Pushkar Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, the first Nepali translator of the concise Oxford Dictionary.

In Rana's story, a young man is charged with murder when he is innocent. The circumstantial evidence is against him and the court finds him guilty.

"When I read the story, I thought, why don't I rewrite it and bring in Sherlock Holmes to prove his innocence?" says Ricardi. "After I wrote the new version, I began re-reading Conan Doyle's 'Boscombe Valley Mystery' (in which the son is suspected of killing his father though he is innocent). I then realised Pushkar Shumsher must have been inspired by the Conan Doyle story, and I, in turn, was inspired to do a Sherlock Holmes story through him!"

Riccardi has a second Holmes book in the pipeline. New York's Pegasus will publish "Between The Thames And The Tiber", a collection of 12 stories set in Italy.

"I chose Italy because that's the place most British people from colonial India went after they retired," Riccardi explains. "They could not adjust to the cold of England any more as well as the loss of the privileges they had. So, many headed for southern Italy."

There's a third Sherlock Homes book that he is working on, tentatively called "The Owl Of Minerva And Other Stories".

"Though I put lots of historical characters, the history is entirely mine," Riccardi warns. "I did little switches, though not enough to upset anyone. I have alluded to that in the preface: the reader who looks to these tales for historical consistency will be disappointed."


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