About time Watson had his day

 Author Partha Basu
An impressive book, it very plausibly, brings to light new and previously untold angles to the Sherlock Holmes canon. An interview with the author, Partha Basu, brings the challenges of writing such a book to the forefront. Excerpts from the interview:

Firstly, the most obvious question, why Sherlock Holmes?
Most all work on Holmes carries his story forward, or backwards as Spielberg did, or fills in the missing years with fresh exploits, as Jaymang Norbu did so well in The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes. The point is that the Canon, as Dr Watson recorded it, is never examined anew, nor tested. In The Curious Case of 221 B, whilst the original elements are undisturbed, new facts come to light and new stories develop, which happen to be quite different from what we had read. This book probes the Canonical truths.

Your book very cleverly picks up a lot of nuances in the canon, to provide alternate explanations for some of the mysteries surrounding Sherlock Holmes. How long did your research take? Was it an ongoing process?
As I wrote, facts had to be frequently checked, which was quite time consuming. The Canon is riddled with chronological confusion and names and events are wobbly. Dr Watson himself acknowledges this from time to time; certainly the large body of Holmes ‘scientists’ have been left wondering at times. But then, there was an enormous amount of data available to me on hard and digital copy. The bigger challenge was to get the language and the atmosphere spot on. Not just to be absorbed, generally, within Holmes’s and Watson’s world but to get into the men themselves, if you see what I mean. 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! That’s a good strike rate, wouldn’t you agree?

The book is divided into three parallel points of view. Why did you pick this style of narration?
It’s a literary device that I found more intriguing than a uni-linear telling, because it split the narrative into three planes and I had fun bringing them together
What kind of reaction did you expect to this book? Do you expect international audiences to also take your book the way India has?
The Sherlock Holmes Society of London, the premier people I suppose, called it “refreshingly bold (and) a remarkably rich and complex novel...” I feel proud, because 221 B... is an Indian book written by an Indian. We have too long played second fiddle to the West in this genre of writing. This must change.

In the chapter ‘The Third Notebook Continues — Of Lead Pencils and Long Jumps’ you have done the unthinkable — you created a story where Watson gets the better of Holmes — intentionally!

It had to happen. Watson was always made a poor second best by Holmes and it was inevitable that he’d have his day. The London Society, says, “... (the book scores in) presenting a notably fallible Holmes and an intelligent, spirited Watson.”

In many ways, writing is an expression of something that is internal to a person. If this is also true of your writing, then do you believe that Sherlock Holmes, was not infallible? And how did you deal with this realisation?
Essentially, this is why I wrote this book. The Curious Case of 221 B, a title that I created two years ago, grew from a fascination for things not being what they are hugely made out to be, this ‘other side’, which could be a place to visit, a book, an event, a film and of course, people, mainly icons like Sherlock Holmes. For most of us, it’s the disappointment that gets to you, for me it’s the irony. What if Dr Watson had kept secret notes of what had actually happened? I found it grist for the writer’s mill.

What are you currently working on? Is it similar to ‘The Curious Case of 221 B’?
What I am writing now couldn’t be further from 221 B. It is called Silicon Valley Wives; four young women marry Indian expats and move to Silicon Valley with their IT driven husbands. The book talks about what happens to them, circa 2000 > 2008, and of course, to the Valley.  
Did you ever have another career in mind or did you always know you wanted to be an author?
I worked for long years in corporates in finance and general management, and it would be elegant to say that I left my job to write, but this won’t be the truth because I’ve always been writing. I’ve written on film, on management, literary reviews and the odd non-fiction. Yet, I never consciously chased a writer’s dream.

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