Category Archives: Byomkesh stories

Byomkesh: “If you consider it seriously, there can be only one explanation”

The difference between a good detective story and a truly outstanding one is the signal to noise ratio. If you increase the signals that lead to the the solution of the mystery, then you stand the chance of losing the interest of readers who have easily solved the mystery. If you increase the background noise to a level that the actual clues get buried deep into layers that readers can’t find, you stand the chance of losing their interest because it is unsolvable. Chitrochor (চিত্রচোর) is one of Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s finest Byomkesh Bakshi stories because it maintains the right signal-noise ratio throughout the story.

The premise is simple enough. Byomkesh and Ajit are investigating the curious disappearance of a photograph from the house of Mahidhar Choudhury, a rich elderly man who lives in a palatial house with his only daughter Rajani. In the group photo are Mahidhar babu and his daughter; Professor Arindam Som and his wife Malati Debi; physician Dr. Ashwini Ghatak; administrative Deputy Ushanath Ghosh and his family; and bank manager Amaresh Raha.

Byomkesh and Ajit learn that there were three copies of this photograph apart from the negatives. After a number of break-ins in which apparently very little gets stolen, it is revealed that there are no existing copies of the photograph. In fact the negatives can’t be found either. In addition, a remarkably talented artist named Falguni Pal who possesses the rare gift of being able to draw accurate resemblances of the characters from a single glance shows up on the premises and gets murdered. Although there are other reasons why the copies of the photograph might be stolen, the most likely, considering the lengths taken to acquire them and the fact that a murder is involved, is that whoever is taking the photograph does not want to be identified in it.

As an active reader of mystery fiction, I usually sit down with pen and paper to write down possible suspects and motives while reading. Although in the case of Chitrochor I was able to narrow the field somewhat by completing this exercise, because Saradindu keep the ratio of real clues to “red herrings” near perfection, I was at a loss to come up with the solution. I am happy to say that I had no clue.

Consider the complexity of Chitrochor. There is a very intriguing story running in parallel to the main plot. This complicated love story involves mystery, suspicion, jealousy, and suspected infidelity and is remarkable as a work of fiction in itself. Completely integrated into the main story-line it brilliantly serves as an elaborate smokescreen. Then there is the story of Byomkesh recovering from illness and humorous conversations involving him, Ajit, and Satyabati that are reminiscent of the best of P.G. Wodehouse. There are also numerous minor character sketches superbly portrayed.

The clue to the puzzle is the appearance of the perpetrator and this clue is mentioned multiple times in story along with other circumstantial evidence. Why couldn’t I pick it up? Saradindu confounds us psychologically by making us focus on the peripherals. Why is Ushanath Ghosh so fearful? Why does he have a fake eye? Why is Ashwini Ghatak filled with vengeance? Why is Malati Debi such a mean lady? Why is the photographer Nakuleswar so shady? As I found myself focusing on the noise, Saradindu kept planting the signals leading to a resolution that was logical, tidy, and most importantly, plausible.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the story is the sense of misdirection in time. Once the possible suspects are identified, logically the next questions revolve around the perpetrator and the crime. However, because the removal of the incriminating identification (photographs) occurred prior to the actual crime, I found myself missing this essential point. But like all logical explanations it makes perfect sense in hindsight.

Chitrachor does not feature a spectacular modus operandi or a suave villain and might therefore get overlooked by readers listing their favorite Byomkesh stories. I would disagree strongly. I think it ranks among the top four or five Byomkesh stories that Saradindu wrote.

©2010-2012 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Gramophone pin fired from a bicycle bell: is it a plausible weapon? (পথের কাঁটা)

One of the most famous Byomkesh Bakshi stories written by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay is Pother Kanta (also transliterated as Pather Kanta, পথের কাঁটা). The story was also exceedingly popular in the Basu Chatterjee-directed television serial aired on Doordarshan.

Most readers (and viewers) are intrigued by the innovative weapon used by the criminal in the story. The use of a standard bicycle bell modified into an air-gun capable of firing a steel gramophone pin (often called  phonograph needle in many parts of the world) captured  the imagination of fans all over the world.

In my own opinion this story ranks up there with “The Speckled Band” which feature Sherlock Holmes in creating a vivid, lingering impression. I enjoyed the concept so much that I actually created the article on Pother Kanta on Wikipedia. We will discuss this story in many articles, but our focus here is on the weapon itself.

Is it physically possible to create a lethal bicycle-bell gun that obeys the laws of physics? This question is vital to fully appreciating the story.

First, let us consider the projectile, the gramophone needle or stylus. Although the use of this sharp object as a weapon is innovative, the use of needles has been attempted many times. The Dreyse needle gun was a breechloading rifle that fired needle-like projectiles in the 1800s. It fell out of favor because of a short-range. Of course this gun had a powder charge, but the reason it was not used frequently was because of short range of accuracy. In Pother Kanta, the assailant fired from a distance of no more than 3-4 meters. In these short distances, sharp needle-like projectiles are very accurate.

In fact, other types of needle-guns have existed for years as well. The benefits of shooting sharp needle like objects is that they have a very high muzzle velocity once fired. Another factor that would allow a bell mechanism to shoot gramophone needles is that recoil from such a weapon would likely be minimum.

In Pother Kanta, a single gramophone needle pierced a victim’s heart at close quarters.  The question of height of the victim comes into play. For victims of different heights, different angles would be necessary, although this could be modified by an expert marksman by tightening the bell. The question of whether the gramophone needle could pierce the sternum is also an interesting one. With sufficient velocity, it is possible that incident ricochet would allow the needle to pierce the heart, although not cleanly. So far, the story is quite accurate.

The other brilliant bit behind the weapon is that because gramophone needles are usually made of steel and other hard metals (as opposed to lead), at close distances and high velocities they might even pierce through and leave through exit wounds. So, no trace of the projectile would be found inside the body!

I have presented a scheme for a possible spring-piston gun mechanism that might be able to propel a gramophone needle towards a victim. Extrapolating from actual data on maximal velocities achieved by firing pellets from spring-piston mechanisms, I have calculated that the bicycle-bell gun might have a probable velocity of 15-20 m/s which would be enough to inflict substantial harm to someone wearing light layers of clothing.

Of course, all of my calculations depend on the assumption that relatively high tensions in the spring can be created to generate sufficient kinetic energy upon release. This is the “black-box” of the whole theory and very hard to determine without computer simulation.

Nonetheless, as I have demonstrated, if we use a bit of imagination, this sort of weapon is plausible.

©2010 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Filed under পথের কাঁটা, Basic information on this site, Byomkesh stories, Byomkesh trivia, Pother Kanta

Byomkesh Quiz 8- Monimondon (মণিমন্ডন)

This is the eighth part of a series of trivia quizzes on Byomkesh Bakshi. This quiz is based on the story, Monimondon. If you’ve read the story or seen the television episode, then you should have no trouble answering these questions.

Questions:

1.  What was stolen from Rasamoy Sarkar’s house?

2.  What was Bhola’s role in the household? When asked by Byomkesh Bakshi what he did outside the Sarkar household for one hour that evening before the theft, what did Bhola say?

3. Where did Bhola’s brother, Bhootnath work?

4. Who was the Police Inspector investigating the case?

5. What was the gift that Rasamoy Sarkar brought from his father for Byomkes for solving the case? Who finally got to keep this gift?

6. What was the animal that Ajit teasingly called Byomkesh because he never spoke?

Answers:

1.  A diamond necklace

2. Bhola was a personal servant (খাস চাকর). He said he went to buy a gaamcha (গামছা) before spending sometime here and there

3. Bhootnath was a worker in the Postal Department. He was responsible for removing letters from postal-boxes in the area.

4. Inspector Amaresh Mandal was investigating the case.

5. Rasamoy Sarkar brought a diamond ring as a gift from his father. Satyabati took it at the end of the story.

6. Ajit said that Byomkesh was a tortoise (কচ্ছপ) to Satyabati.

©2010-2012 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Byomkesh Quiz 7- Dushtochokro (দুষ্টচক্র)

This is the seventh part of a series of trivia quizzes on Byomkesh Bakshi. This quiz is based on the story, Dushtochokro. If you’ve read the story or seen the television episode, then you should have no trouble answering these questions.

Questions:

1.  What was Bishu Pal’s profession? How did he know Dr. Suresh Rakshit?

2.  According to Bishu Pal, how what was the collateral (জামানত) for which he loaned Abhay Ghoshal 30,000 Rupees?

3. What was Ramapatibabu’s role in the case?

4. How did Bishu Pal convince the police medical team that he was paralyzed?

5. What was the demand that Byomkesh Bakshi made to Bishu Pal in order to keep quiet?

Answers:

1.  Bishu Pal was a moneylender (মহাজন). Dr. Suresh Rakshit was his family physician and a tenant.

2. According to Bishu Pal, he didn’t take any collateral at all. He only made Abhay Ghoshal sign a promissory note.

3. Ramapatibabu was the Officer-in-Charge of the local Police Station investigating the murder of Abhay Ghoshal.

4. Bishu Pal got Dr. Rakshit to inject him with the local anesthetic procaine before medical team showed up. This fooled the physicians into thinking that he was paralyzed from the waist down.

5. Byomkesh Bakshi was not convinced that the case would stand in front of a jury because the motive establishing that Bishu Pal killed Abhay Ghoshal was weak. So he demanded that Bishu Pal deposit one lakh Rupees in the National Security Fund.

©2010-2012 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Comparing Byomkesh Bakshi to Sherlock Holmes

Recently I got involved in an interesting debate on the similarities between Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bakshi stories and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings featuring Sherlock Holmes.

Most people are unaware that Holmes was also modeled partly after two earlier detectives, Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Émile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq. Still, because of Holmes’ systematic and deliberate use of scientific methods, most detectives that follow him at least bear some similarities.

As far as I am aware, all of the Byomkesh Bakshi stories are original. Therefore, I have no reason to doubt that Saradindu carefully crafted each storyline based on his own constructed plots. In fact, I actually prefer some of Byomkesh’s investigations.

Also, during his literary career, Saradindu himself drifted from his original style. His earliest Byomkesh stories are written in a formal first-person style with Ajit narrating, while his later works are more literary, free-flowing in third-person narrative. During the course of his detective career, Byomkesh gets married to Satyabati, and has a son. On the other hand, Sherlock Holmes and his chronicler Dr. John Watson are essentially unchanged during the decades they work together (even though we know that Watson was married).

Still, if we want to search for similarities between the two great detectives we should start at the very beginning. The earliest Byomkesh Bakshi stories have some superficial resemblances to the Sherlock Holmes stories. In fact, Pother Kanta, the first story featuring Byomkesh was written close to twenty years after Holmes’ final case.

Similarities between Byomkesh Bakshi and Sherlock Holmes:

  1. Both have featured in adventures that are written up for the public by their less observant colleagues (either Ajit or Dr. Watson).  Both detectives show extreme loyalty to their friends, but also scold them when they make errors (Reference: Chorabali and “The Solitary Cyclist“).
  2. Both detectives have faced bumbling, arrogant, but ultimately inefficient police officers from the force in the form of Bidhubabu at Lalbazar or Inspector Lestrade at Scotland Yard (Reference: Arthamanartham and “The  Norwood Builder“).
  3. Both find that the personal classified advertisements are the most informative section of the newspaper. (Reference: Pother Kanta, Holmes referred to it as the Agony Column in “The Engineer’s Thumb“).
  4. Both realize that following the law isn’t always the moral thing to do. Both Byomkesh Bakshi and Sherlock Holmes are willing to give extrajudicial justice after conferring with Ajit and Watson, respectively. (Example: Chorabali, “The Abbey Grange“).
  5. Both have had to take on cases of national importance to avert war or prevent information leaking to enemies. (Example: Upasanghar, “The Second Stain“).
  6. Both have been involved in murder cases in which a strong-willed female character has lied in order to protect someone that they loved dearly. (Example: Satyabati in Arthamanartham,  Lady Braceknstall “The Abbey Grange“).
  7. Both have had to lay a trap so that an enemy tried to kill them. Ultimately this enemy got caught after assassinating a dummy. (Example: Anukulbabu stabs a pillow in Satyanveshi, Colonel Moran shoots a dummy of Holmes in “The Empty House“).
  8. Both have had to show exceptional sleight-of-hand to replace or swap an item in plain view of others. (Example: the statue in Seemanto-heera, the confidential papers in “The Second Stain“).
  9. Both detectives have had to use psychology to the the information that they need. (Example: In Upasanghar, Byomkesh fakes his death and advertises it to get Anukulbabu to reveal himself. In “A Scandal in Bohemia“, Holmes fakes a fire-hazard to get Irene Adler to reveal the whereabouts of an incriminating photograph. Subsequently, suspicions are aroused in both and they flee).
  10. Both detectives have solved a case in which a valuable gem was hidden inside a plaster statue. Both had to break the statue in the final act to recover the gem. (Example: the Nataraja statue in Seemanto-heera, the sixth and final statue of Napoleon in “The Six Napoleons“).

©2010 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Athamanartham, অর্থমনর্থম্‌, পথের কাঁটা, সীমন্ত-হীরা, Basic information on this site, Byomkesh stories, Byomkesh trivia, Pother Kanta, Seemanto-heera

Byomkesh Quiz 6- Makorshar Rosh (মাকড়সার রস)

This is the sixth part of a series of trivia quizzes on Byomkesh Bakshi. This quiz is based on the story, Makorshar Rosh. If you’ve read the story or seen the television episode, then you should have no trouble answering these questions.

Questions:

*1. To what substance was Nandadulalbabu addicted according to Ajit’s former school friend, the physician Mohan?

2. What was inside the parcel that Rebecca Light regularly used to send to Nandadulalbabu?

3.  What brand of pen did Nandadulalbabu use to write his vulgar stories?

4. What was the colour of Nandadulalbabu’s tongue?

Answers:

1. Extract of a Tarantula spider

2. Pages of white paper

3. Parker

4. Red

*Questions similar to the ones marked with an asterisk were also asked in BBC Mastermind India, 2000.

©2010 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Byomkesh Quiz 5- Uposonghaar (উপসংহার)

This is the fifth part of a series of trivia quizzes on Byomkesh Bakshi. This quiz is based on the story, Uposonghaar. If you’ve read the story or seen the television episode, then you should have no trouble answering these questions.

Questions:

1. What brand of matches did Byomkesh and Ajit use? What was the brand it was replaced with by the suspicious stranger that Byomkesh met?

*2. What was the name that the villain used to introduce himself by in Uposonghaar? What was his actual name?

*3. What is the name of Byomkesh’s faithful servant?

4. How did Byomkesh’s servant remember the number on the taxi that the villain used to escape even though he didn’t know any English?

5. What was the name printed on the letter given to Byomkesh? (Hint: Byomkesh couldn’t remember knowing anyone with this unusual name).

*6. What was the name of the newspaper that Byomkesh read? Whose death in Srirampur was published in this newspaper?

7. The villain took two items that in clear view when he escaped from his quarters. One was a hand-bag; what was the other item?

8. What was the price of the matchbox as advertised in the newspaper?

Answers:

1. The used the “Horse brand” matches (ঘোড়া মার্কা). The stranger had exchanged it the Satyagrahi brand (সত্যাগ্রহী).

*2. Anukulbabu who Byomkesh first met in Satyanveshi introduced himself as Byomkesh Bose.

3. Puntiram

4. It is true that Puntiram didn’t know any English. Due to extremely good fortune, the number on the license plate which he saw was 8008 (in English) which Puntiram recalled to Byomkesh as 4004 since it resembles ৪০০৪. The character for the number “four” is “৪” in Bengali/Bangla.

5. Kokonod Gupta, a rather odd name that the villain used to indicate his association with cocaine in Satyanveshi.

6. Dainik Kalketu (দৈনিক কালকেতু). The death of an unknown 30-year-old who Byomkesh hoped the villain would think was him had been announced in this newspaper

7. A clay water pot (জলের কুঁজো)

8. One lakh (100,000) Rupees

*Questions similar to the ones marked with an asterisk were also asked in BBC Mastermind India, 2000.

©2010 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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