Category Archives: পথের কাঁটা

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 All rights reserved.


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

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 All rights reserved.


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