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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“).

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