Category Archives: Athamanartham

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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Byomkesh Quiz 2 – Arthamanartham (অর্থমনর্থম্‌)

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

Questions:

*1. Byomkesh first meets Satyabati, his future wife, in Arthamanartham. Whose murder was he investigating in this story?

2. Who did Bidhubabu, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, first suspect was the criminal? Who did suspicion later turn to?

3. Byomkesh mentions that the murder by putting a sewing needle in between the medulla and vertebra reminds him of Sir Walter Scott historical novel. What is the name of this novel? On a related note, what book was marked with a red pencil in Sukumar’s room?

4. What sewing tool was Byomkesh looking for? (Hint: Byomkesh even asked Ajit what the Bengali for this tool was.)

5. How many spoons of sugar did Karalibabu prefer in his tea and how many did Satyabati give him in the morning?

Answers:

*1. Karali Charan Basu

2. Matilal Kar, and then after damning evidence was found in his room, Sukumar.

3. Bride of Lammermoor. The book in Sukumar’s room was Gray’s Anatomy

4. Byomkesh was looking for a thimble. The sewing needle was found at the crime-scene, but a thimble was not.

5. Karalibabu preferred 3-4 teaspoons of sugar, but Satyabati forgot to add any that morning.

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

©2009 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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Byomkesh: “It is impossible for someone who is an idiot by nature to act intelligently”

How can someone seemingly brilliant like the medical student, Sukumar, make numerous idiotic mistakes in committing a premeditated murder? This is the question that perplexes Byomkesh Bakshi in Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s story Arthamanartham (অর্থমনর্থম্‌) and it is one that resonates with readers.

Arthamanartham is a magnificent story that demonstrates Saradindu’s skill at the top of his oeuvre. In this story, Byomkesh demonstrates his knowledge with important factors associated with homicide investigation that are taught to modern forensic researchers such as  motive, modus operandi, time of death, condition of corpse,  crime scene, and statements of the prime suspects. Sarandindu also displays remarkable economy in setting the stage: the murder is established in the sixth sentence of the story.

Karali Charan Basu, a wealthy Bengali, with no direct heir, has been murdered in his sleep. As Byomkesh determines later in the story, the victim was chloroformed in his sleep and killed by the insertion of a sewing needle multiple times between his medulla oblongata and vertebra, a curious choice that would indicate that this was a premeditated murder and that the culprit had at least some knowledge of medical procedures.  The fact that the victim was very short-tempered and in the habit of frequently changing his will made it possible that anyone who could inherit his estate would have a motive to commit the crime. The five suspects who fell in this category included the victim’s three nephews, Matilal Kar, Maniklal Kar, and Phanibhushan Kar- all uneducated brothers with no source of income who would definitely benefit from a windfall. The other two suspects were the children of the victim’s sister-in-law, Sukumar and Satyabati.

The story also presents a whole range of characters who make it interesting such as the police officer, Bidhubabu, whose incompetence is only matched by his dislike for Byomkesh. If Sherlock Holmes had his impediments from Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, then Byomkesh certainly had his from Lalbazar!

The story also has introduces the readers to Satyabati, who of course, Byomkesh later gets married to. I suspect many readers who are not familiar with this story will know this and end up eliminating her name from the list of suspects. However, she is by far, the most interesting of the characters in Arthamanartham and she displays exhibits exceptional poise in order to protect her brother, Sukumar, who turns out to be the prime suspect once key evidence such as a modified will, and bottle of chloroform are found in his room. Murderer, Sukumar, is not, and this is evident in part because the evidence is too neatly stacked up against him. It turns out that Phanibhushan, the very well-read, but crippled youngest brother of the trio is the perpetrator. In the end, Phanibhushan decides to kill himself instead of handing himself over to the authorities and admittedly this seems a bit contrived to modern readers.

There are also passages in the story which modern post-colonial and feminist readers may find somewhat paternalistic and condescending especially when referring to Satyabati  and Phanibhushan. I’d like to remind readers the obvious: Saradindu, was a politically-incorrect writer in a politically-incorrect, colonial age.

(Please also see the Byomkesh quiz on Arthamanartham)

©2009 Byomkesh.com. All rights reserved.

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