As monsoon clouds hover, do they put you in mind of a good Sherlockian mystery? The unforgettable detective created over a century ago is celebrated by the Sherlock Holmes Society of India
Fan clubs are not limited to sports and sportsmen. A colleague enlightened me about the Sherlock Holmes Society of India (SHSI) whose members are devoted to the legendary detective character created in 1887 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It stirred my curiosity and set me reminiscing about when my father read out “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” to me. Similar is the case of Sumal Surendranath, the founder and president of the society. “I fell in love with Holmes when I read ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’ as part of my textbook. Thereafter, I pestered my father to buy the entire collection,” said Sumal. His devotion can be gauged by his precise memory of purchasing the collection on April 4, 1988.
It was during his Army posting in Shillong, feeling a tad lonely and mess-bound in the heavy rains, that he launched SHSI online on May 28, 2001. “I decided to start the group to share my love for Sherlock Holmes with my countrymen,” he says.
“Initially the Yahoo group was confined to my friends and associates. With earnest discussion on Holmes canons (the original 56 short stories and four novels of Sir Arthur), more people joined. With SHSI featuring in Google search it gained traction,” explains Sumal, the society’s founder-president. Literary works by other writers featuring Holmes are termed pastiche.
The two-fold aim of SHSI is to propagate studies on Holmes in India and introduce him to a vast readership not familiar with him. It boasts 212 members of which 50 are active. “We attract passionate members, each having high scholarship. There are lawyers, businessmen, professors, school and college going students from different parts of the country,” says Sumal, a law graduate who works in the Indian Coast Guard as a law officer.
Interestingly, in the U.K. and Europe those well versed with Holmes are referred to as Holmesians and in the U.S. and other countries they are denoted as Sherlockians.
A bi-annual e-magazine “Proceedings of the Pondicherry Lodge” (see box) was launched in June 2013. The name was suggested by the senior-most member, businessman Kumar Bhatia, and accepted for the Indian connection. It was inspired from Conan Doyle’s second novel “The Sign of the Four” (1890) in which a key character Major John Sholto who retired from the Indian Army (34th Bombay Infantry) lives at Pondicherry Lodge in Upper Norwood, Britain. The magazine’s editor is Jayantika Ganguly. Plans are afoot to bring out a print version too.
Dr. Pinaki Roy, Assistant Professor of English, Malda College, joined in February 2005. He has received a doctorate for his comparative study between Byomkesh Bakshi and Sherlock Holmes in 2006. The study is available under the title “The Manichean Investigators: Postcolonial and Culture Rereading of The Sherlock Holmes and Byomkesh Bakshi Stories”.
“I was enamoured by his method of deduction and vigorous outdoor activities,” he comments, adding, “I write in local newspapers about the SHSI and goad my Facebook friends to join it.”
Delhi-based lawyer Satyajit Gupta became a member in 2009. “I had read online about SHSI and as I was a die-hard follower of Conan Doyle I decided to join.” He became a fan after reading the novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (initially serialised in 1901-02) that he received as a prize in school. “Gradually I read the entire collection. In fact, when bored still I re-read the stories.” As to why he loves Holmes, he said: “The combination of the brilliant mind, who is aloof, recluse and has been attracted to only one woman (Irene Adler, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’, 1891) — his entire package is enchanting.”
The forum discusses each story in detail, going down to the minor and smallest nuances, including trivia. A topic suggested by a moderator (there are six active ones) is debated by members. For example, the medical abilities of Holmes’ companion and chronicler Dr. Watson have been thoroughly scrutinised by the members.
Of late there have been many films, serials and pastiches which feature Holmes and Watson but these don’t stick to the original characters and plots. Says Sumal, “Though I am a conservative Sherlockian, the British Granada series (1984) starring Jeremy Brett was the truest depiction. The serials and movies have attracted new fans who, hopefully will go on to read the original.” Jayantika likes “Sherlock” (2010) the British TV drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch and describes it as “the truest adaptation though set in the modern world”. She finds Robert Downey Jr’s character in the action mystery films as a “cross between Holmes and James Bond, but it is fun.” Satyajit says, “Some pastiches are good while others are not. Overall these are great motivators for people to go back to the original. I liked ‘The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes’ by Jamyang Norbu.” Pinaki Roy too supports these, as they help in popularising the original works.
The SHSI members met for the first time at Mumbai during its annual two-day meet in August 2013. Unfazed by the attendance of three members and around 10 non-members, the second edition is planned for one day in August this year in Delhi. “We will discuss the future strategies and plans for SHSI and also hold dialogue about our favourite literary character.”
SHSI is connected with the other societies based in London, France, Czech, Hungry, US and Canada and there is a regular exchange of discussions, material, photographs and articles with them.
Holmes was portrayed using cocaine and morphine. The members were unanimously stated that All the members spoken to were unanimous in their opinion that one, it was legal during the 19th Century and two he indulged in it only when he was inactive. Sumal says, “It was more psychological than physiological,” with Jayantika chipping that “Holmes used these to get over the boredom when there was no case and he never them when he was professionally busy.” Satyajit remarks that this showed that the character with such a brilliant mind was after all human. in weakness.
The founder summarised the devotion of the fans thus, “We do celebrate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but officially we believe that Holmes was a living character, Dr. Watson the chronicler of his adventures and Sir Arthur merely a literary agent.”
(The web link: www.sherlockholmessociety.in)
Lodged in Memory
The e-magazine “Proceedings of the Pondicherry Lodge” was launched with the objective of encouraging Indian scholarship on Sherlock Holmes. “The periodicity was pegged at two in a year since we could not get enough articles and contributions for either the monthly or quarterly version,” says Sumal. adding “though we get enough contributions, short stories, photos, sketches, drawings, poems, riddles, etc in six months.” The present Volume 2 issue one dated June 1, 2014 has 89 pages.
Jayantika Ganguly, a corporate lawyer based in Kolkata is the editor who joined SHSI on February 2013. “I was hooked on to Holmes after reading ‘The Adventure of Blue Carbuncle’ and within a week I read all the works in an illustrated book,” she said. When asked about her editorial responsibilities, she answered in a humorous vein, “nag people for articles and contributions”. Jokes aside, she compiles the contributions, short stories, photos, sketches, drawings, riddles, etc and does a fair amount of editing, with help from Sumal and some other members. A number of contributions are taken from other fraternal societies. “Sumal is in touch with the Canadian, Swedish, Italian organisations while I interact with the Czech, Hungarian, UK and US societies,” remarked the editor.
Jayantika has written “The Holmes Sutra” on the occasion of 160th birthday of the detective and it is a compilation of 160 aphorisms giving glimpses of memorable moments of investigations and stories. , some original, some canonical, some based on various print and media adaptations. The second part of the book has Holmes Mania Quotient which defines one’s addiction to Holmes.
She looks forward to attending the Delhi meet and has created a calendar to commemorate the event.