Japanese, my dear Watson!
He is the world’s most famous detective and has lately become quite a dish, thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. Of late, the forensic expert seems to have seemingly fixated himself in the Indian literary imagination -- Partha Basu in his The Curious Case of 221B, had a Sherlock traipsing through Bihar while Vitthal Rajan’s Holmes of the Raj, conjectured a tete-a-tete between Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Holmes. Meenakshi Mukherjee, acclaimed literary critic called Neelam Saran Gour’s Messrs Dickens, Doyle & Wodehouse Pvt. Ltd. “a literary tour de force”.
Yamashita or Murthy?
Adding to this oeuvre, comes Vasudev Murthy -- writing as Akira Yamashita in Sherlock Holmes in Japan. “Why Japan?” was a question posed by not just us but even Calvert Markham, treasurer of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. The visiting professor at IIM Bangalore i.e., Murthy cites that the company that he started with NEC (Nippon Denki Kabushiki Gaisha) in the United States led him to, “pick up some Japanese language courses and other cultural references…enough to get him into trouble,” in his own words.
The plot thickens when it comes to the authorship of the book as to who is eventually writing the book -- Murthy or Yamashita. He lifts the haze by sharing, “I belong to the group called the Shakespeare and Company which is a platform where people support, share and read each other’s writing.” After being familiar enough with Japan’s cultural nuances, in 2006, I started thinking, ‘what would it be like if you wrote as a different person? Is it an escape route?
Do you find a way in which you normally wouldn’t write?’ It turned out to be so. So I randomly took out this name Akira Yamashita and started writing these stories by him that got appreciation by those who read it.”
Sherlock on the move
The book is premised on the missing years of Holmes, when out of fatigue, he is killed in the short story, The Final Problem, in a tussle between him and his arch-rival Professor Moriarty at the now famous Reichenbach Falls. Murthy also feels that this particular time in Japan was extremely supportive as firstly, Holmes had hardly ventured outside Europe and secondly, the context of Meiji restoration supplanted him with a rich atmosphere to refer to.
The book holds many surprises such as Holmes donning the garb of a Sadhu in Bodh Gaya as well as traversing the shores of Bombay, Calcutta and eventually moving to China and Japan. Before any kind of comparison arises, Murthy reasons, “Arthur Conan Doyle’s style is way superior and any kind of comparison is out of the question.” Penned in jovial spirit, we heartily approve of mention that Yamashita’s previous works include Sambar for the Indian Soul as well as Watson’s tongue-in-cheek letter to the publishers in the prologue.