How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Location: India

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Byomkesh & Holmes

A week ago, I read 'Picture Imperfect and other Byomkesh Bakshi mysteries' (Penguin). translated from the original Bengali (by Saradindu Bandopadhyay) into English by a doctoral student of translation theory - Sreejata Guha.
The translation is a straight and simple one. Although it doesn't seem very good in the first couple of stories, it becomes much more interesting near the end. The stories included are mostly those which appeared in the DD television serial on Byomkesh Bakshi. At the time the TV serial was telecast, I had not read Sherlock Holmes stories beyond 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. But now, reading these Byomkesh stories, I can't help but feel that his character was very heavily inspired by Holmes'. So here's a comparison of the two:

  • The biggest similarity is that of method. A heavy use of deduction is made by both. This is also used to surprise people by stating only the final conclusion of a series of deductions. So things like identifying people from their step on the stairs outside, their knocks, etc. are common.
  • They both tend to think as the criminal and try to solve the case that way.
  • Temperamentally, both are similar, although not the same. Holmes is much more intense when on a scent, while Byomkesh (the Bengali babu) is relatively more laidback.
  • They both have companions who are chroniclers of their adventures and who are both inept at applying their friends' methods themselves. But they are dedicated friends and assist their friends in every way possible.
  • The plots of the stories are, in each case, quite unique, bizarre and thought-provoking. Saradindu-babu has done really well to invent plots very Indian in nature.


  • The first difference is that of appellation. While Holmes does not call himself anything in particular, Byomkesh calls himself a 'satyaanveshii' (or 'seeker of truth'), and not just a detective.
  • Holmes has really respected the abilities of only one woman - Irene Adler. Thereafter, women did not play too prominent a role in Holmes' adventures. Byomkesh, however, does not remain a bachelor and marries Satyaboti. In this case, however, it is his companion Ajit who remains unmarried.
  • Murders appear more often in Byomkesh stories than in Holmes' (my perception). In one or two stories, they didn't seem quite necessary.
  • Although both are very knowledgeable, Holmes takes a much more active interest in chemistry, toxicology, music, etc., conducting experiments and writing monographs. Byomkesh does nothing of the sort. They both know their cities (London and Calcutta, respectively) very well, however.
  • They both have personal enemies of a quite dangerous kind. However, Holmes' rivals are much more capable and charismatic than Byomkesh's.

Many more points may be added to both lists, but I will stop here. I just wish I could read and understand Bengali, because then I would have read the original, and not a translation (however good it might have been).


Blogger CycloNurb said...

welcome back!

That was really awesome. Brought back fond memories of watching Byomkesh as kids. I also remember visiting Baker street, Sherlock's residence. We had coffee at the little shop across the street too from where I kept staring at the windows for a long time, almost expecting to see that silhouette.(I can say all this coz I am still in school)

I wonder if there are any Byomkesh novels.

I actually found the book in my school library(NCSU lib rocks!) and am going to pick it up first thing in the morning.

Thanks for the post.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Samrat said...

Nice dissection.
obviously none can compare with Holmes. but byomkesh is as good as they come.
great effort by the author, (undoubtedly heavily inspired from Conan Doyle) in adapting some of the stories to the Indian context. It would be good if you can compare Feluda also, with the above duo.

5:47 AM  
Anonymous A Sherlock Fan said...

How about the likes of Inspector Lestrade - who keep condescending Sherlock Holmes by calling him a theorist and amateur detective. Are there people like him in Byomkesh stories?

I will definitely read Byomkesh stories one of these days. Thanks for sharing the comparison.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Venki said...

first up that was a good post vaishnav,that really encouraged me to start blogging and that aroused a curiosity in me to learn about this Byomkesh article now that you have mentioned him to be more like holmes... but in my point of view holmes is the best detective in the whole world...but byomkesh novels are hard to come by in tamilnadu like sherlock holmes...sherlock also has profund knowledge sensational literature and has practical knowledge in geology and he is also a champion boxer,swordsman and a single stick player to his credit does our indian detective has them.
do we have a like of professor moriarity and colonel sebastian moran here in his novels.
so being a holmesbuff i just cant stop admiring hi principles of deduction can we have any ebook version of byomkesh so that we can also admire his adventures...

11:50 AM  

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