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Sherlock Holmes returns - from Nepal

June 21, 2010

Sify (India)
June 18, 2010

More than 80 years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
wrote the last Sherlock Holmes story, the
taciturn, relentless and utterly fascinating
sleuth is back again - and this time from Nepal.

House no 583 Museum Marg in Kathmandu is as
different from 221 B Baker Street as Dr John
Watson is from Ted Riccardi. Yet it is the latter
- an American scholar and Indologist - who has
assumed the mantle of Watson, the chronicler of most of Holmes' adventures.

 From his adopted home in Kathmandu, the
73-year-old has brought Holmes back from the
grave in his first work of fiction, 'The Oriental Casebook of Sherlock Holmes'.

Narrating the British detective's fascinating
exploits in Tibet, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and
even the 'Dutch Indies', the book was originally
published by Random House in 2003, but has now
been brought to Nepal by the Kathmandu-based Himal Books.

To scholars and linguists, Riccardi needs no introduction.

Former director of the Southern Asian Institute
in the School of International and Public
Affairs, Columbia, and professor emeritus in the
Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and
Cultures, Columbia University, he also served as
counsellor for cultural affairs at the American
Embassy in New Delhi in the 1980s.

The nine stories in 'The Oriental Casebook'
purportedly originated when Holmes was presumed
to be dead after an encounter with Prof Moriarty
in the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.

'Holmes, unbeknownst to the world at large,
travelled the globe locked in mortal combat with
some of his most implacable enemies,' says the preface.

The roamings take him to Tibet, where the Dalai
Lama is revealed to be actually a little British
boy, to Calcutta where Holmes earns the gratitude
of Lord Curzon by solving a double murder, to
Nepal where he solves the nearly 1,500-year-old
murder of a king from the inscription on a pillar
at the famed Chhangu Narayan temple, and farther.

Paradoxically, Riccardi wrote the oriental
adventure of Holmes, regarded as a misogynist, as
a birthday gift for his wife Ellen.

'We were staying in the Tibet Guest House in
Kathmandu and it was my wife's 27th birthday,' he explains.

'I needed a 27th birthday gift and thought of
writing a Sherlock Holmes story. I decided to
take the missing years from 1891 to 1894 when
Sherlock Holmes could have been wandering through Asia.'

For days, he locked himself up in his room with a
typewriter to keep him company - computers had
not been discovered yet - refusing to let an
intrigued Ellen see what he was doing. 'It's
meant to be a secret,' he would tell her.

When he finally presented her with 'The Case Of
The Vice-Roy's Assistant' - which is based in
Kolkata - she was stunned. 'Did you really write it?' she asked in disbelief.

The second story, 'Murder In The Thieves Bazaar',
was inspired by a Nepali writer.'Paribandha',
meaning circumstantial evidence, was written by
Pushkar Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, the first
Nepali translator of the concise Oxford Dictionary.

In Rana's story, a young man is charged with
murder when he is innocent. The circumstantial
evidence is against him and the court finds him guilty.

'When I read the story, I thought, why don't I
rewrite it and bring in Sherlock Holmes to prove
his innocence?' says Ricardi. 'After I wrote the
new version, I began re-reading Conan Doyle's
'Boscombe Valley Mystery' (in which the son is
suspected of killing his father though he is
innocent). I then realised Pushkar Shumsher must
have been inspired by the Conan Doyle story, and
I, in turn, was inspired to do a Sherlock Holmes story through him!'

Riccardi has a second Holmes book in the
pipeline. New York's Pegasus will publish
'Between The Thames And The Tiber', a collection of 12 stories set in Italy.

'I chose Italy because that's the place most
British people from colonial India went after
they retired,' Riccardi explains. 'They could not
adjust to the cold of England any more as well as
the loss of the privileges they had. So, many headed for southern Italy.'

There's a third Sherlock Homes book that he is
working on, tentatively called 'The Owl Of Minerva And Other Stories'.

'Though I put lots of historical characters, the
history is entirely mine,' Riccardi warns. 'I did
little switches, though not enough to upset
anyone. I have alluded to that in the preface:
the reader who looks to these tales for
historical consistency will be disappointed.'
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