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Thank you Mr Holmes

By Archana Masih
Last updated on: February 06, 2004 14:07 IST
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He was standing just where I had seen him three years ago.

The deerstalker cap, the cape coat, the pipe. Right beside Sherlock Holmes' statue outside Baker Street tube station,dressed just like him.

"221B Baker Street," he said and thrust a card in my rain soaked hand.

I looked at the damp card: Sherlock Holmes, Private Investigator, 221 Baker StreetÂ…

What else do you do when you have the world's most famous address in your palm?

You give the iconic detective his due and walk straight to that address across the street.

The address now houses the Sherlock Holmes museum. A London heritage site, and perhaps the only one, which venerates a fictional character who once lived in Victorian England.

The door to his house is open, and a woman dressed as Mrs Hudson walks out with a big bag of garbage. She strides to the dustbin at the edge of the street, dumps the bag and shuts the door after her.

This is Sherlock Holmes' home. Like its creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described it. Holmes' room, his friend Dr Watson's and Mrs Hudson's -- the matronly housekeeper -- all kept as close to what they must have been in Doyle's gripping pages.

What is it about Holmes that makes him so endearing?

The answer is rather simple, really.

It's the timeless quality of his character.

Just like David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, the Phantom, Scarlet O' Hara, Frodo Baggins and Malgudi Days' Swami.

All of them legendary characters that dwarfed the writers who created them.

Holmes with his shrewd intelligence.

Copperfield and Twist for surviving a traumatic childhood.

O'Hara for her stubborn determination to succeed against the odds.

Frodo for his battle to save Middle Earth.

Swami for being the child in everyone of us.

And, the Phantom for being the dashing ghost who walked and demolished all evil. Just like that.

I am not certain whether there are any museums for them, but these characters have been our heroes. They taught us a lesson or two. They make us feel good.

Holmes, like us, had his flaws, but he pursued his craft with a focus and passion that was to die for. He was brash. Condescending. You could frown upon his banter for one-upmanship with the genteel Dr Watson, but boy! wasn't he sharp!

You could admire him. And trust him.

Aided with cases which the good Sir Arthur gave superlative names like The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of Four, The Red-Headed League etc, Sherlock Holmes was brilliant as you could get.

It did not matter that he lived in the 19th century, here is a man who could still makes your eyes glint with excitement and give our more recent Mr Bond a scintillating fight in the popularity stakes.

Apologies to all of you in Bondage, I don't think 007 is any comparison to Mr Holmes.

I first watched Sherlock Holmes as a child at boarding school. Jeremy Brett (who once played Audrey Hepburn's young suitor in My Fair Lady) fitted the role the way Amjad Khan did his in Sholay.

In the eighties all we had was Doordarshan. One channel, three or four programmes one could watch every week on the oh-so-politically correct National Network. Satellite television was as distant as space travel.

Soaps like Buniyaad gripped us all, and Mr Holmes competed with Masterji, Lajoji and their family for our attention.

But Holmes had his followers. In the small world of Indian television, he was our passport to the world outside. Those who saw him, loved him.

They still do because he fired people's imagination and took them snooping on cobbled roads, in horse carriages or on a train to France.

If you go to the Sherlock Holmes museum, there are letters that give a flavour of what the detective means to people the world over.

'Dear Mr Holmes,' says one.

'I have heard that some of the lads in London help you from time to time for solving crimes. I would like to let you know that I am also at your service.

'Any time you need help in solving any of the cases which are connected with the United States of America, I will be there for you, especially if the case involves dinosaurs or fish, as these subjects are my speciality.

Give my regards to Dr Watson.

Yours Sincerely,

Brandon Sellers, 5 years'

A few years ago, Jamyang Norbu, a Tibetan writer, wrote The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes. The book begins with the return of Holmes after a scuffle with mortal enemy Professor Moriarty resulted in the Seer of Baker Street presumably perishing in a Swiss canyon.

Arthur Conan Doyle, of course, was subsequently compelled by popular outrage to bring back Holmes in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, where the detective off-handedly mentioned he had spent his missing years in Tibet. Norbu took off from that reference to create a spellbinder about Holmes' life in India and Tibet during those years.

In doing so, Norbu did something Doyle couldn't.

He brought Sherlock Holmes on a case to India.

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