Vasudev Murthy found it easier to write about Sherlock Holmes’ adventures in Japan as Akira Yamashita. The author says he is comfortable in his many identities
Vasudev Murthy wondered “what it would be like to write as someone else,” and Akira Yamashita and Sherlock Holmes in Japan (Harper Collins, Rs. 350) was born. “It was a random name,” the management consultant comments. “I worked for a Japanese company in Dallas. I found the culture and history of Japan fascinating. A story about Japan perhaps sounded more credible with a Japanese author. I had been experimenting with that persona since 2005 when I wrote the first few chapters. Trying to feel like a Japanese was necessary, I think. I was reading Doyle and wondered how it would be to write a novel set in Japan. I pitched the idea to Ajitha, an editor with Harper Collins — she appears in the novel as the editor Watson cribs about so much. She thought there is merit in it. It is lovely to work with editors. One feels like you are writing the book together.”
The novel, like many others, takes advantage of the great hiatus between The Final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House. “It was a convenient time to set the novel. There was a lot happening around the world. Emperor Meiji was a Renaissance man who wanted to open up Japan.”
Vasudev has not fought shy of Holmes’ cocaine addiction. “That is what I mean by it is a convenient time to set the novel. The opium wars were on … I just felt that cocaine seemed necessary.”
The book finds Holmes with help from Watson exposing Professor Moriarty’s dastardly plan of world domination. Incidentally by happy coincidence, Sebastian Moran, Moriarty’s second in command is formerly of the First Bangalore Pioneers.
As always Watson is rather stodgy but his love of Bengali sweets makes him endearingly human.
“Yes Watson is rather dull and insular. He is irritated with Holmes — especially the consultant detective’s obsession with monographs. Perhaps Holmes is slightly faster on the uptake! And remember, Watson would have been rusty after two years of doing nothing with Holmes.”
Vasudev is a violinist and his first book was on classical music –What the Raags Told Me, Rupa & Co). “My pet themes have crept in. So you have Holmes extolling the virtues of vegetarianism — a bit of a personal agenda thrown in. It is just an interesting twist.”
Vasudev thought of the idea for the novel when he was in Cambodia—in Angkor Wat to be precise and so you have Holmes and Watson arriving in Japan by a circuitous route from Calcutta through Bangkok, Angkor Wat, Hanoi, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
In Calcutta, Holmes and Watson have dinner at Debnath Chatterjee’s house. “He is modelled on Rabindranath Tagore.” Dr. Jagdish Chandra Bose makes a cameo appearance as well. Research Vasudev says was a breeze. “I enjoyed the research. Now it is very easy to look up any date and you have a list of things that happened at that time. It is important as a writer to have many voices.”
Genre readers are tough taskmasters and Holmes’ fans are the toughest. “I am a fan but not obsessed with Holmes, who doesn’t actually exist. I enjoy the stories for the story. I don’t make that annual pilgrimage to Reichenbach Falls. I would wish the fans every happiness and tell them to relax and learn to laugh if possible and not take everything so seriously.”
As of now there have been two objections to the novel. “Objection might be too strong a word. One was whether it was okay for Watson and Holmes to have been together during the Great Hiatus. My answer is why not? Other books have done so. It's just a story. Everyone should relax and try to smile. The other was Watson's regimental affiliation, which is too minor to nit pick about.”
The 50-year-old author says he has read the canon but not as preparation to write the novel. “I have read all his stories over the years. I would not say that I am a rigid orthodox conservative Sherlockian who can cite this incident in that story etc. etc. I am not trying to imitate Doyle. It is my story.”
“The bottom line is I enjoyed writing the book and I don't take myself too seriously. I am not a grim and sober scholar. That's what my students say too.”
Commenting on the enduring appeal of Holmes, the teacher (visiting faculty at IIMB since 1997 teaching Management Consulting) says: “he is the greatest icon of the UK. I suppose it is the escapism. Nowadays so many bad things happen that go unpunished while the stories, offer this neat closure of a crime solved and the villain brought to justice.”
While Akira runs the Nippon Sitar Academy, Vasudev lives on Kanakpura Road with his wife, two children and five dogs “Zui, Jumble, Scotty, Chunnu and Raja — all adopted me!””
Growing up in “Bangalore (went to school in KV Malleshwaram and ASC) and Delhi before going to Roorkee for college, and then to the US,” Vasudev says: “Bangalore is one big pothole and garbage dump combined. It is an orthopaedic surgeon's paradise. It does not seem possible to make this place any worse but we are trying very hard and earnestly and we will not rest till we make it the world's worst. Which lake shall we fill today? Can we pollute the water any further? Can we build another million apartments without water, permits, electricity, garbage disposal?”
Future plans include “two more writing personas waiting to come out. Mindy Johnson, an old African American lady in Dothan Alabama, writing about the slavery era and Sami Al-Mutlaq, a retired English high school teacher living in the outskirts of Riyadh.”