Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.

When I go from hence
let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Bookmarks: The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu

After completing Rabindranath's biography, I have run out of new books to read and have taken to rereading the old books on my shelf. The first such book was The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu. Norbu attempts to fill in two missing years in Sherlock Holme's life between his apparent death in The Final Problem and reappearence in The Adventure of The Empty House. By his own admission Holmes spent the two years in Tibet disguised as a Norwegian named Sigerson. Norbu takes this as his point of departure and follows Holmes in his travels in India and Tibet.

TMSH is a delightful pastiche. Jamyang Norbu has maintained seamlesss continuity from Doyle's stories in both language and atmosphere. His description of 1890s India from the bustling crowds of Bombay to the hills of Shimla is superb. His recreation of Thibet and the forbidden city of Lhasa is fabulous. My personal favourite is the passage describing the traveler's first view of the city as they enter through its gates. Norbu draws his characters from not only Doyle's stories but also from Rudyard Kipling's works, Kim being the most prominent among them. Since Watson cannot be here his shoes are filled in by Babu Hurree Chunder Mookerjee - one of Kipling's creations - who becomes the Bengali Boswell to Holmes. In fact, the tale is populated throughout with characters from Kim and the language is nearer to Kim's than to any of Doyle's works.

The book has decidedly political overtones. This is not surprising given that Jamyang Norbu is an eminent Tibetan political activist fighting for its independence. The events in the book happen in 1892, the Tibetan Water-Dragon year. This is just about the time when China was making her first moves to grab Tibet. Setting the story in this year allows Norbu to introduce a political backdrop. Needless to say, all the villains are Chinese.

TMSH is an extremely well researched book filled with interesting nuggets of information about the peoples, events and places of those times. The narrator is an enlightened Brahmo Samajist and is as such familiar with most of the prevelant philosophies and scientific theories of his times. One of the most amusing conversations in the book takes place when a character mentions that the light waves are electrical and magnetic vibrations. Though we know it to be true today, our narator, true to his times, dismisses it as bakwaas and having "nothing scientific about it"

(To be completed)

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