Sunday, February 26, 2012

Was Sherlock Holmes a Myth or Real?

Who is Sherlock Holmes? Is he a mere character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Has Holmes ever existed? If so who is he?

“…The idea amused me. What should I call the fellow?” thought Conan Doyle. Of course, he called him Sherlock Holmes after an English Cricketer, and Oliver Wendell Holmes {1809-1894}, an American physician, professor, and author.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
A young man intending to be a doctor took his degree from Edinburgh University in 1881 and set up his practice as an eye-specialist in suburb of Portsmouth and waited for patients. Six years later, this struggling doctor was still waiting. Without patients and utterly in need of money he decided to try his hand at writing.

He then vividly went back to his student days at Edinburgh University to recollect events and anecdotes, and then contemplated looking at the photograph of his teacher which he kept on the mantelpiece of his study. Something struck him. He took up the pen and sharpened his wits. That’s it.

Thus was born Sherlock Holmes. And the young doctor was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). The rest is history. Sherlock Holmes attained immortality – a sort of legendary cult-figure with a famous address behind him. 221 B Baker Street. It is believed, thousands of people have addressed their problems to this fictitious address desperately seeking solutions.

But sadly what is not history and what is buried under the debris of history of literature is, is the life and times of real Sherlock Holmes. Yes, he is none other than the creator’s own teacher at Edinburgh University. He is Dr. Joseph Bell.

Dr, Joseph Bell (1837-1911)
Dr. Joseph Bell (1837-1911), the eminent surgeon and medical instructor who had enthralled his students and friends with his deductive acrobatics in the Royal infirmary wards, in the dispensaries, especially in the out-patient department where ailing citizens visited him.

“Dr. Bell would sit in his receiving room,” Doyle once told an interview, “with a face like a Red Indian, and diagnose people as they came in. Before they even opened their mouth he would tell them their symptoms and give them the details of their past life; and hardly ever would he make a mistake. With a woman especially, the observant doctor can often tell by noticing her exactly what part of her body she is going to talk about.” Doyle concluded.

Once, a laborer with a spinal complaint has come to meet Dr. Bell. “Your back must ache badly, but carrying a load of bricks won’t improve it.” The laborer was stunned and asked Dr. Bell to tell as to how he guessed that he was a bricklayer by trade. And Dr. Bell replied by pointing to the laborer’s peculiar rough horny hands.

Upon seeing another newcomer, Dr. Bell remarked, “A cobbler, I see.” When his students put quizzical faces he explained, “that the inside of the knee of the man’s trouser was worn; that was where the man had rested the lap-stone, a peculiarity only found in cobblers.

On another occasion, a tall weather-beaten patient entered the ward. Dr. Bell looked at him and turning to his students said, “Gentlemen, a fisherman.” Before the students could react, Dr. Bell smilingly explained, “It is a very hot summer’s day, yet the patient is wearing top boots. No one but a sailor would wear them in this season. The shade of his tan shows him to be a coast sailor; a knife scabbard too beneath his coat, the kind used by fishermen. To prove the correctness of these deductions, I noticed several minute fish scales adhering to his clothes and hands.” Dr Bell ended leaving his students stunned.

One particular feat made a lasting impression on his ever-stunned students. Once Dr. Bell was seated at his desk with his internees and dresser, an old lady with a handbag hanging on her arm entered. Dr. Bell gave a quick glance and to the amazement of his students said to the woman, “Where is your cutty pipe?”

Her bag was on her left arm and instinctively she grasped it with her right hand. This act did not pass unnoticed by Dr. Bell. “Don’t mind the students”, said Bell to the embarrassed woman, “Show me the pipe.” After a few minutes she put her hand into the bag and produced an odd short-stemmed much-used clay pipe.

Now Dr. Bell turning to his students asked, “Now how do I know she had a cutty pipe?” No answer.

“Did you notice the ulcer on her lower lip and the glossy scar on her left cheek indicating a superficial burn? All marks of a shot-stemmed clay pipe held close to the cheek while smoking – the characteristic attitude of peasant woman smoking clay pipe as she sits by her fireside.” Dr. Bell explained smilingly.

No doubt every one of his students was impressed at these feats. But of all the Edinburgh University undergraduates, it was Conan Doyle who was the most deeply impressed by his incredible mentor and his deductive prowess; and the profound influence it had on him came to the fore when he decided to take up writing.

“I thought of my old teacher Joe Bell, of his eagle face, of his curious ways, of his eerie trick of spotting details,” Doyle recollected in his autobiography. “If he were a detective he would surely reduce this fascinating but unrecognized business to something nearer to an exact science. It was surely possible in real life, so why should I not make it possible in fiction. It is all very well to say that a man is clever, but the reader wants to see examples of it – such examples as Dr. Bell gave us everyday in the wards. The idea amused me. What should I call the fellow?”

Of course, he called him Sherlock Holmes after an English Cricketer, and Oliver Wendell Holmes {1809-1894}, an American physician, professor, and author. Now to give features and a face Conan Doyle again remembered his old mentor. Dr. Bell was forty-four when Doyle saw him last. “He was thin, wiry, and dark, with high-nosed acute face, penetrating grey eyes, angular shoulders and a jerky way of walking. His voice was high and discordant.” With this as his model, Sherlock Holmes became the familiar, tall, stooped, hawk-faced, intense and inscrutable human bloodhound.

Books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
And Sherlock Holmes, solving baffling crimes in story after story with his deductive and analytical acrobatics went on to become a fictional cult-figure. Thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The success of Sherlock Holmes only too pleased Dr. Bell. But very often an Edinburgh graduate would recognize who Sherlock Holmes was.

And Sir Arthur Conan Doyle too gladly confessed to the enquirers, the press and the world that the prototype for Sherlock Holmes was indeed Dr. Joseph Bell; and went on to give graphic examples of his teacher’s “intuitive powers {which} were simply marvelous.”

Once when a young Doyle was working as Dr. Bell’s student assistant, a patient entered and sat down. Dr. Bell asked, “Did you like your walk over the side of the town?”

“Why yes, did your honor see me?”

Doyle who was listening was stunned. Dr. Bell then explained, “On a showery day such as that had been, the reddish clay at bare parts of the golf links adheres to the boots, and a tiny part is bound to remain. {As such} there is no clay anywhere else”{except that side of the town which the gentleman has come from}, concluded Dr. Bell.

Years later, in the adventure ‘The Five Orange Pips’ Sherlock Holmes repeats the same feat. But the most famous incident of which Doyle was very much impressed was when a civilian out-patient, a total stranger to Dr. Bell, came into his ward. In silence Dr. Bell studied the visitor, and then said, “Well my man, you have served in the army.” Not long discharged; a non-commissioned officer? Stationed at Barbados?”

To all these questions the wide-eyed stranger replied meekly, “Yes and yes.”

Dr. Bell then turned to his awe-struck students. “You see gentlemen, the man was a respectful man, but he did not remove his hat. They do not in the army, but he would have learned civilian ways had he been long discharged. He has an air of authority, and he is obviously Scottish. As a Barbados, his complaint is elephantiasis which is West Indian and not British.

This incident too made its way to Sherlock Holmes through, ‘The Greek Interpreter’.

There were many such instances and anecdotes that Conan Doyle used in his sixty classic stories. In fact, it is reported that Doyle always requested Dr. Bell for plots and incidents that had Holmes flavor. And Dr. Bell happily obliged and faithfully sent along such ideas and plots which thrilled the readers worldwide.

Throughout his life, Dr. Joseph Bell continually amazed his circle with the observation game. Even the Crown was very much impressed by his detecting genius and sought his services as consultant detective. And for two decades he worked, investigated and testified for the Crown thereby solving even the most complex of crimes.

 Dr. Joseph Bell went on to become a legend in his own right, even before he became known as Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle also did contribute and through Sherlock Holmes popularized his teacher’s amazing talents at the game of observation and deduction.

Dr. Bell at the age of 16 entered Edinburgh University and graduated before he was twenty-one. Two years later he became a house surgeon in the Royal infirmary, and at twenty-six he was lecturing in the extra-mural medical school. He married at the age of twenty-eight. It was a happy but short-lived marriage. His wife died nine years later. He lived to his end a widower. Dr. Bell was reserved and hated spotlight.

Dr. Bell preached what he practiced. He often told his students that the development of observation was a necessity to doctors and detectives and strongly recommended laymen to learn this thrilling sport.

His favorite demonstration before each new class in this regard was that he used to take up a tumbler filled with an amber-colored liquid. “This contains a very potent drug”. Dr. Bell would say, “To the taste it is intensely bitter. Now I want to see how many of you developed your powers of perception. Now I want you to test it by smell and taste. I don’t ask anything of my students which I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. I will taste it before passing it round.” said Bell.

Dr. Bell would then dip a finger into the liquid, put his finger to his mouth, suck it, and grimace. He would then pass the tumbler round. Each student likewise would dip a finger into the vile concoction, suck it, and make a sour face. When the tumbler had made the rounds Dr. Bell would gaze at the assembly and begin laughing. “Gentlemen, Gentlemen,” he would say, “I am deeply grieved to find that not one of you developed this power of perception, which I so often speak about. For, if you had watched me closely, you would have found that, while I placed my forefinger in the bitter medicine, it was the middle finger which found its way into my mouth!”

Most of all he possessed a wonderful sense of humor. When visitors begged him to recount tales of his deductive prowess, he used to relate the story of his visit to a bed-ridden patient.

“Aren’t you a bandsman?” Dr. Bell asked, standing over the patient.

“Aye,” admitted the sick-man.

Dr. Bell turned cockily to his students. “You see gentleman, I am right. It is this quite simple. This man had a paralysis of the cheek muscles, the result of too much blowing at wind instruments. We need only inquire to confirm.” Dr Bell said to his students proudly. Now turning to the patient he asked, “What instrument do you play my man?” The sick-man got up on his elbows, “Big Drum Doctor!” Now this time the students had a last laugh.

Dr. Joseph Bell, the prototype for Sherlock Holmes died at the age of seventy four in 1911.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Mystery of Hollow Eggs

Mrs. Bewakoofchand yelled at him pointing towards the eggs, “Look you misfit! The eggs are as empty as your head. There is nothing in them. Not even a minute particle of dust that contains your brain, leave alone the yolk!”
 “Darling today is Reema’s birthday and I am going to make some sweets experimenting with eggs. So get everything on this list and that includes eggs. Hurry Up”. It was a command with a command with no room for argument. The Commander-in-Chief was none other than Reema’s mother and the command was delivered to Mr. Bewakoofchand, Reema’s father.

  The poor creature went sulking to the market and purchased everything but eggs. He was naturally sent right back to the market after being offered outrageous compliments for his absentmindedness. This time he bought as many as twelve eggs. He handled them with all the care necessary for this kind of eggy thing; and with a beaming smile placed them down gently as if he had successfully completed the Operation Egg-Star.

  Reema’s mother, all set for her experimentation cracked the first egg. Shocked! She broke the second egg. Wondered! She broke the third. Amazed! She broke fourth, fifth and sixth and right down to the last egg. She gasped for breath and screamed at the top of her voice at which a portion of the ceiling seemed cracked.

  Mr. Bewakoofchand in answer to the summons rushed to the kitchen in nano second – a hundred millionth second.

  Mrs. Bewakoofchand yelled at him pointing towards the eggs, “Look you misfit! The eggs are as empty as your head. There is nothing in them. Not even a minute particle of dust that contains your brain, leave alone the yolk!”

  Mr. Bewakoofchand slowly bent on his knees and picked up the broken shells and examined them closely to make sure that they were egg shells.  No doubt, they were egg shells. Still confused, he picked up all the broken shells and went to the grocer and mustering up the courage threw all the pieces on the grocer’s table and shouted at him as to why he had to cheat his customers in such a clumsy manner.

  Unprepared for the onslaught, the grocer with a Socratic patience offered him a seat and a glass of water and politely enquired what it was all about. Calming down, Mr. Bewakoofchand explained everything in detail. At this, the grocer too now dumb-struck took an egg and broke it. Knitting his brows into a fearsome frown, he took another egg and another egg… egging egg after egg till he was exhausted of all eggs. The grocer froze, dazed and confused with his head in hands and his elbows resting on the table. And before he recovered his senses, a fat lady, another of his customers with the same case threw the empty eggshells on his head cursing with a fluency that would have made a seller envious.  

  Before she exhausted her curses, another man looking distinctly like a goon performed the same ritual followed by another and another – it seemed like a never-ending television soap opera. 

  The grocer taking everything in his stride, immediately convened a meeting with his consumers who were present there and unanimously passed a resolution to the effect of declaring war on the management of Dhoka Crossbreeds, a poultry farm which was his sole supplier. They all marched to the poultry farm and showered the manager with the broken egg shells. Amazed at this indecent behavior of the visitors, the manager rose to his feet and bellowed at their indecorous behavior.

  The fat lady moved menacingly towards him, took an egg and hit him on his forehead. The manager tried to wipe the wetness off his forehead, but to his surprise there was nothing to wipe! Stunned, the manager took an egg and broke it, still puzzled, he cracked another and another till he broke the last egg and found to his dismay every egg shell was empty. Amused and confused at this egg shell phenomena, he ordered a high level committee to immediately summon the great veterinarian Dr. Pagal Varma.

  Dr. Pagal Varma came looking grave. He stared at the egg shells. For a fleeting second he thought he was exposed. ‘What the heck! I can come out of any situation clean and tidy. After all this is a fool’ paradise’, the charlatan thought and grinned maliciously. The others took the grin as a warm gesture and reciprocated.

  The manager of Dhoka Crossbreeds briefed him and demanded a thorough checkup of every cock and hen. He also insisted that all the medicines and food that the birds took be checked and no hen or cock was to be left unturned. Turning to his consumers he said that they will get their moneys worth at all costs.

  After an hour or so, a profusely sweating Dr. Pagal Varma emerged from his chambers and declared, “Sirs, I did not find anything wrong. Every hen and cock is in perfect health. Even their food intake and the medicines we are administering are comparable to international standards.”

  The group was stunned and looked at each other scratching their chins and temples and wondered what was behind this unusual problem. Breaking the dead silence Dr. Pagal Varma declared, “But sirs, !@#!@#!@#???”

  Hearing this everybody looking at each other broke into a riotous laughter sending their heads – on their shoulders of course – reeling towards their homes.


  “Well! Where did you disappear for the whole day?” Asked Mrs. Bewakoofchand looking quizzically at Bewakoofchand, whose entire body was shaking with boisterous laughter.

  “Why, yes! I had been to the grocer and from there along with him and others went to Dhoka Crossbreeds, a poultry farm to…” He was still laughing.

  Mrs. Bewakoofchand, who never had much time with her husband’s stupidities said, “You wasted the whole day. Then what…” She demanded.

  Still unable to suppress his laughter, Mr. Bewakoofchand said, “!@#!@#!@#???”

  “Www…what!!” screeched Mrs. Bewakoofchand, unable to laugh at this crude joke.

  “Yes, the poor creatures in protest against the population explosion were using contraceptives! Hee… heee… heeeee”.


  If Bewakoofchand had not been bewakoof and had applied a little bit of common sense, which he has none of course as the story suggests, the story would have taken a different turn. Had he walked into any of the local press or approached the media with the empty eggshell phenomena, everything would have come tumbling down.

  With such reports coming to the notice of the Customs and Excise officials they would have unearthed a big narcotics racket and seized a huge haul of drugs with those egg-shell clones made of lime and chalk powder under the expert guidance of Dr. Pagal Varma.

  None of this happened, because Bewakoofchand was what he was – true to his name. As for the others, indeed, it’s a fool’s paradise! 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Sweet, Yet Spine-Chilling Experience!!


  I laughed at my own thoughts swirling around her, unaware that she and other ladies are watching me. I was so awe-struck by her beauty that I hardly concentrated on work that day. It was lunch.


Kites tuning up the moods
  Sankranthi, the colorful kite-flying season, I am convinced, would always bring to my mind a funny incident that happened recently. I was deputed by my boss, a chartered accountant to a certain company to finish an incomplete task. I agreed and went over there. Seven days of work, yet there was much to be done. As pressure built up, I decided to start early every day from then on.

  One fine morning {really it was a foggy chilly morning} I was at the office at seven sharp. Before getting on with serious work, I have to have a cigarette smoke.  Strolling leisurely in the verandah, I lit up one, and threw a glance around. That was the beginning of a delightful yet spine-chilling experience.

  My eyes rested on something which was marvelous. I was stunned. For just in front of me, a few yards away, I saw a lady soaking the muddy floor in front of her house with water mixed in cow dung to draw colorful rangolis over it.

What a Beauty!!
  No, it was not the act that caught me but her beauty. If one cares to look at her from a particular angle, one can trace a sort of defiance in her beauty that instantly provokes one to pull her cheeks in a lighter vein exclaiming ‘Ha My Sweet’! If one views her from another angle one can see the Einsteinian in her beauty. That is, if one keeps looking at her for one’s whole life, it would just seem to be a second. Such is her beauty!

  I laughed at my own thoughts swirling around her, unaware that she and other ladies are watching me. I was so awe-struck by her beauty that I hardly concentrated on work that day. It was lunch.

  Standing in the verandah, I took out a cigarette and lighting it, I casually threw a glance around in that direction. She was there again chatting nothing with the other ladies. She caught my glance with a serious look on her face sending shivers down my spine. I simply hung my head fearing something dreadful. Thinking what it might be, I involuntarily looked over there dragging on my cigarette.

  She said something to the other ladies and pointed her finger in my direction. Fearing it might not be me, I looked around there was no one but only a cow resting near me.

  My goodness! It’s me they are talking about! I closed my eyes in fear. I was sweating like anything, not even trying to mop up my face expecting something disastrous to happen.

  Being an alien to that area, I have reasons to be afraid of. Oh my! It’s going to happen what ought not to happen. This time she is taking small but measured strides towards me. She is sure to pull me up and make a scene, to hurt me where it hurts most - my personal dignity! Now at stake!

  And for few seconds I was freezed to death like lamb expecting to be butchered. Few seconds elapsed. Wondering over her silence I opened my eyes I was stunned… again. She was walking back coyly with the large chunk of cow dung in her hands, that’s been there in front of me – just two feet away.

Rangolis Reflect Women’s Beauty
Rangolis Tune-up Moods
Simple but Beautiful Rangoli 
  Then it struck me that Sankranthi season is on and there is bound to be a sort of competition in rangolis among the womenfolk. Yes, rangolis acquire much more beauty when drawn on a mud-floor coated with cow dung.

  I laughed heartily at my own unfounded fears.

Spoonerism – The Art of Rib-tickling Utterances

  What is spoonerism? Who is this Spooner? How has he enriched the English language? Read on and learn about a great legend and his famous rib-tickling utterances. 

  Once a wayfaring stranger stopped a reverend in the street and enquired of him about a certain route. Pat came the reply, “Just go down by Town Drain!” He is actually supposed to say, “Just go down by Down Train”

  The wayfaring stranger stood still with an apoplectic expression on his face, looking at the figure walking off majestically. Obviously he was not aware that he talked to a legend just then. And this very legend had the audacity to shock and enrage Her Majesty by addressing the Queen as ‘Our Queer Old Dean’ instead of ‘Our Dear Old Queen’.

  Later when someone appreciated his survival from implications for his discourteous remark to Her Majesty, he is supposed to have remarked to the bewilderment of the questioner, ‘The Lord indeed is shoving leopard.’ For he meant, of course, ‘the Lord indeed is a loving shepherd’… to have shepherded him from crisis.

  Who was this legend that the Lord was so merciful to have shepherded him from crisis to crisis?

Rev Dr William Archibald Spooner
  In 19th century, there lived a gentleman called Dr. Rev. William Archibald Spooner {1844-1930}, a distinguished Anglican clergyman and a warden of New College at Oxford.

  Spoonerism is what an accidental or intentional transposition of sounds or letters in a spoken sentence in a way the sense completely gets changed often acquiring hilarious undertones, other than the intended one. In other words spoonerism is simply metathesis. It is generally committed by the slip of the tongue. And this ‘tip of the lung’ err… ‘slip of the tongue’ was a natural phenomena with Dr. Rev. William Archibald Spooner, which catapulted him to the dizzying heights of fame thus making him a legend in his own lifetime.

  One day, a lady was occupying Dr. Spooner’s pew in the church. He came. He saw and said, “Lady you are peccupewing my pie”. Actually he was supposed to say, “Lady you are occupying my pew”. The dazed lady of course vacated the pew throwing nervous side glances at him.

  Once a student missed his history lectures. Dr. Spooner irked at his absence shouted, “You hissed my mystery lectures, why?” {He wanted to say, “You missed my history lectures?”}. The student didn’t know whether to laugh or sulk. On another occasion the church reverberated with suppressed laughter, when Rev Spooner, in the course of conducting a choir in the church solemnly said, “All rise and let us sing, ‘Kinkering Congs their titles take’ {the hymn actually is “Conquering Kings their titles take”}.

  Rev Dr Spooner while conducting a marriage, he simply said, ‘It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride’ {he actually wanted to say ‘It is now customary to kiss the bride’} to the shocking dismay of many, himself having the last laugh. While lecturing the class he once said, "He was killed by a blushing crow". Whereas Dr Spooner meant to say, "He was killed by a crushing blow."

  On another occasion, Rev Spooner was escorting a nasty bigwig to the church. Upon entering the premises, the others reported to have heard him say, ‘Let me sew you to your sheet’. {He is supposed to say, ‘Let me see you to your seat’} The bigwig simply glared at Dr Spooner. Was he malicious digging at others and himself having the last laugh. Was he so mean? No, he was a good scholar and a good teacher.

  As for his ‘slip of the tongue’, it comes very naturally to him. In fact, Julian Huxley puts it on record saying, “Dr. Spooner was not conscious of any of his actual lapses at the time he made them. It was this involuntary action that has to do “something a little wrong with some of the association centers in his brain.” That explains the phenomena of his scoring “last laughs” at others; and at times himself became a victim of his own lapses. Sir Julian Sorell Huxley, the renowned biologist and scholar, who worked under him as a Fellow of New College when Dr. Spooner was the Don of that ancient Foundation.

  On one occasion, he even seems to have made a butt of himself. Dr Spooner was taking a stroll in the college grounds deeply engrossed in his thoughts. Suddenly, his hat blew off. And running after it he shouted, “Oh Please, will nobody pat my hiccup.” But of course someone picked up his hat.

Spooner on Sermon
  With all these peculiarities it sounds incredible that he became famous. He endeared himself to one and all becoming a legend in his own lifetime with his kind of ‘kink’erring utterances called spoonerisms. Some say Spooner rarely committed spoonerisms. Many of his spoonerisms are alleged to have invented by unknown motley faces and attributing them onto Dr Spooner. Indeed Dr. Rev. William Archibald Spooner was quite aware and knew of his reputation. In one of the College meetings, Dr. Spooner concluded his wonderful little speech with “And now I suppose I would better sit down, or I might be saying… err… one of those things.”

  He did say one of those things hundreds of times during his lifetime thus enriching the English language with lots of humor and hilarity of which the sound still reverberates in the hearts of the English language enthusiasts.