A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Sherlock Holmes is hip once again. A latest series produced by the BBC (god bless them) called “Sherlock” has become a blockbuster hit in the Caucasian world, and a blockbuster hit in the engineering and MBA colleges of our country (at least that is what I have been told). The series brings Sherlock back to life in the modern day London, armed with blackberry, google and Macbook Pro.

That the series is winning new fans for Sherlock Holmes is evident from the increase in sales of his books. But the series has some charm for old timers as well. What really appeals to a Sherlock Holmes fan is that series has really managed to stay true to the vision of Arthur Conan Doyle (and even surpass him at times). This is a much bigger accomplishment that it sounds.

Many countless movies, plays and all sorts of productions exist on Holmes, but most of them fail to retain the magic of the original writings. The latest attempt by Hollywood, with Robert Downey Junior as Holmes, is a miserable failure according to many (including yours truly). You really need to understand what Sherlock Holmes is all about to bring him alive in the 21st century. For me nothing captures the essence of what Holmes is all about then the first novel “A Study in Scarlet”.

The first episode in the BBC series was titled “A Study in Pink” and was loosely based on the first book written by Arthur Conan Doyle on the super sleuth titled “A Study in Scarlet”. This fits a standard pattern followed by the creators of the BBC show where the episodes are loosely based on original Conan Doyle stories.

In both the versions, we are first introduced to Watson, the more socially groomed side kick, who none the less has some pent up angst of his own. Watson is in turn introduced to Sherlock by an acquaintance and he is immediately intrigued by the personality of the super sleuth (and so are the readers).  In the first story, Watson delineates a detailed personality sketch of Sherlock Holmes and it goes something like this.

Holmes is the super geek. The way he gets his kicks from his work and the level of commitment he has, would appeal to a lot of scientists, engineers and academicians. He is detached from money and monetary pursuits, social graces are trivialities for him, he has really good taste in a select few things and can be charming if the need so arises. He likes his routine and likes doing what he does, over and over and over again.

In many ways this character is misleading. It’s nowhere written that you have to be socially awkward to be a genius. I think lot of mediocre academicians take advantage of this generalization and get away with being an asshole. Similarly the attitude Holmes has towards sex (a low pursuit, a distraction) is not mandated to be a genius either. In fact, research points to the opposite. Brilliant men tend to be sexually, shall we say more liberated than the average.

Sherlock is also narrow-minded as he only wants to know about his own domain and ignore most other forms of knowledge. His rationale being that human brain has limited capacity, like a hard drive on a computer, and you can only store so much. But modern research says, that there is no limit on how much you can or should store, but it is how you organize your brain is what matters. And more often than not, brilliant thinkers have a systemic way of thinking, where they can find connections between apparently unrelated topics.

However it is his fixed nature and his ability to derive lot of kicks from his work, is something he shares common with many super geeks who accomplish a lot in their lives over a period of time. Maybe that is why he is a hit with the young geeks currently studying in engineering colleges in India.

My Work, My Work, My Kingdom for my Work

My Work, My Work, My Kingdom for my Work !

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