The maverick author Vasudev Murthy talks to Varsha Naik about writing in other voices and his choice of characters while elaborating on his life goals as well
Vasudev Murthy seems to have a found a niche for himself writing in other voices. He finds the experience liberating, allowing him to cast aside his natural style and enjoying the intrigue and richness of a new persona. In his two fiction books, Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Japan and Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Timbuktu, he carries the mantle of Arthur Conan Doyle. “It’s inexplicable how the words flow, but that’s the fun of it. Under my Japanese pen name, Akira Yamashita, I’ve written short stories and even a play. I’ve experimented as a Saudi Arabian gentleman using a very lyrical style while describing the desert in highly complex ways; and as a Southern African American lady tracing her legacy through the times of slavery,” he explains.
The book club
The Missing Years: Timbuktu, launched at the Pune International Literature Festival last month, is his fourth book. Vasudev grew up in an environment of books, his mother’s collection, and it’s fitting as such that his interest in writing is not a casual one. His first attempt was a novel based on animal rights, which he feels very strongly about, but remains unreleased as it was not up to publishing standards, he says.
The second manuscript, which did get published, is titled What the Raags Told Me – a fictional tale inspired by the classical musical compositions of Kumar Gandharva. “It’s a story about a person who goes through life and has 22 different classical raags manifest themselves in various forms interpreting his life events. With each life event, there is a raag that makes total sense in that moment,” he says. The publisher commissioned a set of 22 paintings to go with the novel, one corresponding to each raag and chapter, giving it the feel of a coffee table book. Vasudev’s third fiction work is a collection of 30 short stories, The Time Merchants and Other Strange Tales. With a background in management consulting, Vasudev has also written two non-fiction works in the niche space of business management: Effective Proposal Writing followed by How Organizations Really Work.
In another voice
It was as part of a writers group, where a theme of ‘write in the style of somebody else’ was introduced, that Vasudev discovered something new and exciting, challenging the writer within. A story written like this would be very different in tone and what was important to its telling. He picked Arthur Conan Doyle and combined with his interest in Japan and its culture this resulted in his first Sherlock Holmes book. He says, “The challenge was two-fold: one, to be as true as possible to the style and language of Doyle; and second make it sufficiently interesting from both the Japan and the mystery perspective.” The book has been translated into Portuguese and Japanese and is being well received.
The books explore the period known as The Missing Years in The Canon, the term for the complete collection of Doyle’s stories on Sherlock Holmes. Vasudev explains, “Between 1891 and 1894, there are no stories about Sherlock Holmes. There is a lot of speculation about where Holmes is during this time. One theory is the fictional character overshadowed Doyle, by becoming far more popular who becomes jealous and kills off the Holmes character in the story called The Final Problem, going off the edge over Reichenbach Falls with his nemesis, James Moriarty. Readers did not take well to this, and so in 1894, Doyle wrote The Empty House, in which Holmes returns.
Vasudev talks about what made The Missing Years: Timbuktu interesting. “We know very little about Timbuktu, most of it has to do with mystery. It was a center of learning, and being on the edge of the Sahara Desert became a trading hub for caravans. The most interesting aspect is the Tuaregs – the unique blue-veiled tribe of the Sahara (pictured on the book cover). The men are the ones who wear veils, and as they age, the veils cover more of their face. Women are prohibited from wearing veils. The story tracks the travels of historic characters like Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo traversing China, India and parts of Arabia and Africa, with Sherlock Holmes thrown into the mix.” While researching Vasudev encountered an interesting nugget of information about the evidence of Buddhism having travelled to the Southern Nile.
Writing in another voice means creating a certain aura, “To lend authenticity to Doyle in the Holmes books I made sure I was surrounded by his books and read random pages now and again to maintain the tone and not drift to my own style,” he says. As a violinist himself, Vasudev felt an uncanny connect with Holmes and as such music plays a prominent role in both the books. He is currently exploring writing about Sherlock Holmes’s missing years in Iceland.
Talking about what is his takeaway from the life of Holmes, Vasudev says “Sherlock Holmes was a man of the world, interested in absolutely everything – every piece of knowledge or information. He was a good, ethical individual who was slightly scornful of the human condition, the way people behave – a keen observer of the frailty of man.”
Attempting to break the barriers of his abilities, Vasudev recently took his first Bharatanatyam class, which he says was an incredible experience. When he’s not writing, you will find him raising awareness about animal rights, and occasionally standing on his head, as he masters various yoga poses.