BOOK REVIEW: THE BROWN HAND by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as we all know was a British writer best known for his detective fiction featuring the character Sherlock Holmes. Originally a physician, in 1887 he published ‘A Study in Scarlet’ the first of his four novels and thereafter more than fifty short stories about Holmes and Dr. Watson. Brown Hand was first published in The Strand Magazine in May 1899.

    The story is based on an Indian urban legend that tells about a Muslim who was forced to have his arm amputated after an accident, but died a few months later, and after death became a ghost and began wandering about in search of his limb.

    The central character of the story is a doctor, Sir Dominic Holden, who has had a long spell of service in British India first as a military doctor and then as a private surgeon in Bombay. Once when he was posted at Peshawar, then a main city of undivided Punjab (hence a part of India), he had to attend to a poor Afghan whose one hand was in such a bad state due to the spread of gangrene, that the only way to save his life was to amputate it. The operation was performed and Dr. Holden asked for the amputated hand as his fee. Dr. Holden had a hobby of collecting discarded limbs, organs, cysts from living and dead humans and thus wanted to add the “brown hand” to his collection. Whereas, the Afghan being Islamic, refused to part with his amputated hand, as it breached the rule of his religion which stated amputated body parts should be kept with the owner himself. But Dr. Holden promised to return the Afghan his hand before his death and took the hand with him to his house in Bombay. Thereafter Dr. Holden soon retired and settled in Wiltshire, England. One night he was awakened when someone started pulling his clothes. It was the ghost of his old Afghan patient. Dr. Holden understood that the Afghan had died and his ghost wanted back the amputated hand. From then onwards, the ghost started haunting the doctor’s lab every night for four years looking for his hand. But the ghost failed to find the hand since it had been damaged in a fire that had broken out at the doctor’s house in Bombay. The recurring visits of the ghost, had made the life of Dr. Holden and his wife, Lady Holden, miserable and the ill effects of which on their health was prominent. A doctor known for his steel nerves had now become a scared individual.
When, Dr. Holden’s nephew, by the name of Dr Hardacre decided to solve this problem. He spent his first night in the lab and saw the Afghan searching for his hand. The next day, Dr. Holden explained him everything in detail and Hardacre left for London. Hardacre, a doctor himself, went through a book on spirits and found that certain spirits could not leave the living world because of them being strongly attached to something or someone existing in this world. Hardacre decided to try his luck and left for Chadwell where a friend of his was the home surgeon at a hospital for sailors. The home surgeon provided Hardacre with an amputated hand of an Indian sailor as the requirement was a “brown hand”.
    Hardacre returned to Wiltshire and placed the hand in a jar in his uncle’s lab. Hardacre stayed awake as the Afghan ghost came visiting as usual. But Hardacre’s experiment failed as the Afghan on seeing the hand, wailed in agony and smashed the jar on the floor before disappearing. Next morning, Hardacre realised his mistake as he had brought the left hand of the sailor while the Afghan had had his right hand separated. Hardacre rushed back to Chadwell and luckily got the right hand of the sailor. He returned and placed the hand in a jar in the lab just like the previous day. Dr. Holden forbade Hardacre from sleeping in the lab as he feared risking his nephew’s life.
That night, Hardacre again saw somebody approaching him while he tried to sleep. But it wasn’t any ghost but his uncle who seemed overwhelmed with joy and had suddenly regained some of the energy he possessed earlier. Dr. Holden stated that the ghost had finally found his amputated hand and before leaving, he offered the Eastern Salaam bowed thrice in front of him, in a way similar to how Afghans pay respect. Thereafter Holdens lived on peacefully and consulted Hardacre for every major decisions they took thereafter. Before he died, Dr. Holden named Hardacre as the heir to his property.

    The story has mild horror and conveys a message that if one is intensely attached to something in this world it becomes difficult for the soul to leave the world without that object.

    It makes an interesting read. I would give it seven out of ten.

By Kamlesh Tripathi



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