Shrabani Basu is back with another book, this time with a tale that documents the prejudice against an Indian family that converted to Christianity while they were living in Britain.
Set in 1903, The Mystery of the Parsee Lawyer: Arthur Conan Doyle, George Edalji and the Case of the Foreigner in the English Village (Bloomsbury Publishing) is the story of how writer Conan Doyle investigates the case of a young Indian lawyer, Edalji, who was falsely accused and imprisoned for mutilating horses.
Previously, the author and journalist has penned Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, which was also converted into motion picture.
Excerpts from an interview:
How did you come across this story?
I had always been aware that the only case personally investigated by Arthur Conan Doyle was that of an Indian. Conan Doyle has written about the case himself. But I wanted to tell the full story. In 2015, I read that some letters written by Conan Doyle were coming up for auction in London.
These were to do with the George Edalji case and were the letters from Conan Doyle to the police chief of Staffordshire, George Anson. I followed up on the letters and researched the story through material in different archives, consulting home office files and police records. It took five years!
What do you think made Conan Doyle take up the case?
I think he took it up because it was such an unusual request. Here was a Parsi, a son of an Indian vicar, accused of crimes that seemed unreasonable. Conan Doyle was convinced of a miscarriage of justice and he loved to stand up for the underdog.
What kind of racism did George Edalji go through?
When George was 12 when the family started receiving anonymous letters, threatening to kill them and set the vicarage on fire. Racist graffiti was painted on their house and excreta was thrown in through the letter box.
It started in 1888 and went on for several years. In 1903, the racist attacks took an even more sinister turn, as anonymous letters started linking George with the mutilation and killing of animals.
At the time, he was a 28-year-old practising solicitor and the allegations were damaging. When George was found guilty, the media said he had committed the crime because of his ‘Eastern’ roots.
Once Conan Doyle rose to George’s defence, the media changed their tune. They started writing that he should not be discriminated against for the colour of his skin, all of which they were guilty of doing earlier.
Shapurji Edalji’s character is interesting. What do you know about him?
I wanted to examine why he wanted to convert to Christianity. I also wanted to find out why he made England his home. What was moving was how he never gave up fighting for his son. Nor did he abandon the village and move elsewhere after receiving threats. He served as the vicar of Great Wyrley for 42 years.