More than 30 years after his
death, Ibn-e-Safi remains Urduís greatest writer of detective fiction
and crime thrillers. Safi published his first novel in the famous Jasusi
Dunya series from Allahabad. In 1952, he migrated to Pakistan but his
books continued to be published also in India. His creations ó Ali Imran,
Inspector Faridi, Sajid Hameed, Dr Dread ó became household names.
Agatha Christie once said, ďI donít know Urdu but have knowledge of
detective novels in the sub-continent. There is only one original
writer: Ibn-e-Safi.Ē In the past couple of years, GenNow has
rediscovered him. In recent months, at least six of his 245 novels have
been translated and published in English and Hindi. His Karachi-based
son, Ahmad Safi, speaks to TOI-Crest about his father and his work.
Which place did Ibn-e-Safi
originally belong to?
His family came from a
village named Nara in Allahabad district in Uttar Pradesh. The village
does not exist anymore, but the area is now part of Kaushambi district.
What explains the renewed
interest in his work?
My father wrote for the
people. They loved his work and that love has endured all these years.
You will not find too many writers whose works have been appreciated by
different classes of society. From professors of literature to truck
drivers, from engineers to autowallahs, everyone loved reading him.
How popular is he in
Very popular. His books
continued to be published. Two years ago, we started a Facebook page for
him. We were surprised to see that it soon had 1,600 fans. They put out
extracts from his novels and update the site. The average age of those
visiting the page is about 20 years.
His novels are so racy and
inventive. Have any of them ever been filmed?
None of his novels have been
filmed. But in 1974, the Pakistan movie Dhamaka borrowed characters from
his novels. The filmís hero was Javed Sheikh. You might remember he
played Shah Rukh Khanís father in Om Shanti Om. The movie did not do
well. Nobody from Bollywood has approached us yet. Urdu has a limited
readership in India and the Hindi editions of his novels stopped
circulating years ago. Many didnít have access to his novels. But now,
with his books getting translated into English and Hindi, there might be
offers in future. With 245 novels to choose from, they will be spoilt
In India, English is the
first language of many young Indians. If the situation is similar in
Pakistan, these translations could reach out to them. Do you agree?
In India and Pakistan, the
younger generation are growing up on English. A niece of mine read a
book in English and said, I want to check out the original version in
Urdu now. My son too first read the translation and is now hooked to the
original. I believe it will be a similar story for many other
Ibn-e-Safi inculcated a
love for reading among common people. Can you tell us something about
the aana libraries that sprung across small towns of India and Pakistan
during the 1950s and 1960s?
The aana libraries were
basically corner shops with a small collection of popular novels and
magazines. A majority of these books were written by Ibn-e-Safi. These
stores also rented out the books for an aana (six paise). Considering
that the books cost nine aanas, the charge was pretty high. Sometimes
his books were also sold at a premium. The aana libraries were immensely
popular even in small towns such as Faisalabad and Hyderabad. With his
death, the aana libraries folded up in Pakistan. And sadly, with that,
the reading habit went away.
Which foreign writer
influenced your fatherís writing?
At the age of seven, he read
all the volumes of Tilism-e-Hoshruba. He also read H Rider Haggardís
She. By the time he had reached seventh grade, he was already writing
short stories. He had read all the crime and thriller writers from Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle to Alistair MacLean and from James Hadley Chase to
Do you think over the
decades detective and spy thrillers have become more technology driven
and Safiís style has become outdated?
As a writer, Safi was pretty
futuristic. He wrote about telephone recording machines much before they
came in use. It was not an answering machine but a spool tape recorder
hooked to the landline phone that could automatically start and record
the message. He wrote about things like controlling weather with
scientific means. Back in the 1950s, he also wrote about live broadcast
of images in real time. He may have got dated, but in a way that Conan
Doyle also has. Their works have become classics.