Jasoosi Duniya in English

Blaft Publications, India


The Times of India


30 April 2011




The Jasoos from Across the Border

By Avijit Ghosh - Times News Network

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 Pakistan today?

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 for choice.

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 youngsters.

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 Agatha Christie.

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.



Copyright © 2005 Mohammad Hanif