New Delhi, April 22 (IANS) A desi
combination of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, Pakistani writer
Ibn-e-Safi's macho crime-fighters were firm favourites of
generations of Urdu-reading people right from when they first
appeared in the 1950s. Their exploits will now enthrall a much wider
audience with their English translations being published.
Translated by renowned Urdu scholar Shamsur
Rahman Faruqi, the first four of the 'Jasoosi Duniya' (Espionage
World) series - 'Poisoned Arrow', 'Smokewater', 'The Laughing
Corpse' and 'Doctor Dread' - were released here by Ibn-e-Safi's son,
The first writer of thrillers in Urdu
literature, Ibn-e-Safi began writing the Jasoosi Duniya featuring
the tough Colonel Ahmad Kamal Faridi and his aide, Captain Sajid
Hameed, in the 1950s - as a challenge. These were followed by Imran
series, featuring the young and seemingly buffoonish Ali Imran, who
is actually the head of the secret service. Two of Imran's
adventures were translated into English in 2009.
'My father decided to write crime thrillers
after fellow writers at a literary forum in India told him that
crime thrillers could not be sold in India without sex and
violence,' Ahmad Safi, the driving force behind bringing
Ibn-e-Safi's books into English, told IANS.
'My father rose to the challenge and said
he could do one without sex. He created James Bond type books
without women and sex,' he added.
'When the first book was published by a
local publisher in Allahbad in 1952 and displayed at the A.H.
Wheeler bookstall at the railway station, they were sold in a week.
The publisher was surprised. The books had to be reprinted several
times,' Safi said.
Born in Nara village of Uttar Paradesh's
Allahabad district in 1928, Asrar Narvi, who took the pseudonym
Ibn-e-Safi (son of Safi, after his father Safiullah) wrote
prodigiously till his death in 1980 at Karachi. His oeuvre comprises
a total of 245 books comprising 'Jasoosi Duniya' and the 'Imran
Series' set in locales as diverse as Spain, Italy, England,
Scotland, the Pacific islands, Zanzibar, South Africa and the US.
All this was without Ibn-e-Safi setting
foot outside his country.
'He was an avid reader and his knowledge of
these countries came from books. Those who read his adventure
stories identified with exotic places like the Amazon rain forests
that he wrote about in his books. He researched about the
environment, geography and culture of a place before it became the
backdrop of his novel,' Ahmad said.
In one of the new translations,
co-published by Westland and Blaft, 'Doctor Dread' translated from
'Diler Mujrim', wealthy widow Begum Irshad is blackmailed by a
mysterious foreigner. Crime reporter and freelance investigator
Anwar is hired to go undercover to find out who he is.
Meanwhile, Faridi and Hameed try to figure
out why a mentally deranged person is jailed in a five-storied
highrise. Both the cases seem to be related to the ongoing feud
between the tiny monkey-faced killer Finch and American criminal
Translating Safi's works into English was a
challenge, Ahmad said. For intertwined with action and drama was a
'It was difficult to capture Urdu humour in
an English translation. My father, for example, used couplets by
Ghalib in situations where they were funny,' he said.
His books were eagerly devoured by his
readers and such was the craze that when Ibn-e-Safi fell ill in 1961
and stopped writing for three years, unscrupulous elements tried to
cash in on his name.
'During this period, several impostors
began publishing crime thrillers under his name. When he returned to
writing after three years with 'Dher Matwale', his book was released
in India by then union minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. In Karachi, the
queues for his books were serpentine. But his readership in India
was much more,' his son said.
Sales and demand were so high that a second
edition had to be published within a week.
Praise for Ibn-e-Safi came from various
quarters including the high priestess of the crime thriller Agatha
Christie, who once said: 'I don't know Urdu, but have knowledge of
detective novels in the sub-continent. There is only one original
writer -- Ibn-e-Safi.'
One of Safi's dreams before he passed away
was to re-visit India, Ahmad Safi said.
'When he was ailing in 1980, he wanted to
come to India to meet friends. I wanted to accompany him. But life
turned out differently,' he said, adding he had himself been looking
forward to come to India.
'It is a dream to meet people my father
spoke about. I want to visit our ancestral village Nara in Kaushambi
(district of Uttar Pradesh). My father said it used to be a peaceful
village and produced a lot of geniuses at the time. The Safi family
were known as the 'hakim ka khandan' because they were
mathematicians, scientists, astrologers and astronomers,' Ahmad Safi
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at