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                                  Ibne Safi - a great Urdu mystery novelist


By Rashid Ashraf - Daily Business Recorder - Weekend Magazine, July 25, 2009


On the morning of May 19, 2009, I visited the graveyard of Paposhnagar, Karachi to offer prayers at the grave of great mystery writer of Urdu literature Ibne Safi (Asrar Ahmed) who, for decades, had been the favourite writer of millions of his readers. He had written about 244 masterpieces of Imran series and 'Jasoosi dunya' which indeed are the gems of Urdu literature.

Ibne Safi was born on July 26, 1928, in the village of Nara in Allahabad District, U.P., India. According to a research made by Zubair Irshad, Ibne Safi's forefathers came from the village of Nara. Ibne Safi obtained his primary schooling in the village school at Nara.

When he was only eight years old, he got an opportunity to read first volume of 'Talism-e-Hoshruba.' Although he could not understand the language entirely, the story made a great impact on his creative mind. He then read all seven volumes several times.

Ibne Safi started writing at a young age. When he was in seventh grade, his first story appeared in the weekly 'Shahid', which was edited by Aadil Rasheed. Ibne Safi also started writing poetry when he was in eighth class. He was so impressed by the famous poet Jigar Murad Aabadi that his earlier poetry was on "Khumriat" (poetry about the use and affects of alcohol).

According to one of his autobiographical essays, someone in a literary meeting claimed that Urdu literature had little scope for anything but sexual themes. To challenge this notion, Ibne Safi began writing detective stories in January 1952 in the monthly 'Nikhat', naming the series 'Jasoosi Dunya'.

In the preface of Jasoosi Dunya's platinum jubilee number 'Zameen Kay Baadal', he mentioned those novels of 'Jasoosi Dunya' whose main plot were taken from Western literature and which included 'Daler Mujrim', 'Purasraar Ajnabi', 'Raqqasah Ka Qatal', 'Heeray Ki Kaan' and 'Khooni Pathar'.

Furthermore, he also mentioned some characters, which were borrowed from English fiction, such as Khaufnak Hangamah's Professor Durrani and Paharron Ki Malikah's White Queen and Gorilla. He claimed that other than those novels and characters, his stories were his own creation, and even the mentioned novels had borrowed only ideas and were not translations.

Ibne Safi created the Imran Series in 1955 when he migrated to Karachi, where he lived until pancreatic cancer caused his death in 1980 on July 26, on his 52nd birthday. Coincidentally, his date of birth and date of death is same ie July 26. His characters were as well-known and popular among his readers as legendary fictional characters like Sherlock Homes. In 1960-1963 he suffered an episode of schizophrenia, but recovered, and returned with a best-selling Imran Series novel, 'Dairrh Matwaalay'. You can visit a wonderful site www.ibnesafi.info is the one and only website on Ibne Safi.

The settings in Ibne Safi's novels are such that the reader is never told of the national origin of the heroes. Since 'Jasoosi Duniya' was created before the partition of the sub-continent, the names of the characters and their locales suggest that the novel takes place in India.

The advent of the Imran Series came post-partition, and the reader is set up to assume that the narrative is situated in Pakistan. Besides their native countries, the main characters of both Jasoosi Duniya and Imran Series have had adventures around the world - England, Italy, Spain, Scotland, Pacific Islands, Zanzibar, South Africa, the United States of America and various other places.

His son Dr Ahmed Safi told me that when he (Ahmed) visited Italy, he was surprised to see Lake Como as it was so truly depicted by Ibne Safi in one of his best serial 'Adlava'. Considering that Ibne Safi never left the Indian Sub-continent, the detailed descriptions he provides of the diverse localities are surprisingly accurate. Interestingly, technologies which Ibne Safi pointed out in his novels, were proved to be real with the passage of time.

For instance in his novel 'Toofan Ka Aghwa' in 1957, he has created "Fauladmi" (a robot) who controlled traffic and performed some social works eg settling minor scuffle between citizens etc and at that time, concept of a robot was not known to the world. Likewise, he did indicate the use of Laser beam and 'Fai-graz' (a type of advanced flying saucer) etc.

It may be pertinent to mention that in his novel 'Jungle Ki Aag' (Jasoosi Dunya-37), written in 60's, villain of the novel has created a machine in which at one end, two to three crippled beggars were thrown inside for getting a healthy and sturdy Gorilla from the other end. Isn't it seems alike with today's concept of Cloning? Ibne Safi had a great ability to read and analyse the values prevalent in society and momentum of changes being occurred.

One of Ibne Safi's distinguished writing qualities includes formation and development of characters. He has established a range of diverse, colourful and sentient characters that appear to be real. 'Dhamaka' was the only movie written by Ibne Safi. The film was produced by Muhammad Hussain Talpur based on the Imran Series novel 'Baibaakon Ki Talaash'.

Actor Javaid Sheikh was introduced for the first time as Zafarul Mulk, the main character. Hussain Talpur, played Jameson and actress Shabnam played the role of Sabiha. Imran and X-2's team was not shown in the movie. Zubair Irshad revealed that the voice of X-2 was recorded by Ibne Safi himself. Actor Rahman played the role of a villain for the first time.

Actress Shaista Qaiser appeared as a guest artist. The famous song by Habib Wali Mohammad Rah-e-talab maen kaun kisee ka based on Ibne Safi's ghazal which was picturised on actor Rahman. The movie was released in December, 1974. However, it was a flop. The question of Ibne Safi's literary merit is still unsettled, but it seems as if the tables have already started tilting in his favour.

Many literary personnel generously admired Ibne Safi including Poet, Ajmad Islam Amjad, Columnist Hasan Nisar, Writer Bushra Rehman, Indian Poet/Writer Javed Akhtar Dr Gopi Chand Narang etc. However, at a seminar in Mumbai in 2007, legendary Urdu writer Intizar Husain, who apparently tried to shock the audience with the comment that he 'had neither read Ibne Safi nor felt he was important enough', invited flak for his comments.

There was severe criticism of the comment on the stage itself. Several litterateurs reminded Intezar Hussain that though one may be entitled to his personal views, and his literary status apart, Ibne Safi can't be simply dismissed as just another writer.

"I don't know Urdu but have knowledge of detective novels of the Subcontinent. There is only one original writer - Ibn-e-Safi." - Said Agatha Christie once when she stayed at Karachi airport only for half hour for her transit flight. Zameer Akhtar Naqvi claimed in his book that in the 1970s, Ibne Safi informally advised the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan on methods of detection.

Badar Munir wrote in an essay on Ibne Safi that he (Badar) used to recite the books of Ibne Safi to a 90 year old lady who was very fond of Safi's books. The lady was none other but the mother of the founder of Bangladesh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman. Khawaja Nazimuddin, Prime Minister of Pakistan once said for Ibne Safi: "I like Ibne Safi since he indeed is a sincere, honest and down-to-earth writer".

While commenting on Ibne Safi, Maulvi Abdul Haq (Baba-e-Urdu) said: "Urdu literature owe a lot to Ibne Safi for his great contribution for Urdu". Someone asked from poet Rauf Sheikh about the readership of Ibne Safi. Rauf said: "everybody reads Ibne Safi's books, however, no one have the courage to admit this". Finn Theissen, Professor Urdu language and Literature, Oslo University, Norway commended Ibne Safi in a letter to Writer/Journalist Mushtaq Qureshi.

Finn wrote: "Ibne Safi still has not achieved the position in Urdu Literature that he really deserves. Or you can say that Urdu critics have not recognised his importance. Perhaps we should not be too sad on this because after all what could these critics do to harm Ibne Safi? Everyone knows Ibne Safi and is fond of reading him. "On Page 113 of "Raa'ee Ka Parbat" Ibne Safi himself says,"Don't worry about what people think of you, always keep an eye on what you are!"

We too, would not worry that the critics did not recognise Ibne Safi, we would keep an eye on what he himself was! Dr Christina, who is the senior lecturer at Institute of South Asian Studies, Heidelberg, Germany regretted in a seminar at Mumbai in 2007 that Ibne Safi's writing was not given enough attention in comparison to so-called serious literature.

It would be surprising for all Ibne Safi readers/lovers that the father of Pakistan's nuclear Programme and Mohsin-e-Pakistan, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan happen to be an admirer to Ibne Safi. Dr Qadeer revealed: "I used to read every novel written by Ibne Safi when we were living near Bara Maidan in Nazimabad. He was the greatest Urdu detective story writer in Pakistan of all times. Inshallah, some time in the future I will write about him."

Indeed, the Books written by Ibne Safi are considered an intrinsic part of the rich Urdu literature. I think the best farewell salute I could give to the maestro is this: "Why should man ever become serious when he knows full well that one day he will be buried along with his seriousness?" (Kali Tasweer - Imran Series-26).


Copyright 2005 Mohammad Hanif