Ibne Safi (1928-1980) is the pen name of Asrar Ahmad, the best-selling and most popular author of mystery and detective novels in the history of the Indian Subcontinent’s Urdu literature. His initial works date back to the early 1940s, when he wrote from India. After the partition in 1947, he migrated to Pakistan, and penned his later novels there. So strong was Ibne Safi’s impact on the Subcontinent’s literary scene that his novels were translated into several regional languages. It was not unusual for Safi's books to be sold at black market prices in Pakistan and India, where they were originally published every month.

Ibne Safi’s early works in the 1940s included short stories,

humour, satire, and poetry. He began writing novels in the early 1950s. His main works included two major series. “Jasoosi Duniya” (The World of Espionage), which consisted of 125 books, was based on the legendary characters of Colonel Ahmad Kamal Faridi and Captain Sajid Hameed. The “Imran Series,” comprised of 120 books with another legendary character Imran, was equally adored by the common man on the street and his more literary prototype. Ibne Safi’s novels – characterized by a blend of adventure, suspense, violence, romance and comedy – achieved massive popularity by a broad readership.

Initially, Ibne Safi started writing detective stories as a challenge. At the time, the only mystery and detective stories available in Urdu or Hindi came from direct translations of western novels and magazines. Unfortunately through these translations, sexually explicit and provocative material also found its way into Urdu. As a result, it became a popular belief that mystery or crime stories in Urdu could not be successful without the element of sex in them. Asrar Ahmed dared to dissent. In his mind, a few crucial elements were required to capture the readers’ attention: the plot’s soundness the writer’s grip over it; the narrative style; and the use of illustrative language. Thus, to prove his point, Asrar ventured into the world of mysteries.

The settings in Ibne Safi's novels are such that the reader is never told the national origin of the heroes. Since Jasoosi Duniya was created before the Partition of the Subcontinent, the names of the characters and their locales suggest that the novel takes place in India. The advent of 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 – Spain, Italy, England, Scotland, Pacific Islands, Zanzibar, South Africa, the United States of America, and various other places. Considering that Ibne Safi never left the Indian Subcontinent, the detailed descriptions he provides of the diverse localities are surprisingly accurate.

Many a time, Ibne Safi created fictitious settings for his stories. The magical web of his writing is so captivating that these fantasy lands have become real in the minds of readers. Avid fans of the author are experts on the people and cultures of Shakraal, Karaghaal, Maqlaaq, Zeroland, and many other imaginary domains.

In cities around India and Pakistan, one can find discotheques, bars, night clubs, and hotels named after venues found in Ibne Safi's novels. Some places worth mentioning are: Dilkusha, Fizaro, Niagara, Tip Top, High Circle, etc.


Copyright © 2005 Mohammad Hanif