Ibne Safi’s Urdu crime novels
were a hit in newly independent India and Pakistan. Now they are
making a comeback
of years before Independence, as novelists wrote on nationalism
and the Raj, a 17-year-old defied convention and wrote in a
genre not so widely acclaimed in the subcontinent then —
detective fiction in Urdu. Independence only furthered that
fascination, as Asrar Ahmed Narvi, a graduate of Agra University
and a resident of Allahabad, wrote about two sleuths, Kamal
Faridi and Imran, who solved one mystery after the other — in
India and South Africa, Spain and Scotland, Zanzibar and the US.
books, which incorporated elements of both mystery and romance,
were so popular that each ran into several editions within days
of their publication. The young man became better known as Ibne
Safi, his pseudonym.
Ibne Safi left for Karachi, from where he continued to write the
greater part of the 125 books of Jasoosi Duniya (The Spy World),
and the 120 books of the Imran series. In India, meanwhile, the
books were soon out of print. Since Ibne Safi was in Pakistan ,
the contract with AH Wheeler, his distributor in the early days,
was not renewed. Now HarperCollins India is reprinting both the
series, translated into Hindi.
time when Ibne Safi was writing, he was a cult and a craze. To a
large extent, the reason behind his popularity could be
attributed to the fact that he wrote for the masses. The
language was Urdu, but it was more spoken than literary and was
extremely reader-friendly,” says Neelabh, series editor, talking
of how even the grand dame of British crime fiction Agatha
Christie was aware of Safi ‘s popularity in the subcontinent.
Translated by Chhoudhary Zia Imam and Rehman Musawwir, the first
15 books from the Jasoosi Duniya and Imran series are expected
to be out in the market by January 2010, the year of the
author’s 30th death anniversary.
Safi’s son Ahmad says from Karachi: “He mixed suspense and humor
and was determined to prove that mass fiction need not rely on
sex for popularity. He used to say his books were not meant to
be on shelves, but under the pillows of the readers. People used
to queue up to purchase the first copies as those hit the
bookstalls.” His father, says Ahmed, did not speak much of his
works — “my mother was the only one who read his books as it was
written —but for he and his six siblings “Imran and Faridi were
like family, two more brothers who were far more popular than
plans to translate the books into English.