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On the bookshelves this week

Amrita Talwar, Aasheesh Sharma, Hindustan Times

New Delhi, February 05, 2010

The House of Fear
Ibn-e Safi Translated by
Bilal Tanweer
Random house
 

His fans range from the disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan to Indian poet Javed Akhtar. Thirty years after his death, there is an explosion of interest in Ibn-e Safi’s novels. A volume in English, The House of Fear, containing two of Safi’s Urdu novels — The House of Fear and Shootout At the Rocks — has just been published by Random House India; a series of eight novels translated into Hindi has been brought out by HarperCollins. Another publisher, Blaft, will be bringing out English translations of three of Safi’s novels in one volume soon.

Born on July 26, 1928, in Allahabad’s Nara village, Safi wrote poetry, short stories and humorous pieces as a boy. In 1952, the Allahabad University graduate was commissioned to write one short detective novel every month for a series called ‘Jasoosi Duniya’ (Spy World). That was the beginning of, what one can safely call, a beautiful friendship.

Before Safi died of cancer in 1980, he had written 232 novels. Shifting to Pakistan in the early 1950s didn’t dent his popularity. He continued to publish novels simultaneously in India and Pakistan. Safi suffered from schizophrenia between 1960 and 1963, not  writing a single word in those three years. He finally recovered in his Karachi home, making a comeback in 1963 with Dairh Matwaalay, the best-selling novel from the ‘Imran’ series.

Safi’s characters are both endearing and enduring. There’s Faridi, the reclusive, rich bachelor who drives a Lincoln, breeds dogs and works with the police department for love of duty. Then there’s Hamid, Faridi’s assistant who digs nightclubs and smokes a pipe laden with Prince Henry tobacco. Imran evokes contradictory emotions of menace and mirth.

Forensic expert at night, he quotes Confucius, Ghalib and Mir to poke fun at himself during the day.

“He had tremendous flair and sophistication,” says Javed Akhtar. “Safi’s novels created an imaginary city that could have been the San Francisco of the 50s in India. His penchant for villains with striking names like Gerald Shastri and Sang Hi taught me the importance of creating larger-than life characters such as Gabbar and Mogambo as a scriptwriter.”

Surender M. Pathak

               

 


Copyright © 2005 Mohammad Hanif