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
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
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
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
Surender M. Pathak