Ibn-e-Safi – Shootout at the Rocks
In Extracts on February 2, 2010
Ibn-e-Safi was one of the great Urdu pulp
fiction novelists. Detective Imran is his most famous creation and
the bestselling Imran series are Urdu cult classics. Like Inspector
Clouseau, Ali Imran plays the buffoon but in reality possesses a
razor-sharp mind, and the agility, strength and quick wit of the
perfect spy. His colleagues at the secret service make fun of him,
but little do they know that he is their mastermind chief X2–a man
who can defeat any enemy and solve all mysteries. Translated into
English for the first time here’s a sneak peak from Shootout at the
The clock struck one and Imran got out of
bed. He opened the door and came out of the room. Silence reigned
everywhere, but not a single light had been turned off in any of the
rooms in the bungalow.
He stepped out into the verandah and waited
to hear any footsteps or sounds, and then he darted into the room
where the colonel’s family was assembled. Except for Sophiya,
everyone had a rifle next to themselves. Anwar and Arif looked
extremely bored, Sophiya’s eyes were bloodshot due to lack of sleep,
and the colonel was sitting on the sofa, still as a statue. He was
not even blinking his eyes. Upon seeing Imran, he twitched.
‘What is it? Why have you come here?’ he
‘Something is bothering me,’ Imran replied.
‘What?’ said the colonel. His demeanour did
‘If you are troubled by a few unknown men,
why don’t you inform the police?’
‘I know that the police cannot do anything.’
‘Are those people really unknown to you?’
‘It doesn’t make sense.’
‘It’s pretty straightforward. If you don’t
know them, why are you afraid of them?’
Instead of giving him a reply, the colonel
went on staring at Imran.
‘Sit down,’ he said after a few moments.
Imran took a seat.
‘I know them,’ the colonel said.
‘Then the police should be contacted. Isn’t
‘Do you take me for a fool?’ Zargham said
in a displeased tone.
‘Yes, of course!’ Imran said, nodding his
‘What!’ The colonel sprang up.
‘Please sit down,’ Imran said, lifting his
hand distractedly. ‘I say this because all of you could become the
target of their bullets any time.’
‘They can enter the building any time they
‘No, they can’t. There are guards
patrolling out there…’
‘Then what is the meaning of these rifles
placed in front of you!’ Imran shook his head. ‘No, Colonel sahib!
If you want to get work out of Ali Imran, MSc, PhD, you will have to
apprise him of all the circumstances. I have not come here to be
‘Daddy, please tell him…It is all right…’
‘Do you consider this man trustworthy?’
‘She’s just a child.’ Imran pointed to
Sophiya. ‘Even old, decrepit women trust me with everything.’
Sophiya was taken aback and stared blankly
at Imran. She didn’t know how to react. Anwar and Arif began to
‘Shut your mouths!’ the colonel yelled.
Both of them made a face and became quiet.
‘Tell me about those men,’ Imran said.
Zargham was silent for a while and then
said, ‘I don’t know what should I tell you.’
‘Have you seen any of them during all this
‘Then I guess I have gone mad!’ Imran said.
The colonel stared at him. He was quiet for
a while and then said, ‘I recognize the mark of these people. I have
found it in my house. It means I am in danger.’
‘Ooh!’ Imran pursed his lips as though he
was whistling, then asked in a low voice, ‘When did you find it?’
‘Four days ago.’
‘Good! Can I see it?’
‘I don’t think you can handle this
business,’ the colonel said in a tired voice. ‘You must return
‘It is quite possible I can become a
handler and a businessman. Please show it to me.’
Colonel Zargham was quiet for a while. He
made a face to show his displeasure and got up to open a drawer.
Imran observed him with interest. The colonel pulled out something
from the drawer and
returned to the sofa. Imran extended his
hand. Anwar and Arif exchanged glances as if they expected some
foolishness from Imran.
The colonel placed an object on the small
round table. It was a three-inch long wooden monkey. Imran picked it
up from the table. He examined it for a while, then replaced it and
looked at the colonel.
‘Can I ask you something?’ Imran said.
‘Just ask me. Don’t bore me.’
‘Wait!’ Imran lifted his hand. Then he
glanced at Sophiya and the others and said, ‘It is quite possible
you wouldn’t want to answer my questions in their presence.’
‘Oh, come on! Don’t bore me,’ the colonel
‘As you please. I only meant it as a
warning,’ Imran said carelessly. Then he stared at the colonel and
said, ‘Have you been associated with the illegal drug trade as
The colonel sprang from his seat and looked
at Imran as if he had just been stung. Then he quickly turned
towards the boys, ‘You go and sleep.’
The nephews’ faces lit up but Sophiya
didn’t want to leave.
‘You should go as well,’ the colonel said
with an agitated movement of his hand.
‘Is it necessary?’ Sophiya said.
‘Go away, now!’ Zargham colonel shouted and
all three of them left the room.
‘Yes, what did you say?’ The colonel turned
Imran repeated his question.
‘So you know something about this?’ the
colonel pointed to the wooden monkey.
‘A lot,’ Imran said nonchalantly.
‘How do you know?’
‘It is very hard to explain.’ Imran smiled.
‘But you have still not answered my question.’
‘No, I have never been associated with the
‘Then,’ Imran said thoughtfully, ‘you know
something about them. Why else did this object enter this building?’
‘By God!’ Zargham said as he rubbed his
hands nervously. ‘You seem to be a very useful man.’
‘But I am returning tomorrow morning.’
‘Absolutely not! Absolutely not!’
‘If I don’t return tomorrow, then who will
watch over that hen which I left sitting over the eggs?’
‘Good lad. This is not the time to make
‘You are afraid of Li Yu Ka?’ Imran said,
shaking his head.
Once again the colonel jumped, this time as
if Imran had stung him.
‘Who are you!’ the colonel said in a
‘Ali Imran, MSc, PhD.’
‘And have you really been sent here by
‘And I am returning tomorrow morning.’
‘Impossible, impossible! I cannot let you
go at any cost. But how do you know about Li Yu Ka?’
‘I cannot tell you,’ Imran said. ‘But I can
tell you a lot about Li Yu Ka himself. He is the key. There is a lot
of illegal drug trade in his name but no one has ever seen him.’
‘Absolutely right. My boy, you look
dangerous to me.’
‘I am the biggest dunce in the world.’
‘Nonsense! But how do you know all this?’
Zargham muttered. ‘What if you are one of his men?’ he said
fearfully, his voice sticking in his throat.
‘Good. Tomorrow morning I will…’
‘No, no!’ the colonel shouted, protesting
with his hands.
‘Then tell me, how did this wooden monkey
reach you?’ Imran asked.
‘I don’t know,’ the colonel said.
‘I think you are trying to test this fool’s
foolishness,’ Imran said seriously. ‘All right, then listen: Li Yu
Ka is a two hundred year old name…’
‘Dear lad! Where did you get this
information?’ the colonel said, looking at him admiringly. ‘No one
has this information except Li Yu Ka’s gang.’
‘Then should I assume that you have been a
part of Li Yu Ka’s gang?’ Imran said.
‘Absolutely not! You have misunderstood
‘Then how did this insignia reach you? What
do those people demand of you?’
‘Oh! You know this too!’ Zargham cried out.
He began pacing about the room again. There was a mischievous smile
on Imran’s lips.
‘Lad!’ The colonel abruptly stopped in his
tracks. ‘You will have to prove that you are the same person who was
sent by Captain Fayyaz.’
‘You look very upset,’ Imran laughed. ‘I
have Fayyaz’s letter with me. But why are you so upset? This is just
the first warning. After the monkey, they will send you a snake. If
you still don’t meet their demand, then they will send a rooster—and
then you will be wiped off the next day. But what is their demand in
the first place?’
The colonel fell silent. His jaw had
dropped and his eyes were glued to Imran’s face. ‘But,’ he said,
moistening his lips with his tongue, ‘how are you still alive,
knowing all this?’
‘Simply because of Coca Cola.’
‘Serious! Be serious!’ The colonel said,
lifting his hand. ‘Show me Fayyaz’s letter.’
Imran handed him Fayyaz’s letter. Zargham
looked at the letter for a while, then returning the letter to
Imran, he said, ‘I don’t understand what kind of a man you are!’
‘Of all kinds. For now, don’t think about
me,’ said Imran. ‘The sooner you tell me about your situation, the
better it will be for you.’
The colonel’s face showed signs of
reluctance. He didn’t speak.
‘Okay, wait,’ Imran said after a little
while. ‘Li Yu Ka’s men do such things only on one condition. It is a
gang that illegally trades in drugs. No one knows who Li Yu Ka is,
but all the profits from the trade are funnelled to him. Sometimes,
some of his agents betray him and they don’t meet his demands. Only
in these conditions, the agents get such warnings: first threat, the
monkey; second threat, the snake; and the third one, the rooster. If
they don’t meet the demands by the third threat, they are killed.’
‘So you think I am Li Yu Ka’s agent?’ The
colonel cleared his throat.
‘What else can I think in such
‘No, that is incorrect.’
‘I think I have some…information about Li
Yu Ka’s whereabouts,’ the colonel muttered.
‘Clues to whereabouts! How come?’
‘Some papers which can put Li Yu Ka in
‘Putting him in danger is different. But
clues to his whereabouts!’ Imran shook his head in dissent.
‘This is my opinion…’
‘But how did you arrive at this
‘It is hard to explain. However, I could
not understand the papers at all.’
‘But how did you get those?’
‘Quite amazingly, actually!’ Colonel
Zargham said, lighting his cigar. ‘I was in Hong Kong during the
last World War. That’s where I got my hands on those papers. And the
reality is that the person who handed me the papers mistook me for
someone else. It happened like this: one night I was sitting in a
hotel in Hong Kong when a slender Chinese man came and sat down at
my table. I sensed he was very scared. His whole body was trembling.
He produced a large envelope from his pocket, placed it on my lap
from under the table and spoke quietly, ‘I am in danger, get these
to B-14.’ And before I could say anything, he swiftly ran out of the
hotel. It was an astonishing thing, so I quietly kept the envelope
in my pocket. I thought he must be someone from the Chinese military
service who wanted me to convey some important papers to some
section called ‘B-14’.
‘At that time I was in full uniform. I
returned to my lodging and removed the envelope from my pocket. It
was sealed. I left it as it is. The following day I made some
inquiries about B-14, but there was no such thing in the military
secret service. There was, in fact, no trace of any B-14, in all of
Hong Kong. Frustrated, I finally opened the envelope.’
‘So was there a report regarding Li Yu Ka
in there?’ Imran asked.
‘No. They were some trade-related papers.
But it was clear what the nature of the trade was. There was a
recurrent mention of Li Yu Ka in them. Many of those papers are in
Chinese and Japanese, which I was unable to understand.’
‘Then how did you find out about Li Yu Ka’s
‘Oh, that. I did some background research
regarding Li Yu Ka in Hong Kong. I discovered everything except Li
Yu Ka’s identity and his whereabouts. His agents are apprehended
regularly, but no one has ever been able to locate him. Besides,
this name has been around for about two hundred years now.’
Imran was quiet for a while and then asked,
‘So how long have these people been after you?’
‘It’s not something recent,’ the colonel
said, lighting up his cigar again. ‘They were on my trail just six
months after I got the papers, but I did not return the papers to
them. They even entered my residence secretly, but they could not
even get a whiff of the papers. Now this is their last move, that
is, they have started sending these death threats. It means they
will kill me.’
‘Okay. So did you ever see that Chinese man
who handed you these papers again?’
‘Never. I never saw him again.’
There was silence for some time and then
Imran muttered, ‘You will stay alive as long as those papers are in
‘Absolutely!’ the colonel said with a
surprise. ‘You are really very intelligent. For this very reason, I
don’t want to return the papers to them. Think of it like this: I am
holding a snake by its head; if I loosen my grip, it will definitely
turn around to bite me.’
‘Can I have a look at those papers?’
‘Absolutely not! You are asking me to
loosen my grip on the snake.’
Imran laughed, and then asked, ‘Why did you
involve Captain Fayyaz in all this?’
‘Not even his ghosts have an idea what’s
really going on. He only knows that I am facing some threats but for
some reason cannot let the police get involved in all this.’
‘Then you shouldn’t have told me all this,’
‘True, but it seems you have the devil’s
soul inside of you!’
‘Imran’s!’ Imran said seriously. ‘In any
case, you have invited me here as a bodyguard.’
‘I wouldn’t have invited anyone. This is
all Sophiya’s doing. She knows everything.’
‘And your nephews?’
‘They don’t know anything!’
‘You must have said something to them?’
‘Just this—some enemies are on the lookout
for me and the monkey is their insignia.’
‘But what is the meaning of these
all-nighters with loaded rifles? Do you think they will attack you
when you expect?’
‘I do this to distract the children.’
‘Whatever—let’s forget about
it now.’ Imran shook his shoulders. ‘I prefer lemon drops and sugar
cakes with my morning tea.’
Ibn-e Safi was born in 1928 in India. He
created two great mystery series, Jasoosi Duniya and the Imran
series during the 1950s. Both gained massive popularity and were
translated into several languages. Ibn-e Safi died of pancreatic
cancer on his birthday on July 26, 1980 in Karachi.
Bilal Tanweer is an author and translator.
This is his first book-length work of translation. He is working on
his first novel and another book of translation.