Ibne Safi – a great fiction-writer by Rashid Ashraf (Weekend Magazine)

June 2010: There was a time when people wrote a literary piece and then ascribed it to someone whom they held in high esteem or out of love, admiration, reverence or some other strong sentiment. There could be tens of hundreds of such Urdu writers who can ascribe their writings to one who taught them to write that is undoubdtfully none other than Asia’s greatest mystery writer Ibne Safi.

Coincidentally Ibne Safi’s date of birth and date of death falls on July 26.Ibne Safi, was born in Allahabad on July 26, 1928. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Agra University and started his first job at ‘Nikhat Publications’ as an Editor in the poetry department, in 1948.

He began writing detective stories in January 1952 in the monthly ‘Nikhat’, naming the series ‘Jasoosi Dunya’ and the same year, he migrated to Pakistan. Ibne Safi created the Imran Series in 1955 when he settled in Karachi, where he lived until pancreatic cancer caused his death in 1980 on July 26, that was also his 52nd birthday. Coincidentally, his date of birth and date of death is same – July 26.

Ibne Safi was the successful pioneer of the mystery genre in Urdu literature. He was an immensely well-read man. His thorough study of English, Urdu and Persian literature enabled him to create his own unique style of captivating story-telling. He blended mystery with quality humour, espionage, law enforcement, credible science fiction, thrilling adventure and fabulous drama. His creative mind imagined and foresaw scientific and technological inventions like robot, laser beam, cloning etc. He then convincingly merged these inventions into his plots with equal skill in fiction-writing.

His understanding of the human nature gave his characters a living, breathing existence of its own kind. Some of his characters shyly displayed their weaknesses and flaunted their strengths, whereas others worked hard to unsuccessfully conceal them. That was the master craftsman, Ibne Safi.

His name is familiar to generations of readers in Pakistan. So are the names of his characters, Colonel Faridi, Captain Hameed and Ali Imran. As a boy, Ibne Safi grew up reading Tilism-e-Hoshruba. As an adult, he created a magical universe of his own.

A pioneer in the field of detective fiction in Urdu, he wrote 245 books at an astonishing rate of two books a month. His place in Urdu literature was recognised by Maulvi Abdul Haq (Baba-e-Urdu), Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan (Nuclear Scientist/Mohsin-e-Pakistan), Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s Chairman I.H Usmani, Pir Ali Muhammad Rashidi, Mir Ali Ahmed Talpur, Dr Abulkhair Kashfi, Professor Majnoon Gorakhpuri, Professor Muhammad Hasan Askari, Khawaja Nazim Uddin (Second Governor General of Pakistan), Mushtaq Ahmed Qureshi (Former Finance/Joint Secretary APNS), Miraj Rasool, Munir Hussain (Cricket Commentator), Raees Amrohvi, John Alia, Shair Lakhnavi, Professor Sarshar Siddiqui, Obaid Ullah Baig (Kasooti Fame), Writer/ Dramatist Kamal Ahmed Rizvi (Allan of Alif Noon), Daily Hurriyat’s Columnist Nassar Ullah Khan, Dr Aslam Farrukhi, Amjad Islam Amjad, Qazi Akhtar Jonagari, Indian poet Zubair Rizvi, Indian Poet/lyricist Javed Akhtar, the Sahitya Academy president Dr Gopi Chand Narang etc.

He had tremendous flair and sophistication, says Indian Poet/lyricist Javed Akhtar. “Ibne 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.”

The Sahitya Academy president Dr Gopi Chand Narang questioned why ‘Jasoosi Adab’ is not considered literature and if it is not literature then why the word ‘Adab’ (literature) is attached to it, during such seminars. He said that Ibne Safi was published in Devanagari and Bengali as well, and rather than ignoring his works, there is need to change our own attitude.

Ibne Safi was also a poet. He used to write poems under the pen name of “Asrar Narvi”. He wrote in various genres of Urdu poetry, such as Hamd, Naat, Manqabat, Marsia, Ghazal and Nazm. His collection of poetry, Mata-e Qalb-o-Nazar (Urdu: The Assest of Heart & Sight), remains unpublished. It would be a delightful news for his admirers and lovers that the collection of his poetry is being published by his son Ahmad Safi.

Writer Syed N. Hussaini commended about the Maestro, “One of Ibn-e-Safi’s distinguished writing qualities includes formation and development of characters. He has established characters in such a fashion that they appear to be real and materialised. Imran Series has a range of diverse, colourful, and sentient characters. His lead characters, Colonel Ahmad Kamal Faridi and Ali Imran, M.Sc, P.H.D., Oxon, were scholarly, celibate and sober. Endowed with exceptional physical strength, quick reflexes and great survival skills, they were master spies, brilliant detectives and top-of-the-line law-enforcement officers. They were of immaculate character, utterly incorruptible. Colonel Faridi and Ali Imran, both were fabulously rich with inherited and earned wealth, as well. Ibne Safi knew how to back up the credibility of his characters.

In the late 50’s, starting with “Dilchasp Hadsa,” Ibne Safi launched an epic adventure to be completed in three books ending with “Darh Matwalay.” After writing two books of this thrilling series, he had a nervous breakdown, an episode of schizophrenia. He was out of his work for about three years but, when he came back, he did so with a big hit masterpiece “Dairh Matwalay”. It was not only an immense success but a witness to the strength of Ibne Safi’s mind. With flawless continuity, “Dairh Matwalay” brought the three-book adventure to its climatic conclusion with no literary signs of the fact that the writer was absent from the scene for three years. A poster of 1963 of Daily Hurriyat announced the came back of Ibne Safi with the words: “app ka mehboob musanif app kay liye deewangi kay sehra say wapas aa gaya hai” (Your beloved writer has arrived back for you from the desert of insanity)

Ibne Safi had a great ability to read and analyse the values prevalent in society and momentum of changes that would occur. In this context, foreword of novel ‘Sitaron Ki Cheekhain’, (Jasoosi Dunya-92) (written in 1964) may be referred where, in response to a letter, he stated that perda (veil) was supposed to be the icon of dignity, however nowadays, it is antiquated and becomes a symbol of less privileged. Ibne Safi forecasted that hardly after 10 years (ie in 1974), these types of social values will vanish. Needless to say that his apprehensions were proved with the passage of time.

A few forewords of his novels are remarkably interesting. In the foreword of ‘Sehmi hoi Lerki’ (Jasoosi Dunya-96), a telephone operator from the city of Tando Adam, Sindh declared the said novel a trash as he thought that the name of the novel does not match with its plot. In response, Safi sahib showed his wit while saying “Yar Tando Admi sahib, khud hi likh ker perh liya karo”.

Books written by Ibne Safi are considered an intrinsic part of the rich Urdu literature. Ibne Safi wrote impeccable, accurate, authentic, modern, industrial-age Urdu proving that it can be done while following all the rules of the language. He standardised Urdu to a level that excerpts from his works could be considered as a template to teach Urdu prose-writing at the universities.

How good was Ibne Safi for intellectual stimulation? Every now and then, in his work, one finds profound philosophical insights. Critics have noted that he had it in him to write more exalted prose. But the imperative of earning his livelihood restricted his range and confined him to a formula. Ibne Safi was the most prolific Urdu novelist making history with 245 titles of Jasoosi Dunya and Imran Series to his credit.

Ibne Safi fans would be delighted to know that the English versions of two of his novels of Imran Series have been published by Random House, New Dehli and will soon be available in Pakistan. Random House has initially selected two novels of Imran series ie House of Fear (Khofnak Imarat) and Shootout in Rocks (Chatanoon Main Fire). In addition to that, about eight Hindi Editions of Ibne Safi’s Jasoosi Dunya have also been published by Harper Collins, India.

It would certainly be a befitting, though posthumous adoption and acknowledgement of the stature of this prolific writer that the higher authorities of City District Government of Karachi dedicate any one of the roads, bridge/flyover or building of this city in the name of Ibne Safi. It is also suggested that the higher-ups of Karachi University start conducting M.Phil and PhD works on this great writer so as to unravel the hidden characteristics of detective story writing, an art, which holds a significant place in rest of the World’s literature.

Apart from the official site ibnesafi.info, a new non-commercial web site http://www.wadi-e-urdu.com has been launched in 2009 which contains lots of rare material and information pertaining to Ibne Safi.

Ibne Safi was a true genius, gave new dimensions to art of writing suspense novels. I think the farewell salute I could give to the maestro is this: “Life is only action and reaction. The rationalisations are added later.” (Edlava – Imran Series-78).

Copyright Business Recorder, 2010

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