Written on 6:02 AM by Mohammad Talha
Mahmood Farooqui wrote - I have been reading Ibn-e Safi and thinking about one of the last pieces written by political scientist and activist Arvind Das in the Biblio. He was reviewing a book called, I think, the modern invention of work.
Arvind had posited, roughly, that work can coexist with pleasure but what distinguishes it from a pleasurable pursuit is the discipline of work, its regimented structure, it’s time-bound, task-related and its operation in a restricted-space.
One may enjoy picking newts off a plant, but it becomes work when one has to perform the task regardless of desire or mood. It is the element of compulsion, the taking away of one’s will that distinguishes work from pleasure. I was thinking of it especially because Ibn-e Safi was a great favourite when I was young but I was now re-reading him after years, at great speed, foraging the novels for ideas.
In part because I was meeting a deadline and in part because I was reading him for a particular purpose, desiring a result, the reading gave me little enjoyment.
That is a shame, because Ibn-e Safi of the Jasoosi Dunia fame was one reason why I never developed a taste for western detective/mystery fiction. Almost all his novels, however flimsy the plot, displayed great command over characterisation and dialogue.
Although he plagiarised his plots from many well-known masters, he so Indianised them that they became a genre of their own in the new language.
More mature than Rajan Iqbal and more sophisticated than Vikrant, nothing in Hindi could compare with Ibn-e Safi’s quality, even if one includes dubious translations of James Hadley Chase, which were only ever sought for the ‘hot scenes.’ In addition, his wit and comic ability earned him accolades and attention even from the literary establishment of Urdu.
I had once thought of doing a serious study of Ibn-e Safi and the idealised world, his fiction represented. He grew popular in the years immediately before partition although his novels continued to be set in a politically neutral terrain long afterward. I was especially keen to tease out the lineaments of the utopian and the secular state that emerges in most of his early novels. The country’s head is never mentioned by name, nor are any other international facts or names.
Unlike a Forsyth or a Le Carre, Ibn-e Safi is not after verisimilitude; instead he invents his terrain with great confidence and boldness. In his work, India stretches from the Hindu Kush to the Far East, though South India is rarely invoked.
There is an international dimension to the battles and there is a too palpable desire to show the goras their place and uphold India’s greatness and integrity.
Ibn-e Safi was born as Asrar Ahmad in Nara, Allahabad, India and migrated to Pakistan in the later part of his life. The Chronicle of Pakistan, an official site so commemorates him, ‘A huge section of the population is estimated to have become hooked to mystery stories. Ibn-e Safi, presently living in Karachi, is supposed to be the father of this new cult since he launched his monthly Jasoosi Duniya from Allahabad (India) in 1952.
It is not unusual for Safi’s books to be sold at black market prices in Pakistan as well as in India, where they are originally published every month’.
His lead detective Imran is a gawkish, garrulous and an inept agent in his apparent life, complete with an equally eccentric team of housekeepers Suleiman, Gulrukh and the burly Joseph. Covertly though he is the menacing and invisible x-2, the voice being his only identity for the team.
Like Ibn-e Safi’s other set, Colonel Faridi and Captain Hameed (a desi-ised Holmes and Watson duo) Imran is in reality an undercover secret agent who both works in and runs his own outfit for the intelligence bureau of the foreign office.
Religion rarely makes an overt presence, nor does the community. Imran happens to work for the good of India where, incidentally as it were, all the top posts are occupied by Muslims.
Inter-alia his eccentrities, verbal duels especially with women (over whom he has a BOND-ish hold) and his run-ins with the obese and filthy rich Qasim, always escaping from his bullying and shrewish wife, take up much of Imran’s time. There is a lot of flirtation but little sex, much action but most of it realistic.
In the later novels though, especially ones that are in print today India is replaced by a mysterious Islamic Republic, without significant changes to the geography or atmosphere.
Perhaps because he himself is said to have worked with the ISI in the seventies, the novels specifically mention ISI as the controlling agency and an Islamic Republic, the Mamlekat-e-Islami or the Mamlekat-e-Khudadad (the god-given kingdom, a term popular with Bhutto) becomes the land of action.
While I have always wanted to write on Ibn-e Safi the timing of this piece and the manner in which it was published was not exactly of my own choosing, though I cannot deny that I enjoyed writing it. But does this lack of control and the compulsion to deliver mean that it was a chore?
No, because the controlling element, the desire was of my own choice, and perhaps it is this right to chose that frees me. Eventually. (story Link with thanks)