Introduction

لاش گاتی رہی

Born Asrar Narvi in 1928 in a small village, Nara, near Allahabad, India, Ibne Safi (his chosen pen name, meaning ‘Son of Safi’) began his extensive writing career at an early age. When he was only in the seventh grade, Ibne Safi’s first published short story appeared in “Shahid,” a weekly literary magazine. [1] He completed primary schooling in Nara and secondary schooling in Allahabad. Ibne Safi enrolled in Allahabad University in 1947, but his education was interrupted by the dangers of independence riots and partition shortly thereafter. He never returned to Allahabad University, instead completing a Bachelor of Arts degree from Agra University in 1949. Ibne Safi continued writing short stories throughout his education and, upon hearing criticism of Urdu fiction as inundated with pornography, he challenged himself to broaden the scope and perception of Urdu literature. Shortly afterwards, Ibne Safi began writing and publishing his first groundbreaking series of detective novels, Jasoosi Duniya (The World of Espionage).

In 1952, Ibne Safi and his mother and sister moved to Karachi, Pakistan, to join his father who had moved earlier, in 1947. He began self-publishing in Pakistan while maintaining his publishing relationship in India, thus broadening his readership across the tense divide between the newly separated nations. Ibne Safi continued writing primarily for the Jasoosi Duniya series until 1955, when he began his second major body of work, the Imran Series. [2]

The dramatic violence of partition that imbued Ibne Safi's formative years motivated a great and understandable fixation with justice within the main characters of his novels, Colonel Faridi in the Jasoosi Duniya series and Ali Imran in the Imran Series. His fiction is unique, however, in that it refuses to indulge the nationalistic and religious divisions characterizing the subcontinent after partition. Ibne Safi's characters are cagey about their nationalities, the settings for his stories are not clearly established, and the criminals often emerge as large global superpowers rather than "othered," villainized Indians. [3] This is not to say that the identities of people and places are absent from his writing, but that he is more concerned with the possibilities for peaceful, collaborative coexistence across these personal differences. [4]

Ibne Safi’s fiction has many enchanting qualities. His style is at times outrageous and fantastic, but always modest in the sense that whole families can enjoy his work together. His characters are witty and incisive, but supremely playful in ways that frequent comparisons to Sherlock Holmes might minimize. Indeed, Ibne Safi's popularity cannot be understated. His work inspired several copycats of his style and characters and even allegedly prompted the opening of several local libraries in order to more easily facilitate sharing his books with a demanding audience. [5] One of Ibne Safi’s greatest attributes as a writer might be his lack of pretension - he never chafed against critical descriptions of his writing as popular and even openly embraced this position. [6]

By the end of his life in 1980, Ibne Safi had written and published about 250 pulp fiction novels, as well as some non-series satirical fiction and poetry. [7] He died with the manuscript for his last novel by his side. [8]

With a growing collection of hundreds of novels, the UT South Asia Popular and Pulp Fiction Collection boasts the largest documented academic research collection of Ibne Safi novels in the world. We hold varied editions of these works spanning 50 years of publishing from both India and Pakistan, as well as translations into Hindi and English.

You can find the full listing of titles by Ibne Safi in UT's collection in our catalog here.

For a look at highlighted covers from the collection, please proceed through the exhibit!

References:

  • 1. Ahmad Safi, Introduction to The House of Fear, by Ibn-e Safi, trans. Bilal Tanweer (Uttar Pradesh: Random House India, 2009), ix-x.
  • 2. Mohammad Hanif, “The Official Ibne Safi Website: Biography,” last modified 2010, http://ibnesafi.info/.
  • 3. Muhammad Azfar Nisar and Ayesha Masood, "The Nostalgic Detective: Identity Formation in Detective Fiction of Pakstan," Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies 4, no. 3 (2012): 40-42. http://pakistaniaat.org/~doltala/index.php/pak/article/view/176/176.
  • 4. Nisar and Masood, "The Nostalgic Detective," 47-48.
  • 5. Nisar and Masood, "The Nostalgic Detective," 37-38.
  • 6. Safi, introduction, xiv-xv.
  • 7. Hanif, “The Official Ibne Safi Website: Introduction.”
  • 8. Safi, introduction, xvii.

Further Reading:

Daechsel, Markus. "Z̤ālim Ḍākū and the Mystery of the Rubber Sea Monster: Urdu Detective Fiction in 1930s Punjab and the Experience of Colonial Modernity." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 13, no. 1 (2003): 21-43.

Naim, C.M. "The 'Holmesian' canon in Urdu." Dawn, May 24, 2015. Accessible here and here.