His family named him Israr Ahmad on his birth in 1928 in Allahabad, India. But he adopted a pseudonym when he launched himself as a writer of detective stories in the 1950s. For his readers, which grew in no time due to his innovative mind, he was Ibn-i-Safi.
His detective stories and novels made him the most popular and sought-after writer of Pakistan, India and other countries where Urdu was read and understood. Muhammad Faisal, a devout follower of Safi’s writings, relishes reading Urdu poetry and fiction.
He decided to probe what went into making Ibn-i-Safi. The result is a short biography of Urdu’s first blockbuster detective fiction. Apart from giving his biographical details, the author has tried to analyse the writings of Ibn-i-Safi. The book can be helpful for the uninitiated who want to read about the great writer in one go.
The first chapter deals with his family background and the ambience in which he opened his eyes in 1928. His father and grandfather loved books and had amassed a collection in their home. That’s why it was natural that he was influenced by the written word at a tender age. While rummaging through books in his father’s collection, he chanced upon the volumes of Tilism-e-Hoshruba which he read from cover to cover.
After completing his schooling from his native town, he went to Allahabad University for his graduation which he couldn’t complete due to the political disturbances in the aftermath of 1947. Later, he completed his graduation degree from Agra University and arrived in Pakistan in 1952. In March 1952, he published the first issue of Jasoosi Dunya, a magazine in which he introduced the duo of Fareedi and Hameed.
In 1955, he published the first detective novel under Imran Series which is read by many people even today. According to Faisal, before Safi the corpus on detective writings in Urdu was minuscule. He quotes Majnoon Gorakhpuri to drive home the point that most writings on detective fiction were translated from the other languages. He cites the names of the likes of Tirath Ram Ferozpuri, Feroz Din Murad, Zafar Omar, Mrs Abdul Qadir who would write for this genre. But it was definitely Safi who singlehandedly enriched Urdu detective fiction with his prolific pen.
As far as his ideology is concerned, Safi states without mincing words that “he doesn’t want to write for those sitting in posh drawing rooms as they can’t even appreciate the higher literature. So I write such stuff which is liked and appreciated more”. Safi says that apart from entertaining the readers what he wants is to awaken in them a respect for law.
Furthermore, Safi was once under the influence of Progressive Writers’ Movement and that’s why he comes across as a great critic of the uneven distribution of resources, injustice and exploitation. From 1952 till his death in 1980, he wrote profusely and over the years acquired a cult status in the world of Urdu detective fiction.
Faisal has given the complete list of his detective books as well as the other books which he wrote during his lifetime. He has also added the opinions of literary stalwarts who also acknowledged the contribution of Safi as a path-breaking detective writer. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi confesses that in his youth, he used to visit shops in search of Safi’s new novels. Intizar Husain also acknowledges Safi’s contribution and seemed content to note that finally serious critics are begging to judge his literary worth.
This biography will help readers get acquainted with Ibn-i-Safi and his creativity as the foremost detective writer of Urdu.
Ibn-i-Safi: Shakhsiyat aur fun
Author: Muhammad Faisal
Publisher: Pakistan Academy of Letters