Ibn-e-Safi: the first author I “knew”

Introduction to Ibn-e-Safi

No, I didn’t literally know him. He had passed away long before I was born. I know him as in I read so much of him at such young age that I gradually started to remember his name. This guy writes good stories.

As kids, we don’t think about who wrote the story. We just read and enjoy the story. Remembering the author name is a big deal, because even today, I don’t remember that unless I make a note of it. There are many books I have loved, but have not reviewed because I don’t recall the title or author name.

I was a late bloomer when it comes to learning my alphabets. I wasn’t dimwitted. I just hated going to school. You don’t know that story about me, do you? No worries, you can read my short memoir Ctrl Z. Don’t be fooled by the title. It has a lot of fun stories from my childhood.

As I was saying, I learned my alphabets late. Once I did, I was good at them. I read Umang and Noor as a kid. Those were the monthly magazines for kids. Truth be told, I read any and every book I could get my hands on. Most of it were old syllabus books, and some books that my uncle bought from raddi for his grocery store to make paper pouches.

Before long, I got hold of a book which had Ali Imran as the young, handsome detective who used his wits more than his physical power to solve cases. He was ROFL LMAO funny. I got hooked to those novels. That’s how I got acquainted to the world of fun and fantasy that the legend Ibn-e-Safi created.

Why Am I Reviewing Them Now?

When I discovered the world of Goodreads, I went crazy, as I always do when I find a new toy. I am a bit crazy about stats. I obsess about my wordpress stats, and my KDP reports about a hundred times a day, but that’s a different story. I wanted to be the top reviewer so I added all his books. I mean, I had read them from cover to cover a million times. Okay, maybe a hundred times.

Just to make my reviews count, I pasted a short review in each of the book.

Irrespective of the title, and what rating I give, I love his work.

Ibn-e-safi, the person who introduced me to the world of suspense and thriller at young age of six (ish).

Growing up, it was a challenge to get hold of his books. Thanks to the people who put a lot of effort to digitize all his books.

In past three years, I have a habit of reading all his 150+ books, from Imran Series and Jasoosi Duniya, at least once in a quarter. Yes, that is how much I like his work. Sue me, if it is wrong.

A friend on Goodreads insisted that I should do individual book reviews. God knows I have been meaning to do that for ages.

I casually discussed it with my brother Shakeeb Ahmed. He is also Ibn-e-Safi fan and another Ibn-e-Safi in the making, if I may say so. One of his readers said this. His words, not mine. He is writing a novel Almuqtadir. Fourteen episodes are published so far. I have been asking him to share the first 10 chapters online, but he just doesn’t listen to me.

I apologize. I digress quite easily. So, I talked to Shakeeb and he said I should review them individually, in detail. He also warned me that a lot of information is already there on ibnesafi.info, which is subsequently copied on wikipedia as well.

Alright, so I have to be original. Big deal! It is not like I have read any of it. This is the first time I accessed the site.

It is going to be my take on Ibn-e-Safi, the legend.

I am beginning to read them again. This time, with the only intention to write a review. Of course, the review will be posted here on my blog. I will try to update Goodreads, too.

So, why do I love his writing?

Nostalgia

These are the earliest books I read. They were also most funny ones that would just tickle my funny bone.

You can’t hate the first books you read, can you? I mean, those are your earliest memories of books. You have no clue about good or bad ones. You just can’t hate them.

It reminds me of hot summer afternoons as elders would take naps and younger ones would sneak around with a book in hand with “ابنِ صفی” written on it.

Rainbow Of Characters

From Faridi – the human computer to Ali Imran the indigenous who believes in fighting the situations with his quirks; from Hameed who is inherently an ‘aashiq’ at heart to Juliana who loves Imran; from Anwar the bitter reporter who bends the law for his benefit to Qasim with IQ of a wooden log and an appetite of a monster (or many monsters); each character is so vivid and colourful and different from the other that you are constantly amazed.

Curiosity

Even at the young age with no internet access, I knew that he has written a lot of novels and I wanted to read them all. I also knew that the stories I am reading are in random order. The curiosity just killed me. I wanted to read all of his work, and know how those wonderful characters came into being.
Why is Ali Imran the way he is?
How is Faridi so rich?
What is Hameed’s background?
Why does Anwar blackmail police officers?
What goes into the making of a lovely-yet-annoying person Qasim?
How can Juliana fall in love with Imran and yet do horrible things to him?
Where do you find ever-loyal employees like Joseph and Suleiman?

By the way, I should also note that people who have not read him previous and start from the first one (of either Jasoosi Duniya or Imran Series), would not like his writing. Obviously, he had begun writing and his writing had not matured until he wrote a few books. Give him a chance, read Sholay Series. It will blow your mind.

Fantasy Lands

From the mountains of Ram Gadh to the vast grounds of Jharyali, from Shikral (Imran Series) to Kraghal (Sholay Series in Jasoosi Duniya), he had created a lot of fictional fantasy lands. And then there is Zero Land. Although I am not a big fan of the last one. Each of this place has a different breed of human being, where the rules are different. There are geographical challenges. The survival is at risk. The characters are not just hiding from the bad men, but also spend time finding editable fruits and drinkable water. It just blew my mind. It still does, even though I have read more books about unreachable geographic locations.

Comedy & Poetry

Ibn-e-Safi initial work, if I remember correctly, wrote comedy first before foraying into pulp fiction. He also wrote poetry, under the name Israr Narwi (Or Asrar Narwi). Comedy and poetry, therefore, is inherent part of the narrative.

Comedy interests me the most in all books I read. The poetry is sometimes apt and to the point, especially when Faridi or Hameed quote something. However, Ali Imran, king of misplacements makes absurd combinations of line from two different verses as he pleases. One of the characters Ustad Nirale Alam also does parody of famous Urdu poetry. In one of the stories from Jasoosi Duniya (I think it was Sainkron Humshakal) Qasim’s wife also writes azad shayeri about Qasim’s potbelly. And, it is to HILARIOUS.

P.S. I will remember to update the post with references, soon.

Philosophy of Life

The narrative is often laced with philosophy of life. Ibn-e-Safi was clearly upset with the way Islamic culture was shaping up. He had an ideology about bringing reform. Often, during the conversations between Hameed and Faridi, we hear his personal thoughts.

There are many one liners that I have noted in my diaries over the years. I could not find all of them, but there are a couple that I remember.

سنجیدگی بجائے خود ایک بہت بڑی حماقت ہے۔

تم کتنے ہی سنجیدہ کیوں نہ ہو جاؤ، زمین و آسمان اپنی جگہ ہی رہیں گے۔

جب میرے غرور سے تمہارے غرور کو ٹھیس پہنچتی ہے تو تم مجھے مغرور کہہ دیتے ہو۔

P.S. (Again) I will remember to update the post with references, soon.

The Bitterness Against Political and Social Establishment

In his stories, you can feel the pain of the writer. He had survived the partition. It must have been difficult for him. The agony and the patriotism reflects in his stories.

Also, at that time, there was a tug of power. The second world war had just ended. Many of his stories have an “international agent who double-crosses” theme. You get a sense of the political establishment that he had witnessed.

His Research

Today, for doing any research for my stories (if at all), a few Google searches are enough to give me plenty of information on the topic. Ibn-e-Safi’s work includes some solid historical, geographical and literary references. I wonder how much he would have researched for one single topic, how many books he would have referred to. It must have been a lot of hard work.

Originality Of Ideas

The best fantasy that he had created was Zero Land (although he took it too far at times). Zero Land was an organization with their addas across the globe. The citizens were ahead of the entire world in terms of science, research and inventions. They had the best of gadgets, aerocrafts, and technologies that would blow our minds.

I don’t recall the novel, but the caller’s face was also visible during a phone call. That’s today’s video call.

Also, when I read the novel featuring Fauladi (Fauladmi, per my brother) I was stumped. Upon re-read in 2017; I googled a bit. If I remember correctly, the novel was Toofan Ka Aghwa, which was first published in 1957. Fauladmi is a combination word – Faulad (Iron) + Aadmi (Man). Iron Man, as a character, first made appearance in 1963, and getting his name in 1968. So, iron man is originally Ibn-e-Safi’s original concept.

Some Other Observations

Entertainment Value

If you’re reading Ibn-e-Safi, one thing is guaranteed, almost. That the reader will be entertained and be left with a smile. There are a few exception – namely two stories that feature Jabar, Geeton Ke Dhamaake and its subsequent issues in which the reason of numerous murders was never uncovered, and a few others.

Characters Names

In my opinion, he liked simple names and reused a few quite a few times (repetition). His characters, main or recurring or notorious have short and simple names. Faridi, Hameed, Qasim, Anwar, Ali Imran, Rahman, Juliana, Safdar, Joseph, Sing, Finch, and so on. I mean, he could have named Zulfeqar, Inzimam, etc, right? I think the only complex name he has given was Rana Tahawwur Sandooqi.

Subtlety

Ibn-e-Safi lived in India when he started writing. Then, he moved to Pakistan. There are very few mentions of either countries or any of the cities. He generally referred to their city as Dar-ul-Hukumat (Capital).

Tropes

There were some formulae, patterns, tropes that Ibn-e-Safi relied upon and as you read more of his work, things start to feel repetitive.
1. International agencies conspiring against Faridi and Imran’s unnamed Asian country

2. Greed about inheritance

3. Revenge of illegitimate child

4. Blackmail

5. Any case which begins with strange gadgets and scientific inventions would end up being a Zero Land story

Disclaimer

I wanted to post this sometime next year, after finishing the review of all his work. But the right time is now. Because I feel very passionately about him and his writing. I can always write another post. Who’s gonna stop me?
First Draft: 29 October 2019
First Version: 23 November 2019

Shabana Mukhtar

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