Monday, April 25, 2011

Ibn-e Safi's Jasoosi Duniya, now in English

I’ve been relishing Blaft’s English translations of four “Jasoosi Duniya” thrillers by the legendary Urdu novelist Ibn-e Safi. Will be writing a longer piece about these books soon, but briefly: the central figures in the series are the unflappable crime-fighter Colonel Faridi and his assistant Captain Hameed. The world they inhabit is an intriguing one – though Ibn-e Safi was living in pre-Partition India when he began the series (and in Karachi when he wrote these four books in the mid-1950s), the setting is highly westernised in many ways, with the action moving between posh nightclubs and harbours, skating rinks, the hillock-and-cave-ridden “Fun Island”, and so on. Notorious international criminals flit in and out of sight, and the original cover art features blonde women in flouncy skirts and archers who appear modelled on Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood.

Much of the likeability of these novels comes from the Hameed character who, though a resourceful sleuth when the stakes are high, is also a practical joker with a strange and inappropriate sense of humour. Some of his antics put me in mind of Amar Ayyar, the prince of tricksters in the Hamzanama.

At one point we are informed, quite casually, that Hameed has a pet goat named Bhagra Khan, whom he takes for long drives in Colonel Faridi’s air-conditioned Lincoln. Upon which I present you with the following mini-excerpts:
It so happened that around this time, pet billy goats had become very fashionable and the city was teeming with them. Many college students were now keeping billy goats, and they would walk them on the streets, equipped with all the latest modern accessories for billy goat keepers [...] Many respectable persons gave up wearing ties and felt hats, because they were simply unable to cope with the stylish ties and felt hats sported by the billy goats [...] Students would insist that their goats had just as much right to enjoy the silver-screen antics of Raj Kapoor as they did; that the goats were just as interested in chewing up and regurgitating the serious social messages addressed in these films.

[...] Hameed was of the opinion that if everybody in the world tried to study the newspaper with such concentration, at least half of them would go mad. Therefore, instead of reading the newspaper, he spent his mornings reciting ghazals to his billy goat, and lecturing it on progress and morals.
The critic and writer Shamsur Rahman Faruqi has done an excellent translating job. You get a sense of the spirit in which the original novels were written (and the spirit in which they must have been received by their readers), but these read like stories freshly written in English - transcreations rather than laborious sentence-by-sentence translations. (At the Delhi launch recently, Faruqi mentioned that he was reluctant to do the translations when Blaft first approached him, "because these books are so steeped in the local idiom and culture". He also made the very dispiriting proclamation that he wouldn't have the time to translate any more of the novels. Hope he changes his mind.)

More on the series soon. Meanwhile, here are some earlier posts about Blaft titles: Tamil pulp fiction, Tamil folk-tales, Kumari Loves a Monster. And here's a fine website on Ibn-e Safi's life and work.


  1. Ah, there is some good material for some film noir! Only if someone was willing to adapt this into a story!

  2. rantings: I don't think this material would translate into film noir - these are cosy and accessible thrillers, with the built-in reassurance that Faridi will come up trumps at the end. Though yes, there are noirish elements built into the stories.

    It would be interesting to see someone taking this up as a film project though - not modernised or updates, but with the 1950s setting intact.

  3. Yes, I agree that the setting will have to be in the 1950s. In fact that would test the mettle of the director-to recreate something like Ashok Kumaar's Mr.X.

    A film of that sort would be surely be welcome, given the fact that of late there has been a dearth of noir films in Bollywood.

    (On second thoughts, did Bollywood even have a designated "Noir Genre"?)

  4. On second thoughts, did Bollywood even have a designated "Noir Genre"?

    rantings: pick up The Popcorn Essayists and read Madhulika Liddle's "Villains and Vamps and all Things Camp" - some good stuff there about noir (or what passed for it) in 1950s and 60s Hindi cinema.

  5. Quite a few of Dev Anand's movies are classic film noir. The Guru Dutt directed Baazi comes to mind.

  6. Having read most of Ibne Safi's novels in the original Urdu, it would be interesting to read them in translation .
    However all of them are from Jasoosi Dunya and none from Imran Series.

    I liked Imran Series better.
    Urdu magazines in India like Huma Digest continue to publish old Ibne Safi novels.
    They are also available in Devnagri script on flipkart.

  7. I invite all ibne safi lovers to visit my non commercial site:

    Karachi Say

  8. ibnesafi's son dr ahmad safi was invited in the inauguration, here all his lovely pics can be viewed:

  9. I recently finished reading "the dangerous man" - translation of Imran series ,, and was searching for more books by him when I reached this post of yours. thank you for the post ! found more books to order now :)

  10. How many of safis novels are translated into english till now

  11. approximately Six.....
    The House of Feat by Soame one called Tanveer Iqbal or whatsoever
    2- The Dangerous Man by Taimoor Shahid
    3- Posisoned Arrow
    4- Smoke Water
    5- Doctor Dread
    6- The Laughing Corpse

    if Any one to discuss pls feel free
    to contact: