Monday, 6 June 2011



I don’t know Urdu. So I never met criminologist Colonel Faridi and his handsome sidekick, Captain Hameed. For decades though, these two men have been popular across the border that divides India and Pakistan, and maybe beyond. The two sleuths, as one may know, are the creations of late poet-novelist Asrar Ahmad who wrote detective thrillers under the pen name of Ibne Safi, as part of his Jasusi Dunya series. Now the adventures of Faridi-Hameed duo are available in English to thrill all those who love thrillers.

Translated by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, and published by Blaft in association with Tranquebar, four of Safi’s thrillers — Poisoned Arrow, Smokewater, The Laughing Corpse and Doctor Dread — take us to a fictional underworld network of pimps, drug dealers and foreign spies. There’s a crooked Doctor Dread — Faridi’s arch enemy; and there are rich people in their stately mansions who are often victims of conspiracies. Plus, there are some beautiful young women who get involved in the plots, as Faridi and Hameed try to counter the sinister designs of the baddies. As any ideal thriller demands, these stories by Ibne Safi are sufficiently racy: there’s enough gore that doesn’t let the stories to become just tales of acute mind games; the actions unfold seamlessly. They may not be always spine-chilling, but nonetheless they kept me glued to the pages. Safi writes as if he’s illustrating through words: he spices up the stories with minute details — on food, dress and fictitious locales.

Quite interestingly, it never becomes clear in which country are these stories set. Where, for example, is the Fun Island that keeps coming back in the stories? Or for that matter where is Tar Jam? Considering that Ibne Safi had migrated to Pakistan in the 1950s, I assume he brought in all the places he knew in India and later in Pakistan, in the stories. But more than that, it is the array of characters, with Indian and western names, that give the plots a multinational touch, thus making us forget the borders. Still, I would like to believe, as did the readers of earlier generations, that most of the Faridi-Hameed thrillers were set somewhere in India.

The author has portrayed the character of Faridi as almost invincible, or as they say, as a “complete man” whom you can trust without any hesitation. He’s too ideal to be true. His analytical mind, his toughness and hard-hitting actions somewhere remind me of Phantom, James Bond, Byomkesh Bakshi, Sherlock Holmes and Dick Tracy — all combined into one suave gentleman. Possibly to balance the macho effect that Faridi offers, the author casts Hameed in slightly comical shades. Sample this: Hameed recites ghazals to his billy goat every morning, and lectures it on progress and morals.

I am told that in the 1960s, Ibne Safi’s thrillers were sought-after like hot buns and people used to rent out the books on hourly basis. And it is believed that Colonel Faridi became so popular that Safi had to be cautious while portraying him in the later stories. I reckon, one of the reasons for the popularity was lack of similar characters in Urdu literature. Ibne Safi filled in that void skilfully. In 2011, these stories may seem to be a tad ordinary or dated for those who are into stuff like Mission Impossible and the Bourne series; Faridi may come across as just another tough do-gooder. But for those readers, who have no qualms in letting fantasies take control of the thrillers and to enjoy a dose of yesteryear feel, Ibne Safi will be a very good choice.
Poisoned Arrow; Smokewater;
The Laughing Corpse; Doctor Dread
By: Ibne Safi (Asrar Ahmad)
Translator: Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
Publisher: Blaft / Tranquebar
Price: Rs 200 each


** A man is killed by a poisoned arrow. Colonel Faridi’s investigations lead to a network of criminals. But who is behind it? A Goan named Finch? The beautiful Tara Nayadu? Or Doctor Dread? (Poisoned Arrow)
** Industrialist Sir Fayyaz Ahmad disappears en route to his vacation. His granddaughter approaches Colonel Faridi for help. It leads to the twisted world of rich people. (Smokewater)
Beautiful Saeeda learns that her uncle has died in Jamaica leaving her a huge estate. Rich young men of the city try to woo Saeeda. But she is kidnapped. Colonel Faridi takes up the case. (The Laughing Corpse)
** Begum Irshad, a widow, is being blackmailed. Faridi and Hameed get involved as they try to figure out why a mentally-deranged man thinks that he’s an imprisoned angel. (Doctor Dread)