The neglected realm of popular writing: Ibne Safi's novels

Oesterheld, Christina

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Popular novels came into existence simultaneously with the advent of didactic, reformist prose writing in Urdu, and the roots of all strands of the contemporary popular Urdu novel (novels of manner, or "socials", historical or Islamic novels, crime fiction) can be traced back to the late nineteenth century. Although initially crime fiction in Indian languages was deeply influenced by English models, Urdu authors developed their own model which culminated in the works of Ibne Safi (1928-1980) who is reported to have written 250 books. His unsurpassed popularity is documented by the numerous imprints of his works in India and Pakistan and by the enthusiastic response of his readers. Moreover, his prefaces to the stories in which he often refers to reader’s letters are a very important source of information on the interaction between a popular writer and his audience. In the prefaces he not only outlines his own intentions and advises his readers on a number of matters but also reflects on the readers' expectations. This is ample proof of the fact that crime fiction was consumed not only as a means of escape and wish-fulfilment, but that the readers tried to relate the stories to their own needs and experiences. Although Ibne Safi’s stories are set in a dream world of larger than life heroes, beautiful girls and breath-taking adventures, they nevertheless deal with the contemporary reality of the readers. Ibne Safi took up social problems, especially social inequality, feudal despotism and the corruption of the ruling classes, as well as political issues. In his later stories, the attempts of the Super powers to gain dominance in the third World became one of his central themes. Thus he reflected and strengthened anti-imperialist feelings which went quite against the grain of official foreign policy in his homeland Pakistan. At the same time, his main protagonists never crossed the line of decency and Islamic ethics. His works, while being interesting and exciting enough to capture the reader, could safely be read by the whole family. Ibne Safi’s rich imagination, his keen interest in contemporary developments in the world, his extraordinary fluency of language and his fine sense of humour provided suspense and quality entertainment to generations of Urdu readers and for many juvenile readers served as gateways into the world of literature. Revised version of a paper presented at the Sahitya Akademi, Delhi, in March 2007, and in abridged form at the 20th European Conference on Modern South Asian Studies (ECMSAS) in Manchester in 2008, Panel 18: WRITING THE SOCIAL: POPULAR LITERARY TRADITIONS IN SOUTH ASIA.

Document type: Article
Date: 2009
Version: Primary publication
Date Deposited: 23 July 2009
Faculties / Institutes: Universitäten / Institute > South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg / Modern South Asian Languages and Literatures
DDC-classification: Literatures of other languages
Controlled Subjects: Urdu, Kriminalroman
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ibne Safi , Urdu , Kriminalroman , Detektivroman, Ibne Safi , Urdu , Crime fiction , Detective novels
Subject (classification): Literature
Countries/Regions: Pakistan