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Remembering Ibne Safi

By Raza Naeem

July 26, 2018 marked the 90th birthday of Israr Ahmad (1928-80), known to some by his nom de plume IsrarNarvi, and to many more as Ibne Safi, the famous poet and novelist, whose cult detective fiction found generations of adoring fans for his JasoosiDunya detectives Fareedi and Hameed, and for Imran of the eponymous Imran Series.
Ibne Safi was also a poet of no mean accomplishment, who could be both lyrical and satirical. There has been a revival of interest in his prose through translations of his novels by critic and novelist Shamsur Rahman Faruqi and novelist and translator Bilal Tanweer. Here are translations of two of his near-forgotten poems, BansarikiAaavaz (The Call of the Flute) and Dastgir (Helper), and of passages from two of his works of crime fiction.
The Call of the Flute
Translated by Raza Naeem
The call of the flute in the intoxicating silence of night
Waving on the silvery shoulder of moonlight
Booming, increasing, trembling near the mountains
In the expanding field, coiling on the narrow path
Arriving like one remembers somebody
Provoking the eyelids drowned in sleep
The song of earth began waving in the skies
The dust of shame has enveloped the face of the moon
Every single light of the assembly of stars became foggy
Venus put down the sitar, irritated
Every particle began to stretch its limbs, swaying
The galaxy began to stare at the source of the spring, amazed
This magnetic call flows in the airs likewise
As if an unusual thought in the poet’s mind
Or the first ray on the silvery cheek of dawn
Like the net of kisses spread by red lips
Ceasing here, piercing the bosom of silence there
Rises in the air, then becomes low alas
Some caravan far away in the fogs of the evening
Descends as if from the mountains in the fields
Garlands of songs holding the note of the flute
Inclined towards flight, weighing the wings of songs
Perhaps it will travel towards the horizon on the shoulder of the breeze
To welcome the first ray of morning
O delicate wafts of wind! Do not take away this call
Do not rob the colourful caresses of my feelings
Passionate moments! Stop, do not let it be dawn
The melody of the flute will be lost in the uproar otherwise
Let my flame of thought burn through the fire of song
In god’s name do not burn a fire in the bosom of the East
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Helper
Translated by Raza Naeem
Respected friends!
Those who are silent, who knows when they might speak up
So fetch some silver spoons
And stand guard
The minute a lip opens
A silver spoon
Now what to tell you in that
A word to the wise, for centuries
You are aware of the attributes of silver
You are a model of intelligence and wisdom
A visionary and mind-reader
If you raise a sword, it will stopped too by the wielder of a sword
Visionary friends
Only a silver spoon
Is the solution to your problems, remember it

From Doctor Dread
Translated by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
Shaheena felt slighted. She was a modern girl with an active social life, and very popular. No one had ever refused a request from her before. But she held her tongue, because she needed Anwar’s services.
She rang the bell of Anwar’s flat at the appointed time, and was received by him civilly enough. Having heard her tale, he made a face and said, “So what’s there to worry about? It’s not uncommon for the romantic peccadilloes of youth to drive people to write poetry in their old age.”
“I don’t understand.”
“What’s there not to understand? What sort of problem could possibly arise for a rich lady like Begum Irshad? What kind of man could force her to sneak around, wandering on foot through the city’s stinking alleys? That man could very well be a blackmailer, couldn’t he?”
“That’s what you have to find out.”
“And what happens once I do?”
“Legal and criminal proceedings will be initiated.”
“Why do you suppose Begum Irshad hasn’t initiated them herself?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is there no grey matter underneath that beautiful head of curly hair?” Anwar smiled derisively. “Would it hurt so much for you women to spend just a fraction of the time you spend making yourselves look beautiful trying to improve your brains instead?”
Shaheena bristled. “I didn’t come here for a schoolmaster’s lecture.”
“Okay then, scoot. No one’s stopping you.”
________________________________________
From Poisoned Arrow
Translated by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
Hameed scowled. “Speak plainly. I don’t like all this beating around the bush.”
“Please, come with me to my home. I’ll be able to tell you a lot more there.”
“And if I insist on hearing everything here?”
“If we go there, I can give you documentary evidence against that gang. I have a lot of material.”
Hameed looked at him searchingly, and spoke softly. “So you are afraid of some people against whom you have documentary evidence, and you fear them precisely because they know that you have it?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“And this evidence is safely stashed away in your home?”
“Yes.”
“But these fellows would rather kill you off than secure the evidence for themselves?”
“Yes!”
“I don’t understand. What if these gentlemen steal the evidence from your home in the meantime?”
“That’s exactly the point. They haven’t been able to do it. They’ve tried many times, without success.”
“And now, having failed, they want to do away with you?”
“Yes! That’s the only possible conclusion from the facts at hand.”
“Fine. Then I’m afraid all I can do is offer you a peg of whisky.”
“You don’t believe me,” the stranger said sadly.
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“On the contrary: I believe you fully. Now I must take your leave.”
________________________________________
(The writer is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic, award-winning translator and dramatic reader, currently teaching in Lahore. He is the president of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore).