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Introducing "Ahmad Kemal" Bhutto

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  • Khurram Ali Shafique
    This is a special issue of the newsletter commemorating the 28th death anniversary of the renowned Urdu writer Ibne Safi (1928-1980), which falls on Saturday,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 24, 2008
      This is a special issue of the newsletter commemorating the 28th
      death anniversary of the renowned Urdu writer Ibne Safi (1928-1980),
      which falls on Saturday, July 26. Discussion on the works of Iqbal
      will continue in the regular issue on Monday.

      Ibne Safi is unique among fiction-writers of Urdu on several counts.
      He was equally popular in India and Pakistan, and right up to his
      death in 1980 his works used to be published simultaneously in both
      countries (in India they were even available in Hindi editions in
      which the names of the two Muslim protagonists Faridi and Imran were
      changed to Hindu names, Vinod and Rajesh respectively).

      This was quite an achievement if we remember that unlike some other
      writers of the time, Safi's purpose was to instill patriotism. Nor
      was he indifferent to religion, sovereignty, the importance of
      national identity and issues of foreign policy, all of which found
      substantial representation in his work. On all these issues the
      governments of Pakistan and India remained opposed to each other in
      the days of Safi and fought three wars between themselves. That Safi
      should be able to infuse patriotism equally among readers in two
      warring states is remarkable. It is something which Ian Fleming
      could not achieve: despite all the promotional tactics of Eon Films,
      James Bond could never become acceptable for the "political others"
      who lived behind the Iron Curtain.

      The importance of Safi's work can hardly be ignored today when
      Pakistan and India are trying to find common grounds for peace and
      prosperity in the region. This is because the works of Safi reflect
      not only his own mind but also the collective fantasies of his
      society. That society practically collaborated with him in those
      writings, especially the longer "sequences" of four or more
      installments which created interest and commotion among his readers.
      On such occasions his readers started suggesting what should happen
      next in the story, and Safi tried to please as many as he could.

      In this sense he did not write alone. He gave unusual importance to
      feedback of his readers regardless of their social standing,
      religious background or literacy level. Like Shakespeare, he tried
      to charm even the most illiterate among his audience. This is the
      other distinction which he has among his contemporaries: he was
      neither a "popular writer" in the commonly understood sense nor was
      he an elitist. Instead, he took the middle road. He was a "consensus
      writer".

      One example of the relevance of his works may suffice here. The most
      outstanding phenomenon in the late 1960s in West Pakistan was
      Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the popular leader who pledged to make the "big
      fishes" become accountable before the law. There is an uncanny
      similarity between what people expected of him and the fantasies
      presented in the work of Ibne Safi.

      In the late 1960s it was generally perceived that 22 families had
      usurped all the wealth of Pakistan and nobody could check them
      because they were well-connected. Bhutto, despite his feudal
      background became a man of the masses and promised to bring these
      influential "culprits" to the book.

      Interestingly, the legendary hero in Safi's works is Ahmad Kamal
      Faridi (first introduced in 1952). He too comes from feudal
      background but works as a humble investigation officer, using his
      hereditary wealth in this cause. He protects the weak and the
      innocent, even ignores the petty crimes of the poor and the meek,
      but he never lets go the big fish.

      It seems as if Safi picked up a fantasy from the conscience of his
      people and Bhutto picked up the same a decade and a half later.
      Bhutto as a politician had to depend on a think-tank for giving him
      a political ideology and it is quite likely that his coterie of
      intellectuals made a mistake in interpreting this fantasy, thus
      precipitating Bhutto's tragic downfall. Those intellectuals were
      liable to making mistakes because they believed that their wide
      reading in political economy had taught them all they needed to
      know. They spoke on behalf of the people but had never listened to
      them.

      Fortunately, we hear more often about the need to find indigenous
      solutions today. We must not forget that indigenous solutions cannot
      be found unless we are willing to look at indigenous wisdom.
      Whatever the literary standing of Safi's work, its value as a
      resource bank of such wisdom seems to have become only more urgent
      and more pressing with the passage of time.

      Incidentally, the entry on my blog this week is "the first thriller-
      writer of Urdu". It is about an early nineteenth century writer who
      may be seen as a precursor of Safi in many respects. You may like to
      take a look at http://republicofrumi.blogspot.com

      NOTE: Information about Ibne Safi is available online at
      http://ibnesafi.info
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