Book Review "The Dangerous Man"
Safi Sizzles (A Review of the book
Agatha Christie writes, “I don’t know Urdu but have knowledge of detective novels in the subcontinent. There is only one original writer – Ibn-e-Safi.” A certification from none other than the Queen of Detective Novels establishes the credibility of the author in no uncertain terms. But a tiny doubt still persists. Will a translation (by Taimoor Shahid) be able to retain the flavour of the Urdu original? Surprisingly, it does. Reading Safi, one is easily transported to the desultory days of the 50s and the 60s.The English is chaste, the wit and humour typical of the author’s milieu, “The Dangerous Man” indeed makes for a fast-paced read.
The book comprises of two novellas of the best-selling Imran series. Safi created the larger-than-life character of Imran, perhaps in line with the then prevalent notion of a super-hero – handsome, rich, flamboyant, dashing, at times deceptively foolish and muddle-headed but in actuality a shrewdly intelligent investigator who loves to save his trump cards for a breath-taking finale.
Mysterious Scream: Nawwab Hashim is found murdered in his own bedroom by an unknown assailant, his face disfigured beyond recognition. The body is identified by his nephew and heir, Sajid, by his night clothes. Ten years later, a look alike, claiming to be Nawwab Hashim, returns after a so-called long journey, to the utter bewilderment of the family. The now Nawwab Sajid is still more perturbed when terrifying screams start emanating from the house in the dead of the night. Will Imran be able to fathom the mystery of the duplicate Nawwab and his connection with the nocturnal horrors?
The Dangerous Man: Roshi, an Anglo-Burmese prostitute, one fateful evening, meets a seemingly innocuous man, in Hotel ABC, who she teasingly names “Parrot”. The man is naïve enough to carry wads of currency on his person which he carelessly shows around. Despite Roshi’s warnings, Parrot seems to have the knack of getting embroiled with sleazy gamblers and notorious looters who frequent the hotel premise after nightfall. Having lost a lot of money thereby, “Parrot” is eager to get it back by hook or by crook. In the process, Roshi is unwittingly pulled into the vortex of mind spinning crime and conspiracy. As suspense thickens, Roshi is unable to decide who is more dangerous – the gangsters who are after her blood or “Parrot” himself who appears to be equally ruthless and fearsome. Who is this mysterious “Parrot” and what does he want?
Having been brought up on Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Satyajit Ray, Sharadendu Bandopadhyay and others of the league, Safi seems a different cup of tea altogether. His is a ‘scatter brained’ narration, jumpy, at times disjointed and seemingly inconsistent. The dialogic exchanges replete with artful sophistry! The construct is rickety and seems to suddenly stand upright at the point of collapse.
Chapter by chapter the mystery deepens and ceaseless surprises are thrown upon the reader at such a breathless pace that one is left gasping for a break. There is no linearity of gait here. The stories revolve in concentric circles, which is no doubt engaging but at the same time completely confounding as to the intended direction of the narrative. But,of course, there is a method to Safi’s madness, revealed in the final deliverance. The climax is a little abrupt but indisputably the most unpredictable. Safi’s Imran series having transcended into Urducult classic provides a glimpse of sub-continental fiction.
The Characterization :
The pivotal character in both the stories is Imran, undoubtedly the author’s favourite, to the extent that he lets the rest of the cast be overshadowed by his charisma. Readers who are accustomed to the meticulous methodology or logical deductions of a Sherlock Holmes,Hercule Poirot, Pheluda or Byomkesh Bakshi, may find maverick Imran haphazard, street smart, whimsical and fanciful.How he unravels the truth is not systematically revealed by the author. The conclusive evidences against the perpetrator of the crime, therefore,seem more like tricks up the sleuth’s sleeves which he fishes out at an appropriate time like a magician. I wish Safi had dwelt more on Imran’s mental calculations to give the reader a clue to his investigative methods.