Ibn-e-Safi was one of the great Urdu pulp fiction novelists. Detective Imran is his most famous creation and the bestselling Imran series are Urdu cult classics. Like Inspector Clouseau, Ali Imran plays the buffoon but in reality possesses a razor-sharp mind, and the agility, strength and quick wit of the perfect spy. His colleagues at the secret service make fun of him, but little do they know that he is their mastermind chief X2–a man who can defeat any enemy and solve all mysteries. Translated into English for the first time here’s a sneak peak from Shootout at the Rocks:
The clock struck one and Imran got out of bed. He opened the door and came out of the room. Silence reigned everywhere, but not a single light had been turned off in any of the rooms in the bungalow.
He stepped out into the verandah and waited to hear any footsteps or sounds, and then he darted into the room where the colonel’s family was assembled. Except for Sophiya, everyone had a rifle next to themselves. Anwar and Arif looked extremely bored, Sophiya’s eyes were bloodshot due to lack of sleep, and the colonel was sitting on the sofa, still as a statue. He was not even blinking his eyes. Upon seeing Imran, he twitched.
‘What is it? Why have you come here?’ he thundered.
‘Something is bothering me,’ Imran replied.
‘What?’ said the colonel. His demeanour did not soften.
‘If you are troubled by a few unknown men, why don’t you inform the police?’
‘I know that the police cannot do anything.’
‘Are those people really unknown to you?’
‘It doesn’t make sense.’
‘It’s pretty straightforward. If you don’t know them, why are you afraid of them?’
Instead of giving him a reply, the colonel went on staring at Imran.
‘Sit down,’ he said after a few moments. Imran took a seat.
‘I know them,’ the colonel said.
‘Then the police should be contacted. Isn’t it obvious?’
‘Do you take me for a fool?’ Zargham said in a displeased tone.
‘Yes, of course!’ Imran said, nodding his head seriously.
‘What!’ The colonel sprang up.
‘Please sit down,’ Imran said, lifting his hand distractedly. ‘I say this because all of you could become the target of their bullets any time.’
‘They can enter the building any time they please.’
‘No, they can’t. There are guards patrolling out there…’
‘Then what is the meaning of these rifles placed in front of you!’ Imran shook his head. ‘No, Colonel sahib! If you want to get work out of Ali Imran, MSc, PhD, you will have to apprise him of all the circumstances. I have not come here to be your bodyguard.’
‘Daddy, please tell him…It is all right…’ Sophiya said.
‘Do you consider this man trustworthy?’
‘She’s just a child.’ Imran pointed to Sophiya. ‘Even old, decrepit women trust me with everything.’
Sophiya was taken aback and stared blankly at Imran. She didn’t know how to react. Anwar and Arif began to laugh.
‘Shut your mouths!’ the colonel yelled. Both of them made a face and became quiet.
‘Tell me about those men,’ Imran said.
Zargham was silent for a while and then said, ‘I don’t know what should I tell you.’
‘Have you seen any of them during all this time?’
‘Then I guess I have gone mad!’ Imran said.
The colonel stared at him. He was quiet for a while and then said, ‘I recognize the mark of these people. I have found it in my house. It means I am in danger.’
‘Ooh!’ Imran pursed his lips as though he was whistling, then asked in a low voice, ‘When did you find it?’
‘Four days ago.’
‘Good! Can I see it?’
‘I don’t think you can handle this business,’ the colonel said in a tired voice. ‘You must return tomorrow.’
‘It is quite possible I can become a handler and a businessman. Please show it to me.’
Colonel Zargham was quiet for a while. He made a face to show his displeasure and got up to open a drawer. Imran observed him with interest. The colonel pulled out something from the drawer and
returned to the sofa. Imran extended his hand. Anwar and Arif exchanged glances as if they expected some foolishness from Imran.
The colonel placed an object on the small round table. It was a three-inch long wooden monkey. Imran picked it up from the table. He examined it for a while, then replaced it and looked at the colonel.
‘Can I ask you something?’ Imran said.
‘Just ask me. Don’t bore me.’
‘Wait!’ Imran lifted his hand. Then he glanced at Sophiya and the others and said, ‘It is quite possible you wouldn’t want to answer my questions in their presence.’
‘Oh, come on! Don’t bore me,’ the colonel said wearily.
‘As you please. I only meant it as a warning,’ Imran said carelessly. Then he stared at the colonel and said, ‘Have you been associated with the illegal drug trade as well?’
The colonel sprang from his seat and looked at Imran as if he had just been stung. Then he quickly turned towards the boys, ‘You go and sleep.’
The nephews’ faces lit up but Sophiya didn’t want to leave.
‘You should go as well,’ the colonel said with an agitated movement of his hand.
‘Is it necessary?’ Sophiya said.
‘Go away, now!’ Zargham colonel shouted and all three of them left the room.
‘Yes, what did you say?’ The colonel turned towards Imran.
Imran repeated his question.
‘So you know something about this?’ the colonel pointed to the wooden monkey.
‘A lot,’ Imran said nonchalantly.
‘How do you know?’
‘It is very hard to explain.’ Imran smiled. ‘But you have still not answered my question.’
‘No, I have never been associated with the drug trade.’
‘Then,’ Imran said thoughtfully, ‘you know something about them. Why else did this object enter this building?’
‘By God!’ Zargham said as he rubbed his hands nervously. ‘You seem to be a very useful man.’
‘But I am returning tomorrow morning.’
‘Absolutely not! Absolutely not!’
‘If I don’t return tomorrow, then who will watch over that hen which I left sitting over the eggs?’
‘Good lad. This is not the time to make fun.’
‘You are afraid of Li Yu Ka?’ Imran said, shaking his head.
Once again the colonel jumped, this time as if Imran had stung him.
‘Who are you!’ the colonel said in a terrified voice.
‘Ali Imran, MSc, PhD.’
‘And have you really been sent here by Captain Fayyaz?’
‘And I am returning tomorrow morning.’
‘Impossible, impossible! I cannot let you go at any cost. But how do you know about Li Yu Ka?’
‘I cannot tell you,’ Imran said. ‘But I can tell you a lot about Li Yu Ka himself. He is the key. There is a lot of illegal drug trade in his name but no one has ever seen him.’
‘Absolutely right. My boy, you look dangerous to me.’
‘I am the biggest dunce in the world.’
‘Nonsense! But how do you know all this?’ Zargham muttered. ‘What if you are one of his men?’ he said fearfully, his voice sticking in his throat.
‘Good. Tomorrow morning I will…’
‘No, no!’ the colonel shouted, protesting with his hands.
‘Then tell me, how did this wooden monkey reach you?’ Imran asked.
‘I don’t know,’ the colonel said.
‘I think you are trying to test this fool’s foolishness,’ Imran said seriously. ‘All right, then listen: Li Yu Ka is a two hundred year old name…’
‘Dear lad! Where did you get this information?’ the colonel said, looking at him admiringly. ‘No one has this information except Li Yu Ka’s gang.’
‘Then should I assume that you have been a part of Li Yu Ka’s gang?’ Imran said.
‘Absolutely not! You have misunderstood me…’
‘Then how did this insignia reach you? What do those people demand of you?’
‘Oh! You know this too!’ Zargham cried out. He began pacing about the room again. There was a mischievous smile on Imran’s lips.
‘Lad!’ The colonel abruptly stopped in his tracks. ‘You will have to prove that you are the same person who was sent by Captain Fayyaz.’
‘You look very upset,’ Imran laughed. ‘I have Fayyaz’s letter with me. But why are you so upset? This is just the first warning. After the monkey, they will send you a snake. If you still don’t meet their demand, then they will send a rooster—and then you will be wiped off the next day. But what is their demand in the first place?’
The colonel fell silent. His jaw had dropped and his eyes were glued to Imran’s face. ‘But,’ he said, moistening his lips with his tongue, ‘how are you still alive, knowing all this?’
‘Simply because of Coca Cola.’
‘Serious! Be serious!’ The colonel said, lifting his hand. ‘Show me Fayyaz’s letter.’
Imran handed him Fayyaz’s letter. Zargham looked at the letter for a while, then returning the letter to Imran, he said, ‘I don’t understand what kind of a man you are!’
‘Of all kinds. For now, don’t think about me,’ said Imran. ‘The sooner you tell me about your situation, the better it will be for you.’
The colonel’s face showed signs of reluctance. He didn’t speak.
‘Okay, wait,’ Imran said after a little while. ‘Li Yu Ka’s men do such things only on one condition. It is a gang that illegally trades in drugs. No one knows who Li Yu Ka is, but all the profits from the trade are funnelled to him. Sometimes, some of his agents betray him and they don’t meet his demands. Only in these conditions, the agents get such warnings: first threat, the monkey; second threat, the snake; and the third one, the rooster. If they don’t meet the demands by the third threat, they are killed.’
‘So you think I am Li Yu Ka’s agent?’ The colonel cleared his throat.
‘What else can I think in such circumstances?’
‘No, that is incorrect.’
‘I think I have some…information about Li Yu Ka’s whereabouts,’ the colonel muttered.
‘Clues to whereabouts! How come?’
‘Some papers which can put Li Yu Ka in danger.’
‘Putting him in danger is different. But clues to his whereabouts!’ Imran shook his head in dissent.
‘This is my opinion…’
‘But how did you arrive at this conclusion?’
‘It is hard to explain. However, I could not understand the papers at all.’
‘But how did you get those?’
‘Quite amazingly, actually!’ Colonel Zargham said, lighting his cigar. ‘I was in Hong Kong during the last World War. That’s where I got my hands on those papers. And the reality is that the person who handed me the papers mistook me for someone else. It happened like this: one night I was sitting in a hotel in Hong Kong when a slender Chinese man came and sat down at my table. I sensed he was very scared. His whole body was trembling. He produced a large envelope from his pocket, placed it on my lap from under the table and spoke quietly, ‘I am in danger, get these to B-14.’ And before I could say anything, he swiftly ran out of the hotel. It was an astonishing thing, so I quietly kept the envelope in my pocket. I thought he must be someone from the Chinese military service who wanted me to convey some important papers to some section called ‘B-14’.
‘At that time I was in full uniform. I returned to my lodging and removed the envelope from my pocket. It was sealed. I left it as it is. The following day I made some inquiries about B-14, but there was no such thing in the military secret service. There was, in fact, no trace of any B-14, in all of Hong Kong. Frustrated, I finally opened the envelope.’
‘So was there a report regarding Li Yu Ka in there?’ Imran asked.
‘No. They were some trade-related papers. But it was clear what the nature of the trade was. There was a recurrent mention of Li Yu Ka in them. Many of those papers are in Chinese and Japanese, which I was unable to understand.’
‘Then how did you find out about Li Yu Ka’s history?’
‘Oh, that. I did some background research regarding Li Yu Ka in Hong Kong. I discovered everything except Li Yu Ka’s identity and his whereabouts. His agents are apprehended regularly, but no one has ever been able to locate him. Besides, this name has been around for about two hundred years now.’
Imran was quiet for a while and then asked, ‘So how long have these people been after you?’
‘It’s not something recent,’ the colonel said, lighting up his cigar again. ‘They were on my trail just six months after I got the papers, but I did not return the papers to them. They even entered my residence secretly, but they could not even get a whiff of the papers. Now this is their last move, that is, they have started sending these death threats. It means they will kill me.’
‘Okay. So did you ever see that Chinese man who handed you these papers again?’
‘Never. I never saw him again.’
There was silence for some time and then Imran muttered, ‘You will stay alive as long as those papers are in your custody.’
‘Absolutely!’ the colonel said with a surprise. ‘You are really very intelligent. For this very reason, I don’t want to return the papers to them. Think of it like this: I am holding a snake by its head; if I loosen my grip, it will definitely turn around to bite me.’
‘Can I have a look at those papers?’
‘Absolutely not! You are asking me to loosen my grip on the snake.’
Imran laughed, and then asked, ‘Why did you involve Captain Fayyaz in all this?’
‘Not even his ghosts have an idea what’s really going on. He only knows that I am facing some threats but for some reason cannot let the police get involved in all this.’
‘Then you shouldn’t have told me all this,’ said Imran.
‘True, but it seems you have the devil’s soul inside of you!’
‘Imran’s!’ Imran said seriously. ‘In any case, you have invited me here as a bodyguard.’
‘I wouldn’t have invited anyone. This is all Sophiya’s doing. She knows everything.’
‘And your nephews?’
‘They don’t know anything!’
‘You must have said something to them?’
‘Just this—some enemies are on the lookout for me and the monkey is their insignia.’
‘But what is the meaning of these all-nighters with loaded rifles? Do you think they will attack you when you expect?’
‘I do this to distract the children.’
‘Whatever—let’s forget about it now.’ Imran shook his shoulders. ‘I prefer lemon drops and sugar cakes with my morning tea.’
Ibn-e Safi was born in 1928 in India. He created two great mystery series, Jasoosi Duniya and the Imran series during the 1950s. Both gained massive popularity and were translated into several languages. Ibn-e Safi died of pancreatic cancer on his birthday on July 26, 1980 in Karachi.
Bilal Tanweer is an author and translator. This is his first book-length work of translation. He is working on his first novel and another book of translation.