One of the top novelists of the country who has written more than 50 novels -- of which six or seven have been adapted into movies, and more recently her novel Najia has been turned into a television serial for a private channel – and 350 essays compiled in books, Razia Butt surprisingly says that she is no longer interested in reading.
Although the primary reason for this change is that her eyesight doesn’t permit her to read, the fact is that the fast growing electronic media has unobtrusively replaced the position that books used to occupy in her life. Says she, “Media has made it easy for me now, with its numerous shows on culture and literature, to get my dose of knowledge without reading.”
However, Butt recalls that in her student days she used to read a lot and had read all the famous writers of the time including Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Sallahuddin, Ismat Chugtai and her brother Azeem Baig Chugtai – although she would have to hide and read in those days as it was a frowned-upon activity for young girls to indulge in. She used to even read the translations of Persian novels. But, English books and for that matter poems in any language, never held any interest for her. Fond of autobiographies, though, Butt says that they were a source of inspiration for her, and together with her father’s encouragement, she was motivated to take up writing.
Butt recalls proudly that she was in the fifth grade when her teacher read out one of her essays in class. In the tenth grade she secured cent per cent results in Urdu and remembers her principal, an English woman, hurling her exam paper at her teacher with the remark that it is impossible to secure hundred per cent in a language paper. She says with a noticeable tinge of pride, “My teacher responded that if it was possible to give me 150 out of 100, she would have done so!”
It was way back in the early forties that Butt had written an essay called Lazish, the plot of which she later used for a novel called Naila, which was also made into a Pakistani film that became a hit. Although her Urdu writing skills was undoubtedly impressive even in her student days, Butt admits that often she would not be able to understand the books she would read, and used to read with her older sister so as to be able to comprehend them better. When asked to name one favourite writer though, Butt says that all the Urdu writers of the time were very good.
Yet another surprise came in the form of a confession from Butt that she has not only always loved listening to music, she used to also sing during her student days.
Says she, “I never learnt music formally, but was always into it. When radio started in the forties, I was totally hooked to it and would listen for hours on end to the likes of Shamshad Begum, Iqbal Bano, Fareeda Khanum, Noor Jehan, Mohammed Rafi, Ghulam Ali, Asad Amanat Ali and Mehdi Hassan.”
Butt says she enjoys tragic songs, be they in the form of local ghazals or Indian film ditties, and regardless of whether they are sung by known or unknown artists. She states, “I tape all my favourite songs and like to listen to them when I am alone, generally at night. I also love qawwalis, and am especially fond of Nusrat Fateh Ali.”
However, it is about Noor Jehan that Butt raves the most. Says she, “Never again will a Noor Jehan be born – all her songs were great, whether they were war songs, ghazals or geets. She had a God-gifted voice and I love to listen to it in silence.”
As for movies, Butt says she has seen many earlier, but over the years has stopped going to the cinema, and doesn’t watch movies on TV either. She explains “There are so many people in the house and each wants to watch a different channel, so I don’t get the opportunity to watch movies on TV. However, whenever possible, I do watch National Geographic channel as I am very fond of that, and if I get the time and the chance, I watch a play occasionally. As for going to the cinema, I think the last movie I saw in a cinema hall was Shabbo based on my novel, made 15 years ago. I used to once enjoy movies featuring my favourite couples -- Waheed Murad and Zeba, Sabiha and Santosh, and Mohammed Ali and Shamim Ara. I remember Aag was an enjoyable film too. I am not into Indian movies, though.”
Speaking about the movies that were made based on her novels, Butt says that she was the most thrilled with Naila and Saiqa, both of which adhered strictly to the novel and became super-duper hits. Although she says she liked Shabbo too, she was not happy with the ending. As for Aneela, also based on her book, it deviated so much from the original story that the film bombed at the box office. Butt is now waiting to see how the serial Najia, based on her novel, turns out. Says she, “It is essential that gripping plays based on good novels be made, so that people are encouraged to read once again. Cinema-going has become practically non-existent in Pakistan and it is television that is a more effective medium. So we should make the most of it by presenting good plays on TV.”