“Death weaves its ropes (to hang you with),” says mystic poet (16th century) Shah Hussain. Do the remains of the days you spend on this earth stay after the hand of death hangs you? You would be lucky if even a bit of them stays; a verse, a song, a sculpture, an image, a thought, or a meaningful service rendered to make life a joyful experience.
Some people around us do try to do something that means something for us. Javed Boota (1946-2023) was among such people who bowed out in the first week of this month. The memorable thing about Javed is that unlike the most of creative people who are wont to boast even about their trivial successes, he exercised self-restraint all his life, and was a self-effacing man. Cultured and soft-spoken, and devoid of egoistic urges he avoided indulging in shenanigans typical of contemporary writers and artists. He wore many hats; he was a film director, a playwright, an actor, a broadcaster, a short story writer and a translator. Film direction was his passion. He stared his career in 1968 as an assistant film director in films ‘Meri dosti mera payar’ and ‘Tumhi ho mehboob merey’. He continued his career in film making in Lahore till 1978, first as an assistant director and later as associate director. His last films were ‘Tarana’ and ‘Awaz’. He remained associated with nearly two dozen Urdu and Punjabi films.
Javed like so many other talented people felt compelled to leave his homeland. He migrated to the USA to get rid of cultural suffocation with the hope of finding a better life more conducive for creative expression. While doing all what is required to make a living he never forgot his first love, creative and artistic pursuits. He became part of a team of expats that produced plays for radio and television in an effort to meet the needs of Pakistani and Indian expat community which wasn’t as large as it is today. He did various roles in those plays and directed one of them.
From 1981 onward he turned to stage plays especially written or edited keeping in view the audience. He appeared in them in lead roles or supporting ones. The plays were in Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi. He acted in more than a dozen stage plays done with the available resources which were meagre in anyway.
Some of the significant plays included ‘Loha Kutt’ by Balwant Gargi, ‘Luna’ by Shiv Kumar, Punjabi version of Chekhov’s ‘Proposal’, ‘Takht Lahore’ by Najam Hussain Syed and Hindi Play ‘Darrar’. Obviously it was a team work. Music making, shooting films and staging plays for example is not possible without organised teams as all these genres require inputs from multiple sources. Coordinated team work is so important that even a small mistake by any member can wreck the entire production.
It was the field of writing where Javed left his lasting mark. As usual he did it quietly but subtly. He started it in a humble way by transliterating literary writings from Gurmukhi into Shahmukhi. We all know that Punjabi, our language, employs two scripts, Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi. The former, mostly used by Pakistani Punjabis, is based on Arabic script and the latter, derived from the old local scripts, is used by Indian Punjabis. Two different scripts of the same language have restricted the literary interaction between the East and the West Punjab. Non-friendly relations between India and Pakistan has further exacerbated the situation making the gulf wider between the two. He made a great contribution by transliterating some of important literary works into Shahmukhi script which included Veena Varma’s unusually bold book of short stories ‘Mull di Tiveen’, Rashpal Singh’s collection of poems ‘Shikra’, a selection of Pash’s poems ‘Pash di Shairi’, and Ravinder Sehra’s collection of poems ‘Kujh na Kaho’. That Javed was an excellent translator is amply proved by what he translated. His most memorable translation is that of a celebrated Hindi novel ‘ Jhoota Sach’ by Jashpal. It’s in two volumes, each is a tome. It is on the bloody experience of the Partition with its epochal consequences especially for the Punjab which was ruthlessly cut into two by uncaring surgeons with a blunt knife. The setting of the first volume is Lahore depicting what happened to the diverse Punjabi communities which in their communal craze destroyed each other to the best of their ability. The second volume deals with ordeal of the Punjabis who fled their ancestral homeland this side of the border to face indignities in India.
Few have portrayed the historical event of the Partition with the incisive insight of Yashpal. The year of the division of the Punjab is a year that would live in infamy. “ This is the year which people will talk about / This is the year which people will be silent about / The old see the young die / The foolish see the wise die / The earth no longer produces, it devours / The sky hurls down no rain, only iron,” says the poet. His translation of Hindi writer Krishna Sobti’s gripping novella ‘Mitro Mar MJaani’ into Punjabi is breathtakingly beautiful. His other translations include Chekov’s play ‘Proposal’ and a collection of 20 Hindi short stories. His translations are marked by creative precision and effortless artistry. His book of short stories titled ‘Chaulan di Burki (A Mouthful of Rice)’ was awarded Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature in 2022. Last year in a review on his book I wrote: ‘He mostly builds his stories from people’s perspective which means exploring life as lived and experienced by ordinary people. The choice imperceptibly forces him to deal with concrete life with all its mundanity.”He remained active all his life on literary and cultural scene. Writing and artistic activities were for him a process of intellectual and spiritual self-enrichment. One may say; Javed, you tried to do more than you were obliged to do. And that’s no mean feat. May you rest in peace.