|Saturday, April 13, 2002||
IT was last year that I had a chance to visit Palampur, a small town situated in the Kangra valley. The visit left me totally smitten and awestruck by the serene beauty of the place and its surroundings. I had been to the mountains earlier but never before had I witnessed such an amazing interplay of nature and tranquillity. It was probably this same picturesque beauty that had possibly impressed the famous playwright Norah Richards way back in 1924 when she chose to make Andretta, a village near Palampur, her home. While I was in Palampur, I got an opportunity to visit her house ‘Chameli Niwas’ and curiosity prompted me to gather whatever little information I could on this great but little-known personality.
Norah Richards played
an important part in bringing Punjabi drama to the forefront and in
giving it a new outlook. She was born on October 29, 1876, in Ireland.
She came to India in 1908 after marrying Philip Richards. Norah was
vice-principal at Dayal Singh College, Lahore. Lahore was the fortress
of Punjabi culture in those days. During her stay in Lahore, she brought
many Punjabi themes under her English pen and directed a few plays. She
soon became a popular figure among the students and teachers of the
college. After her husband’s death, Norah returned to England.
However, unable to keep herself away from India, Norah came back in
1924. She chose to settle in the beautiful valley of Kangra and finally
made her home in Andretta. Considering that Norah was brought up in a
totally different society and culture, and educated in various
institutions in Belgium, England and Australia, it is incredible the way
she could settle so easily to village life in India. Norah impressions
are clearly visible in every page of her work Country Life wherein
she writes, "...only village life is natural."
During the later years of her life, Norah was deeply agonised by the thought that who would take care of her large estate, especially her house which was most dear to her. Unable to find someone trustworthy, she kept changing her will. After her death on March 3, 1974, her will disclosed that she had left Chameli Niwas in the care of Punjabi University, Patiala. To look after her other assets, she had formed the "Woodland Society".
Norah’s ardent efforts in the field of Punjabi drama were not only appreciated but also recognised. She was awarded "honorary doctorate" by Punjabi University. Some of her belongings have been placed in a museum today. Norah chose to lead a very simple and ordinary life among the villagers. She tried to inject some enthusiasm and vivacity into their grave lives by making drama a means of entertainment for them. For a major part of her life, Norah endeavoured to preserve her strong bondage with nature as well as with the rustic village life that she was so fond of.
However, on my visit, I was much
distressed to discover Norah’s most cherished possession, Chameli
Niwas, in a pitiable condition. If it remains neglected for some more
time, only the ruins will be left.