Saturday, March 1, 2003
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Lady Gregory of Punjab
Harcharan Singh

Norah RichardsNORAH Richards used to be called Lady Gregory of the Punjab. She did for drama in the Punjab what Lebeder (Russian) did for Bengali theatre. She devoted 60 years (1911-1971) of her life towards enriching the culture of this land of five rivers.

Punjabi University, Patiala, conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature on 94-year-old Norah Richards in 1970 in recognition of her contribution to Punjabi culture, especially in the field of drama. A graduate of Oxford University, she had acted in a number of plays in London. She remained under the influence of St. Tolstoy and lived for sometime in a village called Woodlands. The same name she kept for her estate in Andretta village in Kangra.

Norah accompanied her husband Rev. Philip Ernest Richards to the Punjab in 1911, when he was appointed professor of English literature at Dyal Singh College, Lahore. News of her deep interest in drama had preceded her arrival at the college. Thus she started her life-long mission of training students, amateurs and social workers in writing plays. To demonstrate the realistic prevailing trend in the West, she staged Lady Gregory’s play Spreading the News on April 12, 1912, in Dyal Singh College.


With a definite and positive aim in view, she instituted one-act play competitions in Indian languages in 1912. S.S. Bhatnagar’s play Karamat in Urdu got first prize in 1912. Late Ishwar Chander Nanda’s play Dulhan in Punjabi stood first in 1913 and Rajinder Lal Sahni’s play Deene di Barat in Punjabi was declared best in 1914. All the three one-act plays were staged on April 14, 1914 in Dyal Singh College.

Norah founded the Saraswati Stage Society in 1915.

In 1920, Norah lost her husband and she left the Punjab for sometime. On her return in 1924, she organised dramatic activities on a larger scale. The DC of Kangra district donated to her 15 acres in Andretta in 1935, where she eventually settled down. For many years she ran writing classes at Andretta which were financed by the Commissioner of Rural Reconstruction. Celebrated artist S. Sobha Singh, who lived near her estate, had bought 1000 sq yards from her.

Norah was a prolific writer. She had written a number of plays in English pertaining to life in the Punjab and India. All of these plays were staged by her. Her last book entitled Country Life was published in 1970 with financial aid by Dr M.S. Randawa, I had translated five of her plays in Punjabi, which were published by Punjabi University, Patiala. She remained mentally active till the last moment of her life. She died on March 3, 1971. I attended her classes in 1937 while studying in F.C. College, Lahore. Since then I had remained in touch with her. I had 26 handwritten letters of Norah in my possession.

Punjabi University had celebrated late I.C. Nanda’s birth anniversary in 1968 and she was invited to inaugurate the function. The following handwritten reply to our request shows her concern for and involvement in the promotion of theatre in Punjab. The message also enshrines her views regarding drama and theatre in general.

"Although I am unable to be physically present to participate in the celebration of the birth anniversary of Ishwar Chandra Nanda, I am with you in spirit and very happy that so many writers of plays have gathered to gather to pay homage to one who has done signal service to Punjabi Drama.

Living theatre represents the most dynamic cultural medium known to man and I congratulate those dramatists who are keeping it alive against great odds. Theatre is irresistible in its appeal. It is a people’s art if ever there was one — living pulsating people on both sides of the footlights. Life in leisure is incomplete without theatre."

Norah was buried near the outer gate of her e state Woodlands Retreat. On the grave is written, according to her will:

"Rest tired soul, your work of life is finished."