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Norah Richards’ diary

Without a doubt there are many firsts that can be attributed to actor and theatre practioner Norah Richards, the grand dame of Punjabi theatre often referred to as the Lady Gregory of the Punjab.

Nonika Singh

Without a doubt there are many firsts that can be attributed to actor and theatre practioner Norah Richards, the grand dame of Punjabi theatre often referred to as the Lady Gregory of the Punjab. What is interesting is that as acclaimed Punjabi playwright and director Dr Atamjit is ready with a play, titled Thy Work is Done, on the Irish lady who spent 60 years in India, there are many firsts here too. 

For one, the actor Nisha Luthra, who is stepping into her illustrious shoes, will be taking to the stage for the very first time in her life.

However, what is even more intriguing is that Atamjit has chosen to write the play in English. He chuckles, “I know as the play is being staged on May 3, many will come to see the life and works of Norah. But a few I guess would be there to check how well have I fared in queen’s language.” 

Dr Atamjit’s foray into English, however, is not exactly new. For three long years he wrote a column in a national daily. But writing a play in English about a woman, who gave her life and even property to Punjabi theatre, isn’t there a dichotomy here? He nods, “Sure. But I wanted to free myself from the barrier of language and also cared to ensure that her stellar contribution to Punjabi rangmanch doesn’t remain restricted to Punjab alone.”  

Certainly, those connected with Punjabi theatre might be well aware of her stellar efforts when she moved to Lahore with her husband Philip Earnest Richards who taught English literature at Dyal Singh College. Proactive from the word go, she realised that Shakespeare and even translations of his plays were not finding a connect with audiences. Soon she became instrumental in initiating a playwriting competition which led to the birth of playwrights such as IC Sagar. 

Atamjit quips, “Had there been no Norah, there would have been no IC Sagar and after him perhaps no Harcharan Singh.” 

But, of course, the play is not simply a Wikipedia page on Norah. It will reflect on the person that she was; her foibles too are taken into account especially what made her so fiery and stern. Her complex relationship with her friend Jai Dayal, whose biggest contribution to the world of stage has been Prithvi Raj Kapoor too is part of the leitmotif. 

What made her leave India after her husband’s death and again come back, settle in Andretta and devote a lifetime in the service of theatre as a tool of education too would be dwelt upon. But ultimately Atamjit insists, “It is not merely a rendering and reading of her achievements. It sure is a tribute but couched in an entertaining fashion with three songs, including a poem by Irish poet WB Yeats too.” 

On May 3 at Tagore Theatre at 6.30 pm

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