The village of Andretta would not have
shot into prominence, had Norah Richards not favored it as her
choice of abode. Andretta. with a close
sylvan background, nestles like an oasis of beauty in the open
Kangra Valley with snow-capped ranges of the Dhauladhar around it.
The village may be said to be gifted in so far as its solitude is
concerned but the solitude does not bear the brunt of doomed
silence; it is a lively manifestation of a Yogi in meditation. The
surroundings are mystic. succinctly captivating
the mood of the visitor in such a steadfast way that the imprint
left on his mind is permanent. The reminiscences whenever these
strike one's mind are vitalizing; when one is off the land, he is
not off its maidenly beauty. An artist or a man, who is sensitive to
things of beauty will take no longer to come
under the solemn spell of this land -quiet and dreamy.
The moods of the Himalayas are worth
studying in all weathers and its Dhauladhar ranges-a close sight in
Kangra Valley have so much to reveal.
Born n British, Norah Richards came to
India in 1911 with her husband Mr.
Philip Ernest Richards, the latter taking an appointment as
Professor of English in the Dyal Singh College of Lahore. Having
widowed in 1920, Mrs. Richards five years later settled in Kangra
Valley first at Banuri and later at Andretta. It was now that Mrs.
Richards became the nucleus and people with taste and talent began
to gather around her .
Tolstoyan in spirit, Norah Richards
was nursed by the ideas of Dr. L. P. Jacks on
cultural regeneration which she felt India was destined to
inaugurate. Actively associated with theatre in England, first as an
amateur and then as professional, she later developed the idea of
Rural Theatre to which she looked upon as a powerful means to
educate the rural masses in the art of life. Herself a truly
ruralite woman, her own life was a lesson
in simplicity, cleanliness and beauty.
Her Woodlands Retreat in Andretta is a
she had shaped after her ideas on rural culture. Her open-air rural
theatre is still there on her estate. Besides her dramatic shows,
she had for years held training courses in play-writing, play-acting
It was only at the age of eighty that
she practically retired from the stage and turned recluse going
nowbere and seeing no outsider if she
could help it; but she was at home twice a
year on Wisteria Day and christmas Day. In
1970 the 'Wisteria Arbour served as a
lovely 'Convocation Hall' on the 29th
October when tbe honorary degree of D.
Litt. was conferred on her by the Punjabi University. She was enrobed
in scarlet and gold under a ceiling of
white Wisteria tbat hung in profusion.
Prof. B.C.Sanyal, former Secretary of the
Lalit Kala Academi, bad painted a symbolic portrait of Mrs. Richards
in which she
held a Wisteria bloom in one band and
khurpa in the other symbols of beauty
and work that, with her, went
Norah Richards passed away on March 3,
1971. It was not all of a sudden that death came to the great lady.
She completed most of her projects before the end came.
In a letter dated 29th December , 1964 she wrote to me; "I do not
like being written about as it leads to correspondence from unknown
persons, but I do want it known that there is such a place of
creative activity as Woodlands -in the
interest of the future when I am not here. It is difficult, of course, to separate me from
Woodlands, and Woodlands from me but some day this will happen and
there should be some preparation for that time. I hope to live until
1970 at least."
The year 1970 was important for her as
she knew well in advance that the end was drawing near. This year
saw two of her publications: In Commemoration of the
Fiftieth Anniversary of
passing of Philip Ernest Richard. 1875-1920 and Country Life.
She planned the first publication quite early and
scheduled it for release in 1970. The second book, Country
has already shot into press through lengthy and interesting
reviews of the work.
Mrs. Richards had many admirers both
in India and abroad. In Punjab the people had acclaimed her as the
great grandmother of Punjabi theatre or "the main spirit behind
the drama movement in the province". Prithvi Raj Kapoor, late Prof.
G. D. Sondhi, Prof. B. C. Sanyal and Mrs. Freda Bedj and host of
other celebrities had always held her in high esteem. It is now much
to the interest of Dr. M. S. Randhawa and the Punjabi University
that the ideals of Norah Richards and the spirit of Woodlands are
being kept alive. It was her dream that Woodlands would one day
become a centre for the creation of Rural Drama and also for
cultural research. Her dream is being realised. The recent decision of the Universities of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and of
Punjabi University, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana and
Guru Nanak University to contribute Rs. 10,000 each for the proposed
holiday home for writers at Parker Estate in Andretta is a step in
the right direction.
Of all the persons close to Norah Richards, Prof. Jai Dayal was one who helped her in all her
undertakings. His passing away in 1968 meant a great loss to her
more so because she was in her closing years. Prof Jai Dayal who
brought Prithvi Raj Kapoor to the stage when the latter was a student in Edwards College,
Peshawar, had been Norah's student in dramatics. After his
retirement as a lecturer in English in the Government College of Dharmsala, he settled in Andretta as a near
neighbour to Mrs. Richards. For her both birthday souvenir, Prof.
Jai Dayal wrote the following lines by way of his tribute which,
besides introducing the personality of Norah Richards. conveys the
quality of the relationship between the two :
"Everything about you bears the imprint of your personality-you
transfigure the commonplace.
You believe in comfort for yourself
and for others, but the comfort you create costs you nothing in
money-- your only outlay is of thought and ingenuity.
Khaddar, bamboo, mud-these are the
'paints' on your 'pallette'. Your garden gives you the
companionship of flower
& in the scanty season it gives you always
one or two -and so you are never alone.
You have expressed your inner-seIf
in concrete-in mud-brick and mud- plaster-by which it is
evident that matter and spirit can be one. Wherever you
me, is home. You have had your fill of sorrow, and I pray that the
years left to you-and may they be many-be filled with the joys of
peace and serenity ."
It was in the year 1948 when S. Sobha
Singh, the renowned artist and painter of the master-piece
Sohni-Mahiwal, at the invitation of Mrs. Richiards, settled at
Andretta with his studio. Now when Andretta is bereft of the great
lady. S. Sobha Singh is the biggest attraction there. Of course a
great living artist of the day. he has few equals in portraiture.
His portraits are marked by life like freshness, details,
exquisiteness and some sort
of a combination in divine and human.
His portraits of the Gurus in their printed forms have become
household possession of many Indian families especially the Sikhs.
When one remembers of Sardar Sobha Singh one is reminded of his pootraits of
Sohni-MahiwaI , Guru Nanak, the Kangra Bride and a host
others. His portrait of Guru Nanak. when published in almost all the
leading papers of the country on the occasion of the Guru's
Quincentenary celebrations had come to the notice of the millions
in India and abroad.
Himalayas offer irresistible charm to
the persons with spiritual endowments. Norah Richards, the pioneer
of Rural Theatre, was attracted to Kangra Valley, and Nicolas
Roerich, the great sage artist, to Kullu Valley.What made them
persons of unusual achievements? Years back Prof. Roerich wrote:
"When men and mountains meet, the great events happen-jostling in
the streets leads Us nowhere."