Why did the sleepy little village of Andretta with its Italianate sounding name, become the meeting place of great minds?
Here’s how it happened – First came Norah Richards, an Irish writer, dramatist and a follower of Tolstoy. Her husband had been a Professor at The Government Collage at Lahore. After her husband’s death there, and a short stay in England, Norah returned to India in the mid-30’s. She settled in Andretta where she built a beautiful English style cottage, constructed of mud, slate and bamboo. There she taught drama to students from the Punjab. She was made a fellow of the Punjabi University Patiala and in return she bequeathed her house and land around it to them. The Vice Chancellor of the University Sadar S.S. Boparai has had the house lovingly restored by local craftsmen and masons. Even now, students from Punjabi University come to celebrate Norah’s birthday every year on 29th of October. They enact very professional dramas in her modest open air theatre.
From Lahore, Norah called B.C. Sanyal, the well known painter and sculptor and Professor Jaidayal who had been her husband’s pupil. They also built mud houses in Andretta, Later Pirthviraj Kapoor used to visit Andretta and stay with Professor Jaidayal who had been his tutor in Lahore. Sobah Singh, the painter of Sikh Gurus settled in Andretta and lived there until his death in the mid-80’s. Now-a-days you can visit the gallery where his paintings hang and buy prints of the originals. Norah also called Sadar Gurcharan Singh the master potter from Delhi. He was responsible for introducing studio art pottery into India. He built a house and a small pottery for summer use in Andretta. During the time of Norah, there were vibrant discussions about art, drama and the philosophy of living in a rural environment. Her ideas were very sound on how one should live in the countryside, using local materials for building houses, how you should live in harmony with nature and encourage local people to do the same.
After Norah’s death in 1971 there was a lapse in cultural activities, but now Andretta is having something of a renaissance. BC Sanyal’s daughter Amba has started a new venture “Norah’s Centre for the Arts”. The building housing the centre was designed by Amba's husband K.T. Ravendran an architect from Kerala. The building mirrors Norah’s desires as it is constructed almost entirely of local materials, with special emphasis on bamboo – of which there is an .abundance in Kengra. Recently Amba organized a seminar on “Art in Education”. Twenty artists and art teachers came from Delhi to participate in lively discussions on the subject and all its ramifications. In early June she will organize a workshop on drama. Wherever possible, Amba includes local people in her projects as well as involving the village school children. Sadar Gurcharan Singh’s little summer pottery has evolved into the thriving Andretta Pottery and Craft Society started by the Sadar’s son Mini. The Pottery sells its rangoli patterned glazed earthenware to FabIndia in Delhi. Mini and his manager Jugal Kishore also teach students all about how to make and appreciate pottery. Alongside the pottery, is a museum which has a collection of Himachel village pottery. This beautiful craft is sadly dying out.
As all visitors to Andretta point out – it is an idyllic spot. Because of this and its cultural heritage, it would be marvelous to preserve it as a heritage village. The villagers would benefit from certain improvements and visitors would continue to enjoy its peace and tranquility.
Arts & Crafts