IT WAS an evening to remember, relive the memories and also a time to connect the glorious past with a bright future. It was an evening that was a befitting tribute to a man who single-handedly set up the Department of Indian Theatre at PU in 1972 with his creative genius and in the process, created a new ground for professional theatre in Punjab.
Panjab University joined India Post in celebrating the literary contribution of thespian Balwant Gargi and four other Indian writers by issuing postage stamps at a function at the English Auditorium on Wednesday, with some of Gargi’s students present on the occasion, including MP Kirron Kher, who released the stamps. The Department of Indian Post commemorated five Indian writers — Balwant Gargi, Bhisham Sahni, Krishan Chander, Shrilal Shukla and K V Puttappa — with PU’s Department of Indian Theatre remembering Gargi, with 2016 celebrated on campus as the first birth centenary of the renowned playwright and theatre director with plays, seminars, music programmes.
“It is an emotional moment for me and a moment of national importance for PU as three writers out of the five, Gargi, Bhisham Sahni and Krishan Chander, are from this university. I hope on this special occasion, the government will financially support the effort of resurrecting W-11, the home of Gargi into a museum so that the space can be utilised by artistes for theatre, art, music. In fact, the plot next to it is also empty and we can also extend this space if we have funds. The heritage of this university has to be sustained as Taxila of India,” reflected Dr Arun K Grover, the vice chancellor.
The occasion was also a space where some of Gargi’s first batch of students, Prof Mahendra Kumar, G S Chnai, Rani Balbir Kaur, and of course, Kher, relived the many moments they spent here with Gargi, rehearsing and learning the many layers of theatre, with Gargi the renowned director and playwright, their guide, mentor, friend teaching exposing them to international standards of theatre and taking them close to their own roots, with folk theatre. These men and women, respected practitioners of the art, are taking his legacy forward. “It was in the Department of English where I was pursuing my MA in English, that I first saw Gargi, in his Standard car, a convertible. Today, as I stand here, I don’t feel he is gone, there was a life force within him, that will always live,” reflected Kher, looking back at her long journey and association with Gargi.
The actor began her theatre career with Gargi in this very auditorium, with Desire Under the Elms, a bold play for the times, in which Kher played the lead with Gargi choosing her after audition. “My first introduction to theatre and later to life, through art, literature was because of Gargi, the person I am today is because of what I learnt from him, to respect flaws, be non-judgemental, be true to the inner spirit, a sense of discipline and commitment to one’s work, he enriched me in every way. My journey with him stays with me always, everything I achieved is because of him. He spoke from vast experience, intelligence and love and always encouraged my dreams and talent. I am so privileged that I am releasing a stamp of someone who changed my life, a perfect tribute to him. It needed someone like him to build this department and I hope we can take his dream forward,” said Kher.