Punjab’s Legacy of Art and Love
by Sutapa Deb
It’s a forgotten utopia and Punjab’s best kept secret. Preet Nagar was set up by artists, poets and writers in the pre-Partition era. Today its legacy of love and kinship lives on through an 83-year-old magazine and an art residency programme.
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Preet Nagar or the town of love is 20 km from both Amritsar and Lahore. Spread over 175 acres Preet Nagar was a social experiment, a "utopia". It was founded in the pre-Partition days by Punjabi writer and poet Gurbaksh Singh, whose philosophy of universal kinship and self-reliance is at the heart of this community. A photographic exhibition at the Preet Bhavan theatre provides a glimpse of what was probably Punjab’s first planned township. Many leading artistes and intellectuals were drawn to join the idyllic community like Punjabi novelist Nanak Singh, artist Sobha Singh, actor Balraj Sahni and theatre personality Balwant Gargi among others. There was a community kitchen, so that women were free from chores and could pursue interests like singing and acting. A progressive school encouraged experiential learning and co-education. Preet Nagar became well known for its cultural meetings.
Khalsa College professor Dr Sukhbeer Singh said, "Preet Nagar is a not a pind or a village which was established by a king or a saint. It was established by artistes and intellectuals. It created excellent writers and poets like Mohinder Singh Randhawa, Amrita Pritam, Shiv Kumar Bhattalvi, Piara Singh Data, Naurang Singh, Narinder Singh. All of them lived in Preet Nagar. "
To share his vision and philosophy of life with others, Gurbaksh Singh had in 1933 started the journal Preet Lari, which means "linked through love". Preet Lari continues to be published today by Gurbaksh Singh’s grandson Ratikant Singh and his granddaughter-in-law Poonam Singh is its editor.
"Preet Lari taught a way of enjoying life, how to live in our times, what are the best attitudes to take. Preet Lari was also like a window to the West which taught us how to become global citizens," said Poonam Singh. Sahir Ludhianvi was the editor of the Urdu magazine for some time, she added.
Some of Preet Lari’s ardent followers extend support to the monthly journal through advertisements.
Ratikant Singh adds, "For instance, if the head of an institution has been shaped by the Preet Lari philosophy, he is aware of the impact of the magazine and would also want the younger generation to benefit from it." The Preet Nagar community was forced to disperse after it was unable to withstand the blows dealt by Partition and years of terrorism in Punjab. However, the fourth generation has now launched an artist residency programme as a way of sharing Preet Nagar’s rich history.
Ratika Singh, Creative Director of Preet Nagar Residency, explains: "It is something that we crave for at the moment, which is to see a community that lives as a community, does things together, feels things together. A space where there is no judgement, where you can just come and work, discuss, talk and really feel like you can do something."
Between September and March, artistes are invited to work on creative projects as they engage with the community.
A vision and dream called Preet Nagar has travelled through many generations and is now inspiring artistes in Preet Nagar.
Courtesy of www.ndtv.com