A proud legacy lies in dust

Unfortunately, the palatial Chatrik House on the Amritsar- Lahore road, which should have been a pilgrimage centre for Punjabi writers, is in a shambles today. A marriage palace — Chirag Palace — has come up on the major portion of the house. The issueless youngest son of the celebrity poet — Prem Kumar Monga (71) and his bed-ridden wife Lalita — now live in the remaining portion of the house. The house itself has witnessed many alterations.  

Hardly any literary aficionado knows that the couple lives in the house once constructed by Chatrik. The house is a few yards away from Khalsa College and Guru Nanak Dev University, which were established to promote Punjabi language and Punjabiat. But both these institutions never bothered to invite the couple at any of the literary functions.

It was a chance meeting with Dr Harbhajan Singh Bhatia, Professor, School of Punjabi Studies, Guru Nanak Dev University, that revealed some interesting facts. Dr Bhatia, while expressing his disgust at the construction of the marriage palace after demolishing the major portion of the Chatrik House, said that it was unfortunate that Punjab had failed to exploit the potential of “literary tourism”.

Dr Bhatia, who recently visited the birthplaces of Shakespeare and Lord Byron in the United Kingdom, said these birthplaces attracted a large number of tourists from all over the world.

The poet’s youngest son, who himself could not read the books authored by his father as he had not learnt Gurmukhi, owns the responsibility for having failed to preserve the Chatrik House. He sold the property in a phased manner, unmindful of its heritage value. It is learnt that he suffers from depression. His wife admits that Chatrik would have regretted that his own sons could not read the literature he had produced with painstaking efforts.

All four sons of Chatrik — Mr Balwant Rai, Mr Brij Mohan (both are no more), Mr Jaswant Rai and Mr Prem Kumar — decided to donate their father’s library to Punjabi University, Patiala, after Chatrik’s death. The old couple (Mr Prem Kumar and Ms Lalita), however, still possesses parts of the Gurmukhi letters prepared by Chatrik and some rare pictures. These letters, made of metal, are worth keeping in a museum.

Meanwhile, Mr Joginder Singh Ohri, who had purchased the major portion of the house in 1987, now plans to demolish the remaining part of the Chatrik House, which is in his possession, to expand the Chirag Marriage Palace. Earlier, he had felled more than 50-odd trees to construct the marriage palace. Mr Vivek Kumar, son of Mr Ohri , however, agrees to preserve the remaining part of the house if state or district administration shows any interest. “I know the heritage value of the portion, which could be preserved for creating a museum in the name of Chatrik,” he adds.

Born on October 4, 1876, Chatrik breathed his last on December 18, 1954. At that time, the social and cultural milieu was fast changing. In his biographical note, Chatrik gives interesting information about the Gurmukhi type and his contribution in its modification. He writes that Christian missionaries brought “Punjabi letters” from England in the year 1875 and published the Bible in Gurmukhi at the Mission Press, Ludhiana. But the type, invented by the Christian missionaries, was not up to the mark and required modification.

Lala Hira Nand improved the type with the help of writers from Amritsar and published beautiful books in Lahore by 1880. Later, Munshi Gulab Singh & Sons, Lahore, prepared another Gurmukhi type with the help of a Muslim worker, Munshi Noordin, who was instrumental in introducing the Gurmukhi letters in different parts of Punjab. He was later employed by the Wazir Hind Press, Amritsar, and more varieties of the Gurmukhi type were introduced. 

  Chatrik not the lone forgotten hero

Chatrik, however, is not alone in being given shoddy treatment after his death. INTACH, which had organised two Heritage Walks in the past two years in the walled city, failed to include local Punjabi writers, particularly those who were no longer alive, in its list. Though INTACH was successful in locating the lane where the great Urdu short story writer Sadat Hassan Manto lived, yet the organisers failed to locate Chatrik’s house. The Wazir Hind Press, Dhab Khatikan, the Sudarshan Press and houses of various Punjabi writers were conveniently skipped from the Heritage Walk.

The story of neglect does not end here. Many bungas (rest houses) in the vicinity of the Golden Temple, including Bunga Singh Purian and Bunga Bharanian, where Punjabi writers used to live, have already been demolished. Nobody bothers to remember other celebrity Punjabi poets who were either born here or who lived in Amritsar for a long period. A gurdwara building has replaced the ancestral house of Shah Mohammad of “Jang-nama” fame at Wadala Veeram. Shah Mohammad wrote an eye-witness account of the Anglo-Indian War after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Another renowned Punjabi writer Maula Baksh Kushta also belonged to Wadala Veeram, but there is no sign of his ancestral house in the village. Nobody preserved the house of the versatile singer Mohammad Rafi, who spent his childhood at Kotla Sultan Singh village here. Neshta is another border village in Amritsar, where great Punjabi poet Bawa Balwant once lived, but his ancestral house has been encroached upon.

Novelist Nanak Singh, Gurbax Singh Preet Lari, Navtej Singh, Bhai Jodh Singh, Vidhata Singh Tir, Saudagar Singh Bhikhari (he continued to write even during his underground life before Independence), Amar Chitrakar, Dr Mohan Singh Diwana, Principal Teja Singh, Pt Kirpa Ram, S.S.Amol, Lala Guran Ditta Khanna , Harinder Singh Roop, Diwan Amar Nath, B.C. Baikal (a nephew of Chatrik who migrated to Mumbai after Partition and earned laurels in film industry) and many other writers of the city have also been forgotten, thanks to the apathy of the state and the local administration.


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