Chandigarh has been dear to Deepti Naval, a town she visits frequently to be with her aunt and cousin, and always a stopover on her travels to mountain retreats. So it was only natural that the Belle Ville would be on the literary map for the launch of its latest book, A Land Called Childhood: Memoirs.
Born in Amritsar in 1952, the actor-writer spent the first 19 years of his life in the Chandrawaali family home next to the ancient Khairuddin Masjid in Amritsar. In August, she will launch her book at Majha House in her hometown, and although the structure is no longer standing, it remains alive in her mind and heart. This family home comes to life in his memories with every nook and cranny etched with the finesse of a painter, which it is.
In his first collection of poems, Lamhe Lamhe (1983), she takes readers back to her roots in one line: ‘Kaisa hoga Mumbai sochate thhe ham apne Punjab mein‘. Now why was this bubbly girl from Punjab dreaming of Mumbai. The answer is simple: she harbored the dream of becoming an actress and collected photos of Meena Kumari and Sadhna. The family dismissed it as a teenage dream. They hoped she would pursue painting, a gift she had inherited from her mother, unaware that this multi-talented girl would touch much more with a rare sensitivity, always leaving a mark.
I remember an interesting anecdote about when, accompanied by the poet-filmmaker Gulzar, Deepti visited the Hauz Khas house of the poet Amrita Pritam in Delhi. The doors of the poet’s house were always open to visiting writers, no appointment was ever necessary. I had taken two little nieces visiting from Darjeeling for a Dilli Darshan trip from Chandigarh and wanted the eldest, who showed literary flair even at the age of 10, to show her a great writer, Hamari Amrita of course! But, we had to wait a long time because she was reading Naval’s manuscript and my niece, Rubina, murmured: “Bhuaji, you must become a great writer, but not so great that it takes so long to meet you!
After Deepti and I got to know each other, I was helping her find part of Amritaihis books, which were not easy to trace, I reminded him of that day. Deepti, who played the poet on stage in Ek Mulaqat with Shekhar Suman playing Sahir Ludhianvi, told me how precious this meeting was for her: “Amritaji read my poems, called her publisher and said ‘this girl, Deepti, writes beautiful poetry.’ He requested the manuscript and the book came out within a few months. Later, we both had a good poet-to-poet relationship. When I was offered this piece, I accepted it immediately as it would be my gift back to her,” she said.
Amritsar in his heart
All carry their childhood in their hearts and blessed are those who had a happy childhood, which forever remains an oasis to return to in the stormy and dusty deserts of life. So it is with Deepti. No wonder, it took her about two decades to finish the book because the author carefully came back every moment, lest something be lost.
There is the house with grandparents, beloved parents, a sister, relatives and many friends. But, not only that, she very well captures the spirit of her hometown of Amritsar where faith, hope and unity had not been lost despite the wounds of partition. Deepti says, “As the mosque was so close to us with the minarets touching the walls of our house, we felt it stuck to us. We would listen to azaan five times a day because the words first reach our ears and then spread to others”.
It tells the touching story of the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre brought to the mosque for their last rights, according to their beliefs because among them were Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. The following day, a collective jalsa of protest took place. “Such was the culture of people there before partition, and when talking about the communal killings of 1947, people blamed the era rather than each other.”
Such was the vibe of Amritsar in the days of the salad and the tranquility of shabads written by sages filled the air around Sri Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) and this was the legacy that kept it alive. accompanied throughout her life and that she shares with the reader.
The return of the native
Her academic father and educated painter mother were the world to her and her sister. His father could not find a job according to his qualification, so a decision was made. They fled home and hearth to a distant land and culture so that their daughters could have a better life. Her father got a teaching job at New York University and Deepti studied liberal arts at Hunter University, but being a determined soul, she returned to Mumbai and not Amritsar to fulfill her dream of to be an actress. She made a name for herself in the parallel cinema of the 1980s, standing up to the era of great talents such as Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi. She then painted, wrote books, directed and lovingly told the story of a childhood that gave her dreams and the strength to never say die.