Thought Box

Re-Engineering Culture: Majha House

Re-Engineering Culture: Majha House

by Preeti Gill May 27 2020, 11:25 am Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 42 secs

Preeti Gill, founder of Majha House in Amritsar, tells about the place, which asserts Punjab’s rich history of performance, literature and art. She says, “The idea is to make connections, to grow our understanding, to create dialogue across the region and country.”

Majha House or Billoo’s House - the name it’s also known by - has been the Gill family home for the last 40 years. When my parents-in-law passed away about a year-and-a-half ago and we inherited the house, we wanted to use the house as a community space, build a platform that was non-intimidating, liberal and free to access, where people could come to listen, to talk, to perform, and where we could invite the best and the brightest to come share their stories. I wanted it to be a living space full of people, especially the young people of Amritsar and Punjab, who would find a place where they can come freely to discuss, and debate, create and write.

It is named Majha House because that is where it is located - in the Majha region, the heartland of Punjab. This region, before Partition, was the fulcrum of art and culture, of a composite culture. Much of that has been lost or forgotten and I just felt that we should try and bring back some of that ‘virsa’. To me, the region represents the indomitable spirit of Punjab, resilient and forward looking in spite of all the cataclysmic events that it has been witness to including the Partition and the horrific bloodletting that engulfed the region.

Renovations and changes took about a year and some and we now have a Book Cafe and Library (called Kikli) where we do most of our Saturday Sessions with writers and performers. We get audiences of 60 or so each time and we also sell books. Some publishers have been doing book launches and meet the author sessions here too. The Library is slowly filling up with books given by publisher friends and now locals who come by with cartons full! There are no such spaces that are located in a home in quite the same way.  

Amritsar has a vibrant community of artists and theatre goers and a number of theatres too but they are not really spaces for discussions and debates and readings and baithaks as Majha House is. This is in part because of my own background in publishing and years of being in this industry.

We have held four literature and culture festivals at Majha House and countless standalone events and the response has been fantastic. People say there is no reading culture in Punjab and in Amritsar but I must refute this in the strongest terms. At our festivals we have 200 plus people come each day to the house. The sessions were all held in our lawn and we have chai in khullars and Amritsari street food on offer.

The themes and our programming is organic, it is important that these grow out of the place, Punjab is centre stage for everything we do. This is to me the most important thing. People come because we are speaking of issues and events and ideas that mean something to them - each person is connected to the issues we bring to the table. What we try to do is expand the discussion. The idea is to make connections, to grow our understanding, to create dialogue across the region and country.

We have been doing a lot of programs and initiating new dialogues even since the Lockdown due to COVID-19. Our outreach has grown in the Online Addas @ Majha House that we present each Wednesday and Saturday. We seek to bring new and interesting content especially for young people so that they can also see new career opportunities that can keep them in the state rather than leave in droves for foreign shores because of the lack of jobs and the depressing lack of hope in the future.

We are uniquely placed, to be in Amritsar is to be in the heart of Punjabiat and it is important for us to remember and to reconstruct what we have lost or forgotten. To delight in what we have inherited and to make it stronger and more vibrant. And to give back to the place and people who have nurtured us.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.