‘Time will explain.’
In the winter of 1946, Eashwar Chandra Lahiri, a thirty-year-old man left his home in the village of Bikrampur in Dhaka and arrived at Siliguri, a small town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. He was accompanied by his wife Ratnabali and their two boys. The elder Sunil aged nine and five-year-old Sushil.
Eashwar was not the only man in his village to make the move.
With the dismal prospect of the Partition looming ahead, Hindus were leaving East Bengal in droves uncertain of their future in the Muslim-dominated country. Eashwar, who ran a modest pharmaceuticals business in the village, had been advised by friends and well-wishers to move to North Bengal and start a new life with his family. Tensions were simmering in Bikrampur with news of vicious riots having broken out in parts of East Bengal. It wasn’t long before the bloodshed would reach the village. Eashwar realized that the lives of his wife and young sons were at stake. With a heavy heart, the family packed their belongings and travelled to India.
Eashwar was an enterprising man. Soon after arriving at his new home, he made friends with an embittered British tea planter by the name of Cecil Robertson who was selling off tea estates in the Darjeeling hills nearby and getting ready to move back to England. The Indian government’s new laws were making it difficult for British companies to earn profits from their businesses in the country. Most were selling their companies to Indians and going back home.
Eashwar just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
With the help of Brij Mohan Agarwal, a young Marwari moneylender he rented a room from, Eashwar bought two of Robertson’s tea gardens. He had some savings of his own and some of Ratnabali’s jewellery had been pawned to Brij Mohan to secure the remaining funds. Within a year Eashwar secured two brick kilns and a timber mill. With the sale of bricks, timber and tea fetching him a tidy income, business started flourishing. Very soon, Eashwar had made a name for himself in North Bengal’s business circles.
Just when things were looking up for the family and they were beginning to settle in to their new home, Eashwar’s youngest son contracted typhoid fever and succumbed to the illness within a few days. A pall of gloom descended on the family with Sushil’s untimely death. A distraught Eashwar started spending most of his time at work, making frequent trip to the tea estates in Darjeeling in a bid to distract himself. He missed the playful little boy dreadfully and showered all his love on his elder son.
Sunil was diligent and hardworking, a lot like Eashwar had been when he was young. A heartbroken Ratnabali became slightly deranged after the sudden death of her youngest child. She grew absentminded and took no interest in running the household. Unable to deal with his mother’s erratic behaviour, Sunil grew closer to his father and, by the time he entered his teens, he was running the businesses independently.
Around the time Sunil had started working for his father, Eashwar had become acquainted with Manohar Ganguly, an enterprising lawyer whose family had been living in Siliguri for several decades. Ganguly took a shine to Eashwar and started helping him out with legal advice for free. The two became close friends.
Manohar had a daughter named Narayani, an only child, the apple of her parents’ eyes. Fair-skinned and light-eyed, Narayani was very bright with a head for numbers. Over the years Eashwar had grown fond of the girl while Manohar doted on Sunil as though he were his own. Both the friends decided that Sunil and Narayani would be married as soon as they came of age.
When Sunil turned nineteen, he married the sixteen-year-old Narayani with great pomp and splendour. A few years later, when Eashwar died from a sudden heart attack, Sunil became the owner of Messrs Eashwar and Company.
His father-in-law helped him purchase a huge plot of land in Sukna, a quaint town
on the outskirts of Siliguri. There, far from the city’s hustle and bustle, Sunil built Eashwar Estate in memory of his father, a palatial mansion surrounded by manicured gardens and a small lake, just like England’s country houses. Sunil was a man of refined tastes. With his wife’s help, he decorated the mansion with the grandest of tapestries, furniture and accessories money could buy. The sprawling gardens were placed under the charge of two gardeners. Rose bushes and exotic shrubberies were planted. There was a marble fountain in the gardens and a pebbled driveway leading up to the house.
Eashwar Estate was the grandest house in the entire region. Sunil and Narayani were very happy together but years passed by without Narayani being able to conceive. Finally, on the advice of their relatives, the couple visited a holy shrine in the northern part of the country to pray for an heir. ‘It’s a venerated pilgrimage spot,’ everyone told them. ‘Just go there and your prayers will soon be answered.’
Faith can move mountains they say.
Exactly a year after their visit, the couple were blessed with a beautiful baby boy. He was fair-skinned and light-eyed just like his mother. ‘This is a miracle! A blessing from the Gods!’ everyone said. They named the baby Wriddhish, another name for Lord Ganesha. A son idolized and pampered.
While everyone hoped he would take after his father, Wriddhish was spoilt and vain. He hadn’t inherited his father or his grandfather’s industrious nature. He was lazy and entitled. The only thing going for him were his good looks, something he took undue advantage of.
When his father died after a prolonged illness and Wriddhish had to take over the reins of the family business, the first thing he did was to change his surname to Eashwar. It sounded fancier and more aristocratic in his opinion. Wriddhish Eashwar would command more respect as the rightful owner of Eashwar Estate than Wriddhish Lahiri. He walked into the district court one day, signed an affidavit and that was that.
The Lahiri name was discarded.
Wriddhish wasn’t terribly bright. He was studying commerce at college when he met Ella, the daughter of one of his professors. What Wriddhish lacked in brains, he made up for in charms. Ella fell head over heels in love with him. Her father was not thrilled with the development and tried his best to discourage Ella from taking the relationship further.
Ella wouldn’t listen. She was headstrong and determined to marry Wriddhish. The couple were married as soon as the both of them had completed their graduation. Wriddhish cleared his exams by the skin of his teeth while Ella graduated with flying colours. Strangely, despite the difference in their backgrounds, the two of them were very happy together. Wriddhish really cared for his wife. She was practical and level-headed, just the sort of companion he needed to keep him grounded. They had three daughters, Esha, Anamika and Madhuri.
Esha and Anamika were two years apart while Madhuri was six years younger than Anna. After being schooled in Siliguri, both the older girls were sent to college in Kolkata. Esha, tall and beautiful like her father, studied home science while Anna enrolled for a degree in economics.
When Anna joined college, her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She passed away soon after leaving a void the family were unable to fill. Wriddhish succumbed to depression and the elder girls tried desperately to bring their father out of it. Their mother’s younger sister Reba, who lived in the neighbouring town of Jalpaiguri, moved to be with the girls for a while and help look after Wriddhish.
Reba was a lot like her sister. Sensible and no-nonsense. She took the girls under her wing and in the process, grew very close to Anna, whose nature was similar to hers and her dead sister’s. Esha was vain like her father and little Madhuri was growing into an attention-seeker.
Wriddhish became even more spoilt than was humanly possible after his wife’s death, and Esha pandered to his every whim. He was reckless and lived beyond his means. The family wealth slowly dwindled over the years. The Eashwars started losing their businesses one by one.
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