A business family of the North East

My parents and siblings with the former president of Indian Congress Party, Mr. J. B. Kriplani on our Lawn. Kalimpong, West Bengal. 1962

Image and Narrative Points contributed by Harish Prasad, Kalimpong, West Bengal

IMP Research Intern : Aayushi Gupta, Jindal School of Art & Architecture

This photograph of our family was taken on the occasion of Mr. J. B. Kriplani’s visit in 1962.
Mr. Kriplani was a politician, and was known in particular as the president of Indian National Congress Party (INC) during the transfer of power in 1947 – He was also known as Archarya Kriplani.  

Since hotels and guest houses were far off, Archarya Kriplani had stayed over at our home for a night during a visit to Kalimpong. My father, Gauri Shankar Prasad – on the extreme left – is dressed unusually because here he wears a shawl over his shirt and isn’t dressed in his usual suit. I think he was sick that day. My mother is wearing a bandhini Saree – she was usually dressed that way. Next to her stands Mr. Kriplani, my older sister Pushpa, stands next to him on the right. In front of Acharya is my youngest sister Mamta. I am sitting on the left wearing a blazer with the insignia of BIT – Bihar Institute of Technology, Sindri, Bihar (now in Jharkhand), where I completed my Mechanical Engineering, and my brother is sitting on the right, wearing the blazer with the insignia of Allahabad University where he completed his MA and LLB. 

I remember it was winter, and this photograph was taken in the morning. For me, this photograph holds multiple memories of my family’s history, influence  and accomplishments. 

I can begin with my great grandfather Raghunandan Ram who was originally from Ballia (now in Eastern Uttar Pradesh). Ballia was also known as “Bagi ballia” or “Revolutionary Ballia” due to its significant revolutionary activity during the freedom struggle. Later, it was also  home to a Prime Minister of India, Chandrashekhar Rao. 

My great grandfather was born around 1850, and must have been a courageous man, because by the time he was 13 or 14, he had somehow travelled all the way to the state of Sikkim, 800 kms away, on his own. I don’t exactly know why or even how he managed it  – maybe it was on foot, or on a mule or horseback. 

In Sikkim, my great grandfather was somehow introduced to the Chogyals (Namgyal), the monarchs of Sikkim and he earned favour to join and serve them. The king at that time apparently took a great liking to my great grandfather and bestowed upon him several land estates and properties in Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong and other regions (a few of which our family still own). I am told that the manner in which the land was offered to my great grandfather was like a game. The king would offer about 100 feet in front of the road, and at the other end my great grandmother or great grandfather could choose another 100 feet. My great grandfather multiplied his assets in Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Siliguri, and Gangtok, by acquiring more land and establishing a lucrative real estate business. In the years ahead, our family seems to have also established a successful liquor business and there was a time when the entire liquor business in the hills – including Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Siliguri, Gangtok was controlled by only our family. 

My great grandfather had one son, my grandfather, Mathura Prasad, who was given the title of Rai Saheb by the British. Mathura Prasad had three sons – Rama Shankar Prasad, Gauri Shankar Prasad and Lakshmi Shankar Prasad. Rama Shankar grew up to become an MLA in the Congress Party and he was also the Vice Chairman of the state board. 

My father, Gauri Shankar Prasad was born in 1915. He attended Presidency College in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and completed his BA between 1934 – 35. I am told he aspired to become a barrister and wished to go abroad to study law, however the untimely death of my grandfather halted his plans and he returned to Kalimpong where the family divided up all the assets. My father then opted to become a businessman and worked with the family’s liquor business. 

My father married my mother – Shakuntala, a 13-year-old girl from Sitamarhi (now in Bihar), in 1933. My mother came to a completely unfamiliar place at a tender age with no knowledge about anything, however she observed sincerely, and mastered everything rapidly. She could stitch and knit perfectly, and cooked the most incredible meals. I remember her telling me that when parties were hosted at home, she would sneak into the kitchen to observe and note the expert Nepalese caterers discreetly use their trade secrets of cooking methods and recipes. My mother also always read the newspaper, because she said she had to be aware about what was going on in the country. 

My father, like many of his peers, got involved in politics. I think he really wished to serve people and to the development of Kalimpong. When he was elected municipal commissioner from Congress he would often have the opportunity to host many INC members from all over the country, at our home. Our lawn was big and so it was easy to accommodate large meetings or address the Congress workers of Kalimpong. Former President of India Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, the first CM of West Bengal Dr. B. C. Roy, the President of West Bengal Congress Atulya Ghosh, Congress Leader Ram Subhag Singh, were few of the prominent politicians who visited our home in Kalimpong. 

Born during the reign of the British, my father, like so many others was greatly influenced by their culture. He spoke impeccable English, even though he didn’t attend an English medium school. To ensure that his children had a good hold over the language, we spoke only English at home – a tradition that continues till date. My father had a distinct taste for suits, and whether or not he was stepping out of the house, he was always in a suit. He was a strict disciplinarian, and meals were served at the booming and punctual sound of a gong, with all of us having to appear at the dining table immediately. We could never be at breakfast in our pyjamas or gowns and had to be bathed and dressed. He drilled into us the value of being independent, physically and mentally fit. Even in his 90s, he would do everything on his own, and could sign a cheque without his hands shaking. 

For me, this photograph holds multiple and layered memories of my heritage, my family’s legacy and my life – And for that reason alone it is for me an important photograph.

The addition of this Photo-Narrative to the archive has been made possible due to the generous consideration towards Research Internships by two persons from USA, who have chosen to remain anonymous.

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