Life and death of a baron

FP

If the lines on a palm could tell a story, Ponty would have had none. Where would the story have begun? After all, his left hand ended in a stub below his elbow and his right hand had been scarred after a near-fatal kite flying session as a 10-year-old. The lines should have vanished. Instead, that's where Ponty's story begins—the story of Gurdeep 'Ponty' Chadha and his migrant family from Montgomery in Pakistan who moved to Moradabad in western Uttar Pradesh, his rise to become one of the most successful and connected business tycoons in these parts till the alleged fratricide that shook the Chadha family last week. For once, the lines were stark—Ponty and his brother Hardeep 'Satnam' Chadha were dead after a simmering property dispute at their farmhouse in Delhi.

In Moradabad, where Ponty, his siblings and his cousins were born, grew up and spent much of their youth, the events of the last few days have allowed the city's residents the indulgence of slipping in and out of shock and nostalgia as they talk about the Chadhas, their phenomenal rise and their eventual falling out.

Like most cities, Moradabad lives in layers. The rich live in the posh Civil Lines area where houses have high iron gates and higher walls. The poor, with no walls to hide behind, simply spill out into the city and its galis crowded with bazaars, rickshaws and scooters. Ponty knew both worlds.

The beginning

During Partition, Ponty's grandfather Gurbachan Singh and his three sons, Kulwant, Harbhajan and Surinder, made the journey from Pakistan to Ramnagar in Uttar Pradesh (now in Uttarakhand), where they set up a sugarcane crushing unit. A close associate of the family who didn't want to be quoted says the Chadhas later moved to Moradabad, a bigger city, where they entered the milk business, supplying milk to homes and commercial units. There are different versions from here on, but reports in the local media talk of how Kulwant, Ponty's father and the eldest of Gurbachan's sons, supplied milk to an excise inspector in Moradabad and soon, landed a licence to set up a liquor outlet in the city. The Chadhas had made their nascent diversification—from milk to liquor.

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