Life and death of a baron

FP

A childhood friend of Ponty says Ponty's brothers meant the world to him. At the height of the Punjab militancy, Ponty's younger brother, Hardeep, had been kidnapped from the family's Bilaspur (then in Madhya Pradesh) mill and Ponty had put everything—money, muscle, contacts—to save his brother.

Outside the gurdwara at Adarsh Nagar, a Partition resettlement colony with narrow lanes and cheek-by-jowl houses, Bhupinder Singh Billa, 61, and Surinder Singh Kalra, 62, remember the Chadhas fondly. "Those days, we lived a few houses away from the Chadhas' house. As children, we played all the time," says Kalra, before turning to his cousin Billa, "Remember, we would take turns to sit in Ponty's plastic car and storm our way through these lanes."

Billa refuses to believe the brothers killed each other. "We have grown up with them. I have never seen someone as generous and rooted as Ponty. The last time he came to the gurdwara, he promptly signed a cheque for four ACs. The brothers are incapable of something like this. Kisi aur ki shaitani hai," says Billa.

The ground floor of 25, Adarsh Nagar, where Ponty was born in 1957, is now a crumbling heap. But a flight of stairs leads to rooms around a central courtyard, where the winter sun lights up the elegant yellow house. It was here that Kulwant Singh, his two brothers, their wives and their children lived. Today, each of these rooms have been let out to the Chadha Group's employees—drivers, accountants and caretakers. It still resembles a bustling household, women going about their chores, clothes hung out to dry and the aroma of ginger tea in the air. The Chadhas lived here for many years before they moved to the posher Civil Lines area of Moradabad, to Chadha House or 'White House' as it is sometimes called. Today, on Thursday, the fortified White House has its gates shut tight. The entire family is in Delhi for a prayer meeting at Gurdwara Rakabganj.

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