Born and raised in Peshawar, he had fond memories of his birthplace
PESHAWAR: Basant Chadha, a migrant businessman from the provincial capital who died of natural causes in Jabalpur in India at the age of 92, always greatly missed the city of his birth, said Dr Ali Jan, a noted cultural activist and historian.
He is survived by a daughter Shobha Puri and son Anil Chadha.
Basant Chadha was born in Peshawar on October 18, 1928. His father Gulab Rai Chadha owned a store on the Arbab Road in Peshawar Cantonment. Known as “Gulab Rai & Sons” the shop carried on until 1948 before the family migrated to India after Partition.
Even in his advanced age, Basant Chadha was mentally alert and remained active on the Peshawari forums on the internet. His email exchanges with Dr Ali Jan, a Peshawar-based historian and cultural activist, gave an interesting glimpse in life here before 1947.
According to late Basant Chadha, his father started his career with Lipton Tea Company and Imperial Tobacco Company from which he resigned in 1928 and opened his own store.
“Gulab Rai & Sons stood on former Sant Ram Marwah’s four-shop property. From left to right, the first two shops were occupied by Gulab Rai. In the third shop was located Godin & Co. Pianos and Records, and the last one was Pioneer Sports owned by Pritham Singh. It later became Alig Café,” explained Dr Ali Jan while divulging the information Basant Chadha had sharedwith him.
Gulab Rai’s house was located on 32, The Mall (presently Sattagadai Plaza). I have fond memories of childhood. I attended Salwan School and spent my summers in Murree and Cherat,” wrote Basant Chadha in one of his emails to the cultural activist.
“We had a branch of Gulab Rai & Sons in Cherat with two residences behind it. Godins also had a branch there. Going towards the Bazaar from the insignias the first block of shops housed Godin shop then a space with a big tree on which we used to play. Next to that was our badminton court and further was our shop, Gulab Rai & Sons in front of a pond. Nearby was a thana [police station] from there we used to phone to Peshawar.”
In one email he wrote: “In Murree, my uncles had a shop too on The Mall just above Lansdowne cinema and skating rink near GPO. They had a house further up where I stayed. Once a new film (Zeenat) was to be shown. The film did not reach till 2am, I waited with the crowd even though I was leaving the next day and watched the film till it finished at 5am!”
Dr Ali Jan said while recalling the 1947 Partition, late Basant Chadha wrote to him: “I missed Peshawar after 1947. It took my family a few years to settle down, the reason being that my father was staunch believer that we will never leave Peshawar. We were happy and well-settled. Our shop was functioning in 1948 and the family was staying in our own house until February 1949. The Frontier [KP] was relatively peaceful in comparison to Punjab. Since father was the President of Chamber of Commerce, some Hindu businessmen who had left Peshawar in April 1947 came back due to my father’s persuasion and confidence. But the sudden eruption of riots in September 1949 shattered his confidence. Besides, the pressure of his cousins who had shifted to Delhi and the killing of an employee in neighbouring Kirpa Ram shop, prompted him to migrate to India,” he recalled.
After migrating to India, late Gulab Rai looked to start business in Delhi, Lucknow and Bombay, but with meagre funds these places were out of reach. He visited Jabalpur and per chance, he found that one hotel was on sale which he acquired.
Narrating to Dr Ali Jan how he got in touch with his Peshawar friends, he said:“Around 1988 my friend Chander Mohan Bhasin visited Peshawar and went looking for our shop which had been converted into a bank. He then went to Godin’s next door and found that one brother was running the shop. I then wrote a letter to Godin shop on our printed letterhead ofGulab Rai & Sons which the youngest brother Cherry forwarded to elder Albert who wrote me a long letter informing me about all the changes in Peshawar after 1947.”
Years back his brother-in-law Kailash Chand Talwar viisited Peshawar without informing him and phoned him up from there. Late Basant Chadha told him that there was an Arbab of Landi Arbab village, Amanullah, who was his school friend and asked him to meet him. Kailash Chand Talwar connected him with Arbab Amanullah, who invited him to visit Peshawar. Unfortunately, Basant Chadha couldn’t make it and his lifelong desire to visit Peshawar didn’t materialize.