Thirty-seven years ago, in the corner of Kolkata’s Burrabazar, Dayanand Bitrani set up shop. To what extent his business flourished is unknown even to the greatest of his allies, but within five years of starting, his business moved out of Burrabazar into a three-storey office out of Alipore, in South Kolkata. Some say, he sold his soul to the devil, others are positive about his involvement in a smuggling racket. The secret, if there ever was any is a part of their closet.
The Bitrani home was a spectacle unto itself. A towering presence at Prince Anwar Shah Road, Mr Bitrani led the house with an iron fist. He was determined as to create his fortune in a manner that his children and generations after that would only have to sit on their backside and enjoy. But often, as is the case with families possessing unsurmountable wealth, children take a route that is completely in opposition to the parents’ intentions. Ajay, for example, much to the astonishment of his female friends, decided that social life was not his cup of tea and at the age of twenty, he joined the Brahmachari Training Centre at Belur. His intention was to bring the world at peace and follow the footsteps of Swami Vivekananda. Mr Bitrani, a man of few words, put up a picture of his son and decorated it with a garland. This one act of patriarchy signalled to the whole family that mentioning Ajay ever again in the household could lead to serious consequences.
One interesting fact that is locked inside the Bitrani family closet is a question that often runs around in the minds of the youngest member of the family, Suchitha, is what happened to Bhavana. Bhavana, had been the maid of the family since she was ten years old and Suchitha was two. Their lives although completely apart in terms of luxury was strangely intermingled. Suchitha in the absence of an attentive mother and a sensible father was in constant connection with this maid. She was so connected with Bhavana that on one occasion when the latter had gone to her home town for five days, Suchitha would rather have accompanied Bhavana than be at her home. Even with the offerings of all the tastiest snacks in the world, eight-year-old Suchitha was extremely difficult to contain.
One evening things changed. Suchitha had gone out with her mother to watch a movie, not because she wanted to but because her mother had the urge to spend time with her daughter, her only ‘living offspring’. Mr Bitrani was home alone and had ordered Bhavana to serve him drinks. There is little insight as to what might have transpired in the course of that evening but when Suchitha and her mother returned Bhavana was found at the corner of the kitchen, crying. Suchitha gathered the idea that she might have broken her doll and offered her a new one from her exhaustive collection, but Bhavana refused. The next morning, as Suchitha woke up Bhavana had left, and she never saw her again.
Five days after Bhavana left because of unknown reasons, a surprise guest shook the dynamics of the Bitrani house again. Ajay had come back. The reason for his return was unknown but according to the new cook (a female of 19 years), he was worried that something might happen to the family because a senior Maharaj had a vision. Ajay wanted to protect his family, but his father was having none of it. To Mr Bitrani the return of his son was nothing short of an apocalypse. He was ashamed as well as disgusted, but for his own sanity and partly for his daughter and wife, he let Ajay stay on in the house but was determined to stop him from any form of ritual. Ajay however, was growing more and more paranoid about a presence in the house, he started elaborate rituals and brought on five elderly monks to complete the task of cleansing the Bitrani house. One evening, during a ritual his father entered the house and threw out everyone and everything. He was so furious with the family that he discarded everyone from having dinner that evening, even Suchitha. Somewhat in this manner, all the rituals and paranoia stopped. Another story added to the Bitrani closet.
Three weeks after Ajay suddenly showed up at the door, gossip among the neighbours circulated that Mrs Bitrani was going mad. They were under the impression that there was substantial proof on the matter. In Mrs Chawla’s party, mother Bitrani threw a fit that the air conditioner was not cooling enough, despite everyone’s suggestion and advice she had gone furious and left the party, only after she had broken five glasses and threw juice all over the party members. Gossip has it she did not even spare the maid. In another instance, it was reported that Mrs Bitrani had forgotten how to count and much like the first incident, there was substantial proof in this regard as well. The roots of this particular story arise from the Agarwal household, during a game of cards, Mrs Bitrani argued that she had seven cards, whereas she clearly had nine and again after a session of fit throwing and drama, she left the party. After that, one night, at around 3 A.M. the Bitrani family car left the house, they returned by seven in the morning but Mrs Bitrani did not return with them. Three weeks later Mrs Bitrani finally showed up as she was brought in by the family car. Her whereabouts remained unknown but speculation has it that she was being treated at Pavlov Mental Hospital (source: neighbours).
On December 21st, 2011, four members of the Bitrani family were found hanging inside the house, from their ceilings, two others, granny Bitrani and grandad Bitrani had poisoned themselves. As the police still investigated the reason behind this mass suicide, my father and the new cook were asked multiple questions. I also went to the police station on numerous occasions but I was always treated fairly on the grounds of being a juvenile.
Five years have passed, the case has gone on from the local police to the CID, and finally to the CBI, but a conclusion remains a distant dream. My father, the caretaker of the estate still holds his position and we still reside in the staff quarters. The Bitrani household is a desolate place now and there’s hardly anyone visiting, except Bhavana, I still see her around at the window of Mr Bitrani’s bedroom and smile at her.