Munshiganj, or Bikrampur as it was formerly known as home to a number of rich landlords and merchants, who lived in palatial houses, built on large estates. Most of these perished in course of time as the mighty Padma River devoured most of Bikrampur. Of all that remain in today’s Munshiganj, the largest is the house at Abdullahpur, known as Tokani Pal House (টোকানী পাল বাড়ি). There isn’t enough source to know about who built this house, but Tokani Pal, an elderly merchant from Barisal, bought this 7 acre estate and moved in here sometime in the early 1890s. His second wife Nabanga Sundary and all six sons from his two marriages accompanied him.
The estate now consists of 11 buildings and six ponds. The sprawling gardens have hundreds of trees – fruit bearing, medicinal, or for wood itself. And there were once several hundreds of flowering plants. But when Tokani arrived, the estate was in a mess. Kamini Pal, the eldest son of Tokani,took charge of cleaning up the estate. He chose a place to set up a temple, dedicated to Radha-Shyam, of whom they had been followers for generations. By this time, the masons of Abdullahpur had made a name in craftsmanship and expertise, and Arfan Ostagar was the most revered of all. He was hired, for a daily fee of five quarters and a pack of tobacco. His designer had to be paid an additional three quarters. A 15X6 feet room was planned to build, with a wide sprawling varanda, where followers could sing devotional songs every evening. The room would have a large platform, on which would rest a large metal statue of Radha-Shyam. The exterior wall would be decorated with fine ceramic designs. Once completed, the temple became a marvel, people from far and wide came over to see.
The Pal’s principal business was surrounded around the Kamala river port of Bikrampur, which was known as the Second Kolkata. Betelnuts, mustard, lentils etc would arrive from Barisal or Chandpur, and would be traded with Kolkata. Almost 20,000 laborers worked daily at this port, where the second largest wholesalers were the Pals. They set up warehouses at places as far as Barisal, Jhalokathhi or Shwarupkathhi, or Chandpur. Kamini Pal also became the most prominent money-lender. Dwarkanath became a prominent dealer in Kerosene oil. Other brothers also chipped in here and there. Business for the Pals was running well.
After the Partition of India, a large section of the family moved to Kolkata. Those who remained to protect the family businesses, soon found it difficult, as business with Kolkata became complicated. They had to explore new business avenues, but that wasn’t too easy.
In 1971, Hindus were being tortured or killed, their businesses were being shut down, their houses were being torched. The Pal estate being protected with a strong high boundary wall became a safe refuge, not only for members of this family, but for members of extended families, and also for friends and their families. About 500 people had found safe shelter here, until one dark night, when the Pakistani Army entered the compounds, killed several family members, and set the main houses of fire. The entire clan moved to India through Agartala.
Almost two years later, Shashadhar Pal, the second son of Dwarkanath Pal, who by then was head of the clan, returned with his family. But by this time major parts of the estate had been grabbed and taken over by others. He tried to revive some of the businesses, but did not quite succeed. His family members went back to Kolkata, but he decided to stay back, reminiscing his childhood memories, and gradually selling off part of their properties. He lived either in one of the houses within this estate, or in the other Pal House, which also was built by his uncle Kamini Pal several decades ago. He passed away in the late 1990s.