It is a commonly held belief in India that flying foxes augur prosperity. They were certainly abundant in the Champaran region of north Bihar. Here in 1845, an Englishman, Alfred Augustus Tripe, fascinated by the prospect of farming indigo, known as Blue Gold, was drawn to its isolated wilderness. He acquired a large tract of rich, fertile land by the river Baghmati, married an Indian lady of means and reaped prosperity in the days when dust turned to gold . Their children were sent to England for an education, but tragically only one, Joseph Rowland Tripe, lived long enough to marry and produce a daughter, Gladys.
The disastrous earthquake that struck Bihar in 1934 annihilated the ancestral home and those members of the family trapped within its walls, sparing only Gladys, who was left helpless with her young children and her powerful, unscrupulous cousin Harry. Taking advantage of this development, Harry attempted to usurp Gladys s entire inheritance, but was foiled by the mysterious intervention of a formidable dacoit leader.
With the advent of Independence and the ensuing drastic land reforms, the flying foxes disappear, and with them a golden era. In The Spell of the Flying Foxes Sylvia Dyer, Gladys s daughter, recaptures what now seems a fairy-tale world of picturesque beauty, peopled by unique and unforgettable characters.
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Sylvia Dyer was born in 1928 and grew up in the wilds of Champaran in north Bihar, on a plantation pioneered as an indigo estate by her great grandfather, an Englishman. She spent ten years of schooling at St Helen s Convent at Kurseong, Darjeeling, was married twice, to Indian Army officers, and widowed both times. There were two sons from her first marriage and a daughter from the second. She now lives alone in Pune and her two surviving children have settled abroad.
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