Page last updated at 18:46 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 19:46 UK

Nepali butler inherits New York fortune

By Salim Rizvi in New York

Indra Tamang with his daughter Zina (photo: Salim Rizvi)
Mr Tamang and his family are coming to terms with the huge windfall

Until a few months ago, he was a butler in one of the more expensive residential buildings in Manhattan. But now, Nepal-born Indra Tamang is the owner of two multi-million dollar apartments in the same building.

The former owner - his former employer, Ruth Ford - died last year and left the apartments in the historic Dakota Building on the Upper West Side to Mr Tamang in her will, along with a valuable Russian surrealist art collection.

The estate is estimated to be worth nearly $10m (£6.8m).

Mr Tamang is happy but quickly points out that his good fortune did not come easily.

"I am happy and have been humbled by the generosity of the Ford family," he says. "I never expected that I will be given the ownership of these apartments.

"But I have been working for the family for the last 36 years, loyally, with honesty and dedication. So my hard work has been rewarded."

Relaxed masters

Mr Tamang was 21 when he was brought from Nepal as a domestic help by Charles Ford, a writer and a photographer.

Mr Ford died in 2002; his sister, actress Ruth Ford, then took charge and told Mr Tamang that he was like a brother to her after Charles's death.

"Charles was like my father," recalls Mr Tamang. "And Ruth has also been very kind to me and I took very good care of her. She used to lovingly call me 'Tamang darling'."

"They were very relaxed masters who treated me like a member of the family. I travelled with them all over the world."

The Dakota building
Beatles star John Lennon once lived in the Dakota building

Mrs Ford died aged 98. During the last five years of her life, she lost her eyesight and also developed speech problems. Mr Tamang looked after her most of the time and took care of her medicines and food.

He also worked with Charles Ford on various photography projects, which he now wants to keep as the photographer's legacy. He hopes to organise exhibitions of Mr Ford's photographs and compile a book of his works.

With the story of Mr Tamang's inheritance doing the rounds, the Dakota Building has seen an increase in visitor numbers. It also has links with the Beatles star John Lennon, who died there.

A doorman at the gate to the mansion block said he had been busy since morning, answering questions from visitors.

Mr Tamang plans to sell the bigger, three-bedroom apartment to pay the taxes he owes to the government on his inheritance.

He has not yet asked the co-operative board of the Dakota building for permission to live in his apartments.

But, he says: "The rules of the co-op might be a problem, as they require a minimum monthly income to qualify to live as owner of apartments."

For now, he plans to live in his modest home in Queens. "I have my small house here but I am happy with it," Mr Tamang says.

'Hard worker'

He first got news of the windfall last August, when the family's lawyers told him about the apartments left in his name.

Indra Tamang's house in Queens
Mr Tamang plans to stay in his house in Queens for now

However, the biological daughter of Ruth Ford challenged the will in court and the case was not settled until April this year.

The story made it into the press only this week. Since then, Mr Tamang has been interviewed by several TV channels from the US and abroad.

The former butler, now 57, insists that he has not changed at all following the unexpected turn in his life.

"I am the same Tamang as I have been before all this happened and I will remain like this in future too."

Friends have been coming from all over the city to congratulate him.

Friend and neighbour Narbada says: "Indra Tamang is a very honest and good person, always ready to help others. I am so happy for him, he deserves every bit of it. He worked very hard for many decades."

'Safety fears'

But one Nepali community activist, who did not want to give her name, said that many members of the community had not treated Mr Tamang well before the news of the multi-million dollar legacy started making the rounds.

When I get some money from the sale of the apartment, I will try and pay the mortgage of my home in Queens
Indra Tamang

Mr Tamang's wife, Radhika, is also not entirely happy with the turn of events.

She says that they have not received any money as yet - but they are still being projected as millionaires. She fears for the safety of the family. The couple have a 10-year-old daughter, Zina, who is also trying to figure out what has suddenly changed in their lives.

Mr Tamang says that he will get much less than the estimated $10m value of the legacy after taxes and fees.

But looking forward to receiving a sizeable sum, he says: "When I get some money from the sale of the apartment, I will try and pay the mortgage of my home in Queens. But I will keep my other apartment and use it for exhibitions etc."

Memoir plans

Mr Tamang was born in a small village called Fahil, in the Makanpur district of Nepal.

Indra Tamang at his home
Mr Tamang's family in Nepal are unaware of his inherited fortune

He says that his mother, two children from his first marriage and his brothers and sisters who still live in his village have no idea about his multi-million dollar inheritance thousands of miles away in New York.

He now plans to visit his family, whom he has not seen for many years.

He also encourages other Nepalis living in America to work hard and be honest in their work.

One day, he plans to write an autobiography, with some help from others. But for now, Mr Tamang plans to take it easy and relax for a while.

He has learnt his lesson from the life of his employers and plans to use his money with great caution.

"I think one should save money for old age. That's when you need it the most to get care," he says.

Print Sponsor

City to celebrate Lennon's life
24 Mar 10 |  Merseyside
Feng shui master denied Wang cash
02 Feb 10 |  Asia-Pacific

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific