Every year as the train rolled into the Howrah station I could not wait to look out of the window, to catch a glimpse of the tall imposing man who would be standing on the platform, looking joyously at the approaching Rajdhani Express. He was my grandfather, whom we his grandchildren, lovingly called Daddy.
Daddy lived through both the World Wars and through the partition of India. He saw the Cold War start and end. He travelled the world at a time when most people didn't venture out of their villages leave alone the country.
He was the epitome of a Brown Saab. His style was impeccable and deportment regal. He was a man of few words but the kindest of dispositions. His hearty laughter was contagious. Like most men of his generation, he was a creature of habit; breakfast was eaten precisely at 8am and dinner precisely at 8.30pm. Old American wild westerns were his books of choice. His love of chocolates was iconic.
Stepping into his study was like stepping back into time. It was a treasure cove for a young treasure hunter like me. The bookshelves were lined with hundreds of books and magazines. The musty smell and yellow pages were a giveaway of their age. Coins and stamps from long ago and places far and wide could be found if one knew where to look. His cupboard was filled with all sorts of things that he had collected during his travels. I could spend hours in there and come out with a suitcase full of things that I wanted for myself.
He taught me silly poems that he had learnt in school and he told me about how things were when he was a young boy. His stories of days gone by were magical historical stories to a young mind. But most importantly watching him live his life was a lesson in compassion and gratitude.
A lot of what he taught me has stayed with me. Every time my life hits a curb I think of his words: "Keep your faith in God, He knows what He's doing." Then he would say, "And always believe in the intrinsic goodness of people."
Daddy passed away a little short of his 97th birthday. He did not believe in goodbyes. Every time we would part he would wish me khuda hafiz. Two beautiful words that mean 'May God protect you till we meet again'. So this year on his 100th birthday, I wish him khuda hafiz.