When Lok Ram opened the newspaper on Friday morning, he was shocked to see the news of the death of Nek Chand, with whom he had worked for more than three decades.
Lok Ram, 62, who guarded the Rock Garden entrance and later Nek Chand's office for years, rushed to the garden along with his wife to get a last glimpse of his 'bauji'.
"Bauji used to say, 'whenever I die, first take my body to Rock Garden, and then to home," he said.
Lok Ram started guarding Rock Garden in 1978 after coming to the city from Rajasthan. "Bauji was so considerate that when I told him that it was not easy to come to Rock Garden from Sector 26, he gave me a small room to stay on the premises. Whenever, he rang the bell, I used to rush to take his orders," he said.
Lok Ram, who now stays at Bapu Dham Colony, said Nek Chand was very particular about neat and clean environment and always wanted his office to be spic and span. In fact, Nek Chand did not take tea if even a drop was spilled onto the saucer, he said.
"I used to open and lock his office every day. I had strict instructions not to let anybody in without permission. He used to get angry if anyone walked up unannounced and would tell me 'bhag jaa (run away)'. Ever since my retirement in 2013, bauji himself used to open and lock the office as he did not trust anyone else with the keys," said Lok Ram.
Lok Ram, who has studied till Class 3, used to take notes of letters or any other communication he received in Nek Chand's absence. As the notes would be in pure Hindi, Nek Chand used to have difficulty understanding them.
Getting nostalgic, Lok Ram said: "Bauji used to say 'Mister, gaya nahin (You didn't go)?' I used to answer 'upar chala jaun (should I go to heaven)?' He would say 'No, what would I do without you?'"
Lok Ram's youngest daughter, Manjula, 22, said: "We kids know proper directions to only one place - Rock Garden."
Talking about Lok Ram's long association with Rock Garden, Nek Chand's son Anuj Saini said: "My father wanted to employ short persons for guarding the garden so that they could move faster through tight spaces. Lok Ram replied to an advertisement in the newspaper and went on to serve at the garden for more than 30 years."
'He used to take our advice as well'
K Rajmani, 67, whose parents were employed as daily-wage workers by Nek Chand, said: "I was eight years old when I came along with my parents to Chandigarh from Tamil Nadu. Later, Nek Chand gave me work as a carpenter as well. He used to take our advice as well." Rajmani later worked as a driver with the UT administration.
'He motivated me to make my kids study'
Payani Muttu, 56, who guards the hut from where the work on Rock Garden started, said it was Nek Chand who motivated him to make his children study. "All my three daughters are well-educated, one is a teacher and another is a nurse. It is all because of bauji. Now that he is gone, it's like losing a father."