"I want to touch the clouds and feel the weather," said a bubbly Dev Anand, when I asked him why he always chose the window seat in the plane. Forever full of life, Dev Saheb was always quick and clear in his answers.
His nature was an amazingly positive blend of contrasts disciplined yet adventurous, larger than life yet humble, spending lots of time with fans yet punctual. He would have turned 89 years 'young' today (September 26).
A true Punjabi, he was always ready for a little adventure. He always skipped lunch, but when he was once leaving Chandigarh at noon, a fan brought "makki di roti and sarson da saag". He abandoned his discipline and lovingly obliged him by eating two rotis.
"Love them," he exclaimed. Childlike purity, innocence and curiosity were his hallmarks. I could see wonders in his eyes as he looked at the vast green lands, mountains and seas.
A true lover of his fans, he would go to any length to make them feel happy and at ease. Once he was scouting for locations in Gujarat for his movie, 'Mr Prime Minister', accompanied by his production team.
As the evening neared, the entourage stopped at a roadside eatery for tea. An old truck driver from Dev Saheb's village in Gurdaspur met him there. Both chatted like long-lost friends. Soon, the cars left for their hotel.
After about 20 km, the production manager said, "Dev Saheb, that truck driver paid our bill." "You should have told me then and there, I had to thank him," came the reprimand. "Now turn the cars back, I have to thank him," Dev Saheb ordered.
"But sir, it is quite late and it would mean 40 km of extra travel; moreover, the truck driver must have gone his way," the manager pleaded. "Turn around, he would be sitting there, narrating my stories," was Dev Saheb's reply.
And the cavalcade turned back. As foretold, the driver was sitting surrounded by eager listeners. Dev Saheb hugged him and thanked him. "Here is my mobile number. I owe you a cup of tea. Whenever you are in Mumbai, come and have tea with me," he told the awestruck old man.
A workaholic, I remember the long sittings with him to choose photographs for his autobiography, often extending till midnight. "Now let us have dinner," he would say only once the work was finished. "Please order some papaya for me," he would lovingly ask me as if a kid was asking for dessert.
He was a rare Bollywood legend who was held in equal reverence by Bollywood celebrities as well as fans. I remember when Abhishek Bachchan quietly sneaked into a crowd of fans surrounding Dev Saheb to touch his feet and leave unnoticed.
Stylish and suave, he loved shopping for hats, caps, scarves, mufflers, jackets, shoes and all that was beautiful. "Don't buy what I have bought," he would lovingly tease us. "As you say, Dev Saheb," we would reply, only to go back to the store afterwards and try to find another similar one to buy and keep as a remembrance.
Now, I look at all those never-used things which flood my thoughts with Dev Saheb's voices and images from around the world. I should have listened to him and moved to Mumbai to spend more time with him, as he wished.
Talking about him, I still use the present tense many a time. His movies, songs, interviews and my personal memories of many years spent with him have kept him alive in me today. The loss of his departure, though very real, has not registered yet. I may spend my entire life thinking that someday Dev Saheb will call me from London and say, "My script is finished, come over, we'll spend some great time together."