I opened my eyes to the world and to his adulation. His first vocal reaction gave me my nickname. A person of few words, he mastered the art of setting examples and walking his talk. His actions spoke his intentions.
In one such incident, we as kids had played a prank with our neighbour, hiding his bicycle in the huge undergrowth of a park nearby. An anti-kid neighbour sounded an alarm. We lost our nerve and decided to get the steal back from the hide but, alas, the bike was missing, having been stolen by a professional thief outsmarting us amateurs!
Our body language was revealing and the past history of pranks gave us away. Without a word, the man immediately bought a new bike and handed it over to the wailing neighbour. No words were exchanged with us but a message conveying conduct, forthrightness and accountability was loud and clear.
As if the fellow had a structured curriculum in mind. He would practise the virtues of patience and tolerance by never reacting to the kid's idiosyncrasies. In the company of friends he was chirpy, poetic and relaxed, enjoying every moment. With his elders, he was respectful and accommodating. In one of his rare discourses, he said, "Respect flows from bottom to top, and affection from top to bottom."
An outdoor man, he endeavoured to include me on such outings without forcing me. Sometimes I thought he was a psychologist par excellence. He would make an offer for me to proceed to our village to oversee harvesting on our ancestral land, a boring proposition for a city youngster, but in return I would get my favourite gift.
In hindsight, his efforts to veer me towards village and agriculture made my transition from arms to farms seem natural.
Possessing a foreseeable sense of relationship, he transformed after I was commissioned as an officer. My idol became my best friend. He understood a youngster's psyche and travails of generation gap, and embarked on a magnet policy to attract us, which he did with finesse. Lure of goodies and making us feel important by seeking advice on issues of our interest were some of the gimmicks he played, and succeeded. He would play paploo (a game of cards) and deliberately lose to augur our interest and company.
The old man had a way with grand children. Magnet policy again!
I recall one such antic. Realising that the kids enjoyed swimming and hence preferred spending their vacation at cantonments due to easy access to a pool, he got a large bathtub made at home. All this to attract the kids to visit him and, wow, did he succeed! The kids spent their entire vacation enjoying their private pool.
A chronic patient of asthma, he had his bouts of agony that he bore silently.
It was peak winter and I get a call early morning in my bunker at Kupwara, my duty station. The fellow excitedly informs the arrival of his daughter from the States, the grandchildren - in fact, almost the complete family, a rare phenomenon in today's busy times -- and requests for my presence. Getting leave was a challenge and more challenging was reaching Chandigarh with heavy snow and inclement weather and routine courier flights in disarray. As if sensing my dilemma, he continued, "Now that all my children are with me, I would like to bid adieu." My hitch-and-hike journey got me home the next day.
True to his premonition, he left us all a day later, as silently as he lived his life. His last game of paploo was engrossing, and he beat us all hollow conveying a message of subdued competence with a don't-take-anyone-for-granted message. My kids miss their grandfather as much as I miss my hero!