There is an old Urdu saying that ‘sood asal se piyara hota hai’ (the return is more attractive than the investment). Now don’t take me wrong and go about castigating me for saying something contrary to our Faith. The adage pertains to the adoration that Grandparents levy on their grandchildren. No matter how stern or conservative they may be with their own offspring, the latter’s children always manage to ‘wrap’ the old guard around their little fingers.

I was brought up in a joint family system, where my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather had both passed away before my birth, leaving a ‘nana’ and ‘dadi’ to focus their attention on me and my siblings. These grand old folks had set about dividing the spoils amongst themselves. The eldest of the three (my brother) was taken over by ‘dadi’, while the youngest (your’s truly) was commandeered by ‘nana’. This left my older sister, who reaped the rewards of becoming my father’s pet.

My paternal grandmother hailed from Lahore’s cultural twin – Delhi and reflected her calling in dress and demeanor till her dying day, at the ripe old age of ninety six. She smoked a ‘huqqa’ or ‘hubble bubble’ on a daily basis, consumed elaborately prepared pellets of opium and operated a well-stocked silver ‘paan daan’ on a regular basis. She did not like the sustenance produced by our old cook and therefore had her ‘mughlani’ or maid (which she had brought over from Delhi by train in 1947) prepare her meals. She ate very little, but made sure that her favorite grandson shared the exquisite ‘qormas’ and other delicacies. I would often raid her larder and make off with leftovers, until the old lady decided to give in and reluctantly invite me to sup with her, depending on my availability from what she called ‘shaitani aur badmashi’.

Amma Bi (as we called her) always dressed in a ‘malmal kurta’ (which changed to flannel in winters) and ‘chooridar pyjama’. She preferred to sit on a ‘takht’, propped up against a ‘gao takiya’ or bolster. Her white muslin ‘dupatta’ was extraordinarily large, while her footwear was a simple soft leather ‘khussa’. She preferred to walk, no matter what the distance and my parent’s insistence to use the family car always ended in a curt, “yeh tangen kis liye hain” (what are these legs for?). Her best friend was the celebrated author A. R. Khatoon, who lived close by on Lawrence Road and Amma Bi would often walk to her house accompanied by her faithful maid.

The ‘nana’ of the house hailed from an old family from the other half of the ‘cultural twinship’ – Lahore. Born and bred inside the walled city, he had joined the Indian Civil Service in 1920 and risen to dizzying heights. In the process he had become an amazing blend of local tradition and western habits. The latter included eating boiled vegetables, salads and roasted meat, having regular afternoon tea in the front lawn with his former colleagues and close friends (which included Imran Khan’s grandfather Ahmed Hassan Khan). This unique man was my mentor and role model since he was a ‘doer’, who hated lack of punctuality and integrity. His motivation can be judged from the fact that when Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave a call for Muslim civil servants to renounce awards bestowed by the British, he removed the words ‘Khan Bahadur’ by incising it from his luggage and never used the prefix again.

My grandfather often said that the most unforgettable moment of his life was, when he received a call from Mian Manzar Bashir, who said that the Quaid wanted to meet him. Leaving everything aside, ‘Nana’ drove all night from Delhi to Lahore and returned clutching his most cherished possession – a photograph with Pakistan’s Founding Father.

A passionate gardening enthusiast, the old man would get down on his hands and knees amongst the ‘malis’, who were the most pampered from amongst our domestic help. He would often call me over and tell me to run the potting mix through my fingers. “You must feel the earth and the soil and never shirk from handling it”, he would say. I have strived to pass on this lesson to the young ones in my family and am grateful that a large part of my grandfather, including the love of growing things, lives on strongly in my children and grandchildren.