Much of my understanding of fine things came from my grandfather’s quirks

'He once told me that a man who cleans his own toilet will always be humble'

My grandfather would have turned 99 last month. We lost him very early, more than 20 years ago, to a terminal illness. Like with most able and kind patriarchs, their passing swallows up the entire family. I don’t think we were ever the same again.

But on each of his birthdays, each Father’s Day, each Christmas Eve (the day he passed), I think of him more and more. Most of my memories are based on his possessions, rather than life’s lessons he barely voiced. For example, a distinct memory is watching him polish his own shoes every evening. I have no idea why he did this, since we had a small army of staff to help us. I had asked my grandmother once, and she answered with an eye roll. She hadn’t the foggiest idea either, and I’m assuming this habit irked her.

Only after his passing would I learn that his shoes were from Bally, a luxury leather label from Switzerland that has been making shoes by hand for over 200 years. My grandfather loved his shoes and, thus, showed them love. This was his way of giving respect to a high-quality gift he had given himself, even though the help would have cleaned it just as well.

The columnist with her grandfather The columnist with her grandfather

I suspect much of my understanding of fine things came from my grandfather’s quirks. Once he told us that he could tell the alloys in a steel or an iron rod by just touching it. That may have been an occupational requirement for his business, but his understanding of materials was exemplary. On their first trip to Switzerland, he bought his wife an unusual Omega watch. It worked according to the pulse of the wearer. So if you removed it overnight, or for a few days, you would have to wind it to the current time before wearing it again. This watch is now mine, and it works just as fine.

He almost always wore suits, sometimes safari style with the shoulder and pocket panels, other times a navy suit with tie. He never boarded a flight wearing anything other than a suit: flying was such a privilege in his time and one had to earn it. His hair was always black, save a few grey strands, but slickly parted to the sides with his favourite tortoiseshell comb kept in his back pocket.

He only ever used a gold Cross pen to write with, its ink was the bluest blue, and his penmanship was like beautiful calligraphy. Getting his evening tray ready when he returned from office was a ritual. He would have two small glasses of Scotch with soda every day, a bowl of salty puffed rice as a snack and there was always an ice pail. He was not to be disturbed when he consumed this while watching khabra, as the television news hour would be called in my Punjabi household. If we wanted his attention we would have to watch the news with him, hence I am a journalist.

If he sounds rich and privileged, I’ll let you in on another unique trait: he cleaned his own toilet and made his own bed every day. He made it as soon as he woke up, so he would have a neat room while he got dressed. He was raised in a simple home and worked his way up the entrepreneurship ladder to great success. He once told me that a man who cleans his own toilet will always be humble.

He echoed another great man who gave us lessons in life, clothing and dignity.