There was nothing choti (small) about him.
Over 6 foot tall, with an equally impressive all white beard, a booming voice and a bogeyman repute, our mother and our khalas used to scare us with the Chotay Nana (the younger/smaller grandfather) threat. “You’d better behave yourself, otherwise I will call Chotay Nana”, followed by a short holler for “Chacha Jan”. That holler was the equivalent of apocalypse now for the rolly polly gang of ten year olds who used to invade Meher Villa, off Marhatta Mandir Marg, like locusts, every summer.
Now that I look back I can’t really tell how he earned that image and reputation. Because for us, refugees to Bombay Central, from the land of the pure across the border, he was everything but the bogeyman. Despite the trouble we caused and the resulting punishments that Amir and Faiz (cousins and his sons) ended up bearing, Sama and I always got away scot free. To their credit we never heard, it’s not fair, from those who bore the brunt of the collateral damage caused by us. We were Saeed’s kids, grandchildren of Akhtari and Nurul Hassan Saifi, home for the summer, under the protection of Chotay Nana.
Born Ayub Saifi to a recently widowed mother, Chotay Nana was quickly christened Chacha Jan first by his adoring nephews and nieces and then a few decades later rechristened as Chotay Nana by their brood. He ran a printing press most of his life printing Quran’s for the company owned by his brothers and cousins that then ran distribution off a three part office near Bhindi Bazar. My earliest memories are of Chotay Nana heading out to shut down the press in the evening, a responsibility that Faiz, then Amir, and then all of us together took on as he grew old.
But you couldn’t let his suffaid (white) Kurta, his checkered lungi and his even whiter beard fool you. Nana had an ear and a passion for music that later showed up in a number of other (some more talented than other) members of our family. He also had an uncanny eye for spotting how much trouble you were in at that specific point in time. He is the one who introduced us to Tarana and Dilip Kumar; it was he who took a number of younger members of his clan out to Shimla and Srinagar and I am sure was a witness to numerous adventures that our mothers and khalas someday will share with their grandchildren.
Chotay Nana passed away last night to join his two brothers in the great heaven for Nanas that Allah Mian put together up above. I am sure he was happy to make the journey on the night of 27th Ramadan. The same night where he would make us shut down the boob tube and pray for a change.
Sama called with the news while Taha and Salwa were in the midst of a coughing fit and asked me to go down and check if Ammi was allright. We together called Mama and then Bombay but couldn’t get through.
All day today, I waited for a quiet moment to sit down and grieve for him properly and privately. The last but one of my Nana’s, the perpetual caretaker of the Saifi brood and pride, father of Amir, Faiz, Apa and Geet, Chacha Jan to my mother and her siblings, Chotay Nana to everyone else, Colonel Bhandowli to me, is now with Allah Mian. May He take as loving care of him as he took of his little refugees from Karachi.