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Back then, poor people from every village and hamlet of Punjab were being attracted in droves to acquire the free land on offer. Settlement had just begun in the area which, along with Jhang, Sargodha and some other places, was colloqui- ally known as the Baar region.
So, calculating backwards, Mamma was probably born sometime in the last ten or fifteen years of the nineteenth century. Her parents owned a few acres of land there. Grandpa went to the city several times seeking compensation, but he was a simple man. He had no idea where the office was, much less what to do should he find it.
Finally, he resigned himself to his plight and took a job as a laborer, digging the canal. One day he chanced upon a posting stating that a colony had been established in Baar and that new settlers would receive free land. He gath- ered together his whole family—his wife, two little sons and a daughter —and set off for Lyallpur. Along the way they managed to fill their stomachs by doing hard labor.
Here and there Grandpa took on odd jobs as a coolie or chopping wood. They asked many passersby, but nobody seemed quite sure how to get to Lyallpur.
Finally, after almost two months of traveling, exhausted and bedraggled by the grueling journey and hard labor, they arrived in Jaranwala. Their aching bodies and swollen feet convinced them to stay put for a few months. Grandpa got a job lifting sacks all day in Ghulamandi, Grandma would spin thread and sell it, and Mamma took care of the little hut that they now called home.
At long last the festival of Baqar Eid arrived. By this time Grandpa had managed to save a bit of money, so he gave Mamma a small Eid pre- sent of three anna coins. Never in her life had she held such a princely sum! Poor thing, even when she passed away at the age of about eighty she would get totally flustered trying to tell the differ- ence between hundred, ten and five rupee notes.
For several days the little girl kept the precious three annas tied tightly in a corner of her dupatta. On the day they were to leave Jaran- wala she finally decided what to do with her treasure.
First, she changed the three annas for twelve paisas. Then, she bought some oil for eleven paisas, filled the lamp at the mosque and lit it. The remaining one paisa she kept for herself. From then on whenever she had collected a full eleven paisas, she would immediately send oil to light a lamp at the mosque. For the rest of her days, on Thursday evenings, Mamma was scrupulously faithful to this practice.
As time went on many mosques began to use electricity. However, Mamma used to keep track of mosques that still used oil lamps, even in big cities like Lahore and Karachi.
On the day she died we found a few annas tied in a muslin handkerchief at the head of her bed. It was a Thursday evening so we knew she must have been saving them to light the lamp. She took special care of the three outfits. One she wore, the second she would wash with her own hands and keep under the pillow so that it would be pressed, and the third was ready for the wash. If, in addition to these, she somehow got a fourth outfit, she would quietly give one away.
Thus, never did she feel the need for a suitcase. Mamma was always ready in a jiffy for even the longest of journeys. Even her final journey was undertaken with such simplicity.
She had washed her clothes with her own hands and placed them under the pil- low, had bathed and dried her hair, and in a matter of minutes she set forth on the last and longest journey of her life. She left for the next world as peacefully as she had remained in this world.
Never let me be a burden on anyone! Her absolute favorite food was corn flour chapati with coriander and mint chutney. Of course, she cheerfully ate other things, but not with the same zest.
She used to thank God with almost every mouthful. If she were pressed to take some fruit, she would occasionally ask for a banana. For breakfast, two cups of tea were a must, as was a cup of black tea in the late afternoon.
She used to eat only one proper meal a day, usually at lunchtime, but occasionally at dinner. In the summertime, her favorite meal was one or two plain chapatis and some thin salty lassi to drink. First she would pray for oth- ers.
Mamma felt very uncomfortable if someone did something for her. She preferred to do all her work with her own two hands. If, despite her protests, an attendant happened to do something for her, she would be overcome with a strange sort of shame and, beholden, would spend the entire day praying for him.
Her pious simplicity was an inborn aspect of her nature, but this characteristic was deepened by the vicissitudes of life. After staying for some time in Jaranwala, the family set out for Lyallpur Colony in search of land.
Hordes of people were coming to settle there. Accordingly, having laid out a small boundary, he made a grass hut, and finding a scrap of untilled land, began making preparations to cultivate it. Then a court clerk from the Department of Revenue came for an inspec- tion. As a fine for building an unauthorized hut on government property they confiscated his pots and bedding. One of the officials even made Mamma give him the silver earrings she was wearing!
It was the middle of summer and the blazing sun beat down overhead. All day the dreaded hot winds of that season blew. Some- times they would subsist on wild berries and other times they boiled melon rinds to eat. One day they came across some mixed greens of mustard plant and vetches. Grandma was hard at work, so Mamma cooked the greens on the hearth. When they were soft and ready to be stirred she turned the ladle with such force that the bot- tom of the pot broke.
All the vegetables flowed out and fell into the stove. Grandma gave Mamma a sound scolding and even slapped her. That night, they were so hungry they scraped up the vegetables that had fallen onto the kindling of the stove with their fingers and managed to appease their hunger somewhat. After several months of hard labor and the payment of easy installments, he even received his own parcel of land.
Gradually the days passed and within three years they came to be regarded as fairly prosperous villagers. Therefore, after four or five years of relative prosperity, the entire family boarded a train for Manila. Mamma enjoyed the train ride immensely. She would stick her little head out the window the whole time, her eyes drinking in all the excite- ment.
But the coal dust afflicted her eyes and they were painfully inflamed for several days. After this experience Mamma learned her les- son. Throughout her life she never allowed her children to stick their heads out of train windows.
Mamma loved traveling third class. Within minutes she would be happily chattering away with the women and children in her car. On the contrary, it was the higher-class compartments that bothered her. She was reduced to pure exhaustion on the few occasions she was forced to travel in the air-conditioned section, as though weighed down the entire time by chains and shackles.
Arriving in Manila, Grandpa repaired his ancestral home and gave gifts to his dear ones and relatives. There were parties and banquets, and then began the search for a groom for Mamma.
Back then, there was much ado about the plot-holders of Lyallpur. They were considered lucky upper-class folk. Even otherwise, back then Mamma was quite the catch. In a bit of grandstanding, Grandma used to dress her in pretty clothes every single day without fail, adorning her as a lovely bride at all times.
Of course, deep down I cherished a small desire. I told God I would be very thankful if I were to find a husband who was just a little bit educated and knew how to read and write a few words.
He was the scion of a wealthy family of noble extraction, but at the age of five or six the star-crossed lad became fatherless and absolutely destitute. When his father passed away they discovered that his entire ancestral estate had been mortgaged.
So Abdullah Sahib moved into a hovel with his mother.
Maan Ji / ماں جی
Maa Ji [Written by Qudrat Ullah Shahab]