When Maan Jaina came to visit us

November 15, 2020

Dr Ajaz Anwar recounts a day out with his step- great grandmother from the maternal side, in the Lahore of 1952

— Image: Supplied

Whenever our phupha (paternal uncle) Hafiz Taj Mohammad came to visit us from Multan, we were so pleased that we’d ask him as to how long he was going to stay. We obviously wanted him to stay for long, so that we could enjoy his company.

Our mother would scold us for this rude inquiry. So, when a very special guest, Maan Jaina, from Gujranwala came over, in January 1952, we did not dare ask her the same question.

Maan Jaina was my step-great grandmother from the maternal side. She must have been pushing 90. Following the ancient tradition in our family, she had come to help my mother who was pregnant with my sister Zamurrad.

Maan Jaina immediately started participating in our household chores energetically, in spite of her twilight years. One early morning, she wanted to step out and buy grocery which she said should be purchased early in the morning only (in those pre-refrigerator days). I volunteered to escort her. She was holding a (bio-degradable type of pre-plastic invasion) basket for the green grocery, while I held on to a metal container for meat.

We were headed for the Qila Gujjar Singh bazaar where I commanded great respect as an under-teen customer. My mother was so confident of me that she would often trust me with a ten-rupee note to fetch all the necessary supplies.

All the shopkeepers would try to entice me. One of them even gave me the title of “Gurkha” for my aggressive bargaining. But that day, when I took Maan Jaina to Buddhan Shah Street, there was no differentiation between the four generations.

Gama, the meat seller, had just put on display the skinned lamb when I put my metal container on his shop front. Maan Jaina inspected the meat. The man had been a veteran of Pakistan Movement and posted printed portraits of Mustafa Kamal Pasha, Anwar Kamal Pasha, Ali brothers, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Allama Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam on the walls of his shop.

Maan Jaina told him about the commotions in Ludhiana and heard from him about the sad incidents that had occurred in his hometown Amritsar. In the end, they both prayed to God for peace. Having bought fresh mutton, packed in large banyan leaves and placed in the metal container, we proceeded to Shireen Nazir, the green grocer. The vegetables had just arrived and were farm-fresh. Maan Jaina sat down and started choosing scarlet red tomatoes. As she munched on a green gourd, the old man realised that the lady knew what to buy.

Further on, she stopped by at the Rafi’s (grocer’s shop). From his accent, she was delighted to know that the man too was from Ludhiana. The next we knew, they had shared biographical folk notes, both pleasant and sad.

We were now loaded with various paper packets containing goond kateera, kemerkas, turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, phul makhhanay and various recipes for panjeeri, pudding, rice and curries. (Haji Fazle Karim BA, a founder member of the Lahore Conservation Society (LCS), who recently passed away aged 95, could have helped me name all the vegetable and grocery items in English.)

On our way, Maan Jaina inspected the yarn made of baan (wheat husk), for weaving cots or charpoys. Her remarks were that they no longer knew how to make a good yarn. She also rejected the large wooden spoons meant for stirring food being cooked in terracotta vessels over bio-gas emitting cow-dung cakes or wood.

Next, we stopped at Hakim Hakimuddin Hakim Hazek Hakim’s clinic under the tallest banyan tree in town, which has since been felled. (The man was a hakim; his name too was Hakim; his pen name, Hakim; and he had studied hikmat at Tibbia College as a Hazek Hakim. Hence, the most literary, melodious name.) He must have been a very competent practitioner of herbal medicines as later in life he cured me of a seasonal allergy.

Again, Maan Jaina inspected the various syrups on display, critically, and chose a bottle of hanjbar sherbet, joshanda and some khameera gow zubaan. And, then, we entered the 200 years old massive wooden door of the Qila.

Inside the fort, there was no commercial activity whatsoever. It is strictly residential to this day. A large community well in Victoria Street was thronged by people bathing and filling their vessels with water drawn with pails. Water carriers with their maashkis (sheepskin bags) waited for their turn. Their discipline was exemplary. They were all helping one another.

Hanif Ramay, later a governor of the Punjab, a writer and a fine artist, also lived there, I am told.

As I proceeded further, I realised that Maan Jaina was not with me. She had mingled with the crowd at the well, exchanging pleasantries with the older folk and smiling at the children and alternatively scolding them.

Passing through the four havelis of the Maliks (the original, benevolent residents of the area), we noticed another smaller public well in a side lane which was no longer functional, maybe because the municipal water tap connections had become available. I had always made a point of peeping into it every time I happened to pass by. This is the highest point of the citadel built by one of the triumvirate that ruled Lahore before the coming of Ranjeet Singh.

We descended the generous stairs built by the ancestors of the Maliks and reached the bazaar below. Passing through the katri of Nihalchand Sirki built in 1929, we stopped to have a look at the rabbits kept for sale by an old lady. Their nostrils were animated as they inhaled and exhaled, the red arteries in their long, erect ears were clearly visible. (Khar-gosh, or rabbit, is so named for its ‘big donkey ears’).

After exiting through the other gate, I saw Mullah Latif, the bicycle mechanic. He affectionately smiled at me. But I held the metal container firmly in my hand as many stray cats and dogs, otherwise friendly to me, were roaming around. We had completed our journey around the Qila in eighty minutes.

Ascending the long winding stairs of our flat (Number 11), in Muzaffar Mansions, on Nicholson Road, carrying heavy packets of groceries and vegetables, Maan Jaina told my mother that her son (that is, me) had exhausted her. Then she sent me to fetch the bottle of hanjbaar sherbet that she had left at the well.

Note: All the young and old members of the Lahore Conservation Society are requested to communicate with this writer regarding the elections schedule

(This dispatch is dedicated to Hakim Hakim-ud-Din Hakim, Hazik Hakim)

The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of the NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at ajazart@brain.net.pk

When Maan Jaina came to visit us