Perhaps her birth name was Zainab, but she was known in the dusty mohalla of Mohammad Iqbal’s Sialkot as Mai Jaina, or Masi Jaina. Jaina was a widow. She was also known, most respectfully, amongst the townspeople as a waliullah, or a ‘friend of God’. Every day, after Maghrib, the obligatory sunset prayers, she would humbly acquiesce to requests for her to heal her neighbours’ ailments, such as fevers and crying children, with holy incantations.

She had quite diligently raised her son alone and when he, tragically, departed from her world, he left his Mother with two small grandchildren, a boy and a girl, and his widow. In this account, Billu and Hajra’s mother is mentioned last and not as Jaina’s daughter-in-law because soon after her husband’s death, she flung the gleaming attire of widowhood from the window of carriage 4B of the Lahore Express, which reluctantly shuffled with nerves as it chugged out of Wazirabad railway junction and brazenly sped up, hurtling her toward the capital and a fellow named Abbas. She never returned.

Jaina was left alone to raise Billu and pretty Hajra.

One day, in a quiet pocket of this bustling city, a clan of four or five children, compelled to make mischief, decided to pull the string that rattled the doorknob of humble Jaina’s front door.

‘Kaun hai? Who is it?’ called out Jaina as she struggled with the door and trundled out. She saw nobody! Just around the corner of the next house, the boys stifled bits of silly laughter. They knew this could be so much more entertaining and so they did it again. They carried on with this shaytani harkat* nearly every day, sometimes more than once. Every time that Jaina came out, they scattered.

Needless to say, with each knock, our good Jaina gradually became bewildered and again, with each day, more frustrated. On one occasion, the children, rather than scampering to hide behind some wall or other, stood not far from the door, appearing quite innocent and asked if Masi Jaina was alright as she seemed troubled. Some days later, again, they stood outside and rather than ask what the matter was, one of the boys pointed and boldly proclaimed –

‘Jaina’s crazy!’

Some say that if you insist on labelling a person’s behaviour, or repeatedly call somebody a name, exalting or derogatory, that person embraces the energies in those words, good or bad, and becomes like those words. The boys continued to harass Jaina this way until she finally succumbed and lost her mind. She discarded her mild manner and, in her exasperated state, shouted and then swore. She began to chase people around, waving sticks at them. She forgot how to dress and sometimes to dress at all. Along with her sanity, those who had once approached her with requests for her advice, prayers and healing abandoned Jaina, too. Poor Jaina.

And, one day, she died.

This was a true story.


*‘Shaytani harkat’ – wicked or fiendish behaviour.