The Dawn: Jan 22, 2016

Punjab Notes: Governor Mulraj and Chaudhry Bahaab’s buffalo — (Part I)

Mushtaq Soofi 

Mian Kamal Din, the great storyteller, has a story to tell about Mulraj, the governor of Multan and Jhang in 19th century during Sikh rule in Punjab.

Mohla Bhatti, son of Qadar Baksh, was a gentleman from the Kot Mohla (a town in Jhang district). Ra Mohla owed revenue to the government. It was a time when people starved. He couldn’t collect revenue. Sikh soldiers would come and pester him. Mulraj was the governor of Jhang at that time. His family had got a contract from Ranjit Singh to collect revenue for the government from the areas of Jhang, Bhakhar, Mankera, including Multan. Sikh soldiers would come and Mohla would pay them a buck or two persuading them to give him more time. At last a revenue official sent a Sikh employee to recover the full amount of the revenue. The Sikh landed at Mohla’s outhouse and shouted abuses at Mohla in his absence.

A woman was passing by to fetch water from the well. She said: “Listen sir, this Mohla is known to be a hot-headed man. He is around. You please take care not to swear at him when you face him”. “I will surely swear at him that when he comes”, replied the Sikh. “If you swear at him when he is right here, I shall put in your mouth a fistful of sugar”, said the woman.

She went her way to fill her pitcher with water. Ra Mohla was informed that a Sikh state emloyee had landed at his outhouse. He ordered Gahna and Boota Machhi, his servants, to take his cot and water pot to the outhouse. As he entered his outhouse, the Sikh asked; “Are you Mohla?” “Yes I am,” replied Mohla. The Sikh swore at him and asked as to why he didn’t pay the revenue? Mohla shouted at his servants; “Don’t take this lying down. Strike this son of....”. The swords swished in the air and the servants struck the Sikh down. The woman was coming back with her pitcher full of water. “Wait for a moment. Don’t cut his head”, she asked the servants. And then she shoved a fistful of dust into his mouth. “Why have you done this?” asked Mohla.

“I had asked him not to swear at Mohla when he was around. If he did, I would offer him a fistful of sugar for his palate. But I have no sugar at the moment. Hence the dust,” replied the woman.

The Sikh was killed. The Sikh contingent swung into action to capture Mohla. Kot Mohla was abandoned and Mohla fled along with other people. Troops would come but what they found all around was nothing but desolation.

Mulraj was a great buffalo lover. The buffaloes which these days are with the Saee family of Haral caste were actually a part of Mulraj’s livestock. They do not part even today with any of the calves from that herd. When the British imprisoned Mulraj, no one shepherded his herd. So it drifted around. Saee saw it and ordered his brother to take hold of the buffaloes.

“These are Mulraj’s buffaloes. Taking them means wading through blood”, replied the brother. “Our 17 generations have fought and died in pursuit of our goal of having buffaloes. No big deal if we two die the same way,” replied Saee. Later, no one claimed the ownership of the herd. The bards in their verses claim that these animals have descended from the heaven. But despite all this so-called heavenly stuff, fact of the matter is what I have narrated.

Mulraj, being a great buffalo lover, whenever heard of a good buffalo, managed to buy it whatever the cost. It was reported to him that Chaudhry Bahaab Lalera had a reddish brown buffalo. The way the beauty of the animal was described cast a spell on Mulraj. He would send his men to Bahaab with the message: “I want this buffalo. In return I offer you horses, buffaloes, land or money. Choose whatever you like.”

Bahaab would send buffalo’s lookalike and Mulraj would return the same with the comment that it was not the animal he was sold on. He was absolutely familiar with the features of the animal though he had not seen it. Finally, Bahaab refused to sell his animal. Ra Mohla got wind of this. He thought that his father was Bahaab’s friend and if he agreed to hand him his buffaloes, he might be able to get some relief from Mulraj by offering him the animal for the offences he committed by not paying the revenue and killing a state employee. This man on the run mounted his horse and at bedtime came to the town of Laleras. On inquiring he was informed that Chaudhry Bahaab was on the other side of the river with his herd. Ra Mohla rode in that direction. It was full moon night. Standing on this side of the river, he shouted out thinking that if Chaudhry Bahaab was there, he would swim across.

In response to his call, Chaudhry Bahaab shouted: “Damn you. Don’t move ahead”. He felt as if the rug had been pulled from under him. He realised that it was nothing unusual that friends turned their face away when one was in trouble.

“He knows my situation, that’s why he has asked me not to move ahead,” thought Mohla. He stood there dejected for a while and then heard as if someone had entered the river with a splash. “The guy may need a ride and his chat may cheer me up”, he thought and waited for him to come out. To his surprise what he saw was none other than Chaudhry Bahaab with a pot full of milk and bread. “Are you Mohla?” “Yes”. “Have your meal”. “Do you know what brings me here?” “No”, replied Bahaab. “Who told you I hadn’t anything to eat?” “You have been a damn fool from the day one. You must have done something terrible. Otherwise there would be no need for you to wake me up at midnight. I have guests. In order to have privacy I asked you to stay this side of the river. You must have done something extremely stupid. I don’t want people gossiping about you. My boy was about to serve me my meal when I heard your call. I thought, no one cares to offer food to the man in deep trouble who asks for favour, gets no response and walks away…”. —

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