A lonely greying man who lives by selling cardboard scrap, has performed Haj, plans a second Mecca pilgrimage and is already a respected inspiration, reports Jibran Nazir

At the crack of dawn, shortly after offering wee hour Fajar prayers, Ghulam Mohiuddin, 67, comes out of Masjid and sets out for his routine: to collect the cardboard boxes. Shopkeepers in Baramulla have evolved the habit of keeping the used packaging material, mostly the cardboard, piled up on their shopfronts for him to collect.

By the time market buzzes up with activity, Ghulam Mohiuddinn, who famously goes by Mam Kak, collects all the cardboard boxes.  Shop fronts are clean and clear and the cardboard piles move to his store, deep inside the locality. He is not doing it as part of his municipal initiative. Mohiuddin sells it to make his living.

Famous and respected, Mohiuddin, over the years, has emerged as an inspiration for many. Despite being duped once, he performed Hajj out of the modest earnings he makes with no other source of income.

For most of the day, Mam Kak is seen pushing a handcart. He transports goods and delivers them to the shopkeepers in the main market: from the transport company office to wholesalers, from them to retailers and from shops to the bus adda. “No shopkeeper would hire anyone else for this work,” says Ubair Rafeeq, who owns a bookshop at Main Chowk. “He is one of the most senior beings in the market, hardworking and honest.”

Mam Kak has been living alone in a very modest two-room house in Jamia Mohalla after his wife passed away in 1999. He has no children. People who know him say he has a brother who is living with his family in a different locality.

“As long as I live, I will have to work,” Kak said while pushing his handcart after a car started honking from behind. “There are no options.”

Once free from the market, he parks his cart, cooks his meals and reaches the mosque, not far away from his home. For so many years now, he has been taking care of Jamia Masjid in Old Town Baramulla. He does it without any wages. It is a voluntary service. “I do it for my grave, for the life hereafter,” Kak said. “Why would I take money for doing God’s work when he is going to pay for it hereafter?” Mohiuddin is content with he does and earn. “I earn Rs 200 to 300 a day and that is more than enough for me,” he said.  “How much does it cost me to live, alone.”

But it doesn’t seem that he has always felt like that.

Only after repeated visits to him, both at home and market and after a lot of pleas, did he open up about, what he calls, the biggest tragedy of his life.

Mam Kak’s wife passed away after a brief illness that he had overlooked. “She wanted me to take her to a doctor, but I was too late before I did so,” he rues.

One day after coming back from work, Kak remembers, how his wife had been coughing painfully. “Only if I knew then, I would have done everything within my capabilities to save her,” he says.

“I thought it was a common cold and told her to take a cup of Kehwa, but,” he recalls, “she said that she wanted to go to hospital and I asked her to wait for a night.”

The next morning, he usually woke up very early and left for work. “When I came back for lunch, she was still lying in the bed. I tried to wake her up but she wouldn’t. She never woke up after that,” his voice chokes.

The negligence that he exhibited in not taking her wife’s health seriously has given him pain for the whole of his life. But it didn’t de-motivate him. Without her, now alone, he kept going with zeal and worked even harder.

“My wife had wanted to go for Hajj and I couldn’t fulfil her wish that time,” he said.“Then, I thought I should go there and pray for her. I started collecting money.”

Being illiterate, he had asked someone to help him prepare his travel documents including applications for a passport and visa. “But, unfortunately, he duped me of the money I had given to him,” he insisted without naming the person. Mam Kak’s entire saving was gone. But still, he didn’t give up.

“I was hurt after he cheated on me. But then I thought it is all up to Allah,” Kak said with conviction. “Whether or not He wanted me to go on the pilgrimage, but I was determined and kept working hard and started to collect the money again.”It took him five more years of waking up early in the morning, working harder, to collect the money again. And finally, in 2012 did he have a chance to become a pilgrim to Mecca, the holiest place in Islam, that houses the Kabba. “I wept there, I didn’t want to come back,” he said. “I wanted to die there.”Frail and visibly weak, Mam Kak has no plans to retire. Yet again, he has started collecting money for the next Hajj. “If I would be able to go to Madina again, I would like to die there.”


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