Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 19

Your father fled first. He went into the mountains on the outskirts of Jaghori before making his way to Pakistan. We were left behind.

After your father fled, the commander’s men picked up Aatay Ali Jan. Your father had left his gun with him to hide. Someone had informed the commander of that. He was detained and interrogated. When he returned, his face was barely recognizable. He took off his shirt and showed me the marks. His skin had turned purple, there were bruises and scars all over his back. His skin looked like leather. He had been beaten beyond recognition, to the point that he had fainted, and given them the location of the gun:

“I was blindfolded. The commander’s men took turns to beat me up. They brought in bundles of fresh tree branches and broke them all on my back. One would get tired and call over the other to continue.”

They managed to get the gun but your auntie hid the bullets on a belt around her waist. They had failed to get it.

Next they picked up Moallem-e-Jaar. Your father had given him some bullet magazines to hide. He was locked up for 15 days and beaten up:

Ammay, they blindfolded me. Then they put my hands on a pile of sticks made of tree branches. They threatened that unless I told them where the weapons were, they would break them all on my body.”

He gave them no information. The commander’s men then visited his home. They lied to his family that I had asked for the weapons. They gave it up.
Your uncle was a fragile teenager. He was my baby. I worried about him. Following all the torture, I thought there was no way he could take a beating and survive. At first, I would send him to Jaar to sleep with the children of Aatay Younis, hoping that he wouldn’t be identified there. I feared that if our house was raided at night, they would take him away and beat him up.

Eventually, I spoke to Aatay Ali Jan to get him out of Watan. Your uncle, an adolescent boy, walked across the mountains to Pato, and then to Rasna, walking for many days. I had to sent my baby to Pakistan to keep him alive.




*Ammay = Maternal auntie
*Watan = Homeland

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 18

In the old days the birth of a daughter was a curse. She was a burden on the family,and was wed away at the first available opportunity, at very young ages. The son, it was believed, supported the family and made it stronger. The daughter, it was believed, did the opposite.

I have seven daughters. When I had my youngest daughter, your father cried. He was onlya child and my only son. He wept:

“I have no brothers.”

Mullah Hissari came. He kissed him, took him for a walk, and got him some yoghurt from his home. He spoke to him and had him understand:

“I too, have only one son, Sultan. It’s okay not to have a brother. It’s okay to have all sisters.”

That conversation made him feel better. He stopped crying.



Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 17

We arrived in Quetta, Pakistan. It was a big, very big city. It had more cars, more people, more noise, and more smoke than I could have ever imagined. The city was arid, and had a pungent smell to it. Whatever little savings we had, was spent on the journey. We began life from scratch; worse, we had to borrow money and food from others. We couldn’t afford to rent our own place, and had to move in with others. At first we stayed with Yousuf in Sar-e-Khartar. His wife was stingy. On our arrival at the end of the journey, they served us Thalkh-Thoroosh. We were exhausted. That meal made us sick, especially your mother and Aabay Wahida. dsc_1282 Our days didn’t get any easier. We never had enough food. Those were tough days. They would ask your dad for money to bring one ser of rice or flour but brought very little of it. Turns out, the measurements in Pakistan were different to those in watan. We craved for food. Unbeknown to her daughter-in-law, the late Yousuf’s mother brought us food, especially for you, my grandchildren. You were young then and needed a lot of food. From there, we were taken to Sayedabad.There, it was even worse. Baqir’s wife gave us one room for 7 people.She was very stingy. She didn’t like us. This one time, she lost a pair of scissors. She accused us of stealing it. Frustrated, I sat down with her mother-in-law:

“Why would we do that? We will sit outside and you can go in and search our room.”

Days later the scissors were found under the rug in her own room. Another time she accused us of stealing her cutlery. Moallem had got us a few spoons and knives. I told her to search the room, look at the ones we had and figure out if we had hers. She found nothing. She harassed us. It was hard. These people were members of the Saazman. Everything was communal and shared. It was very hard. Those with status got everything. Those at the bottom suffered. From there we went to live in the house of the Punjabis in Nechari, in the upper floor. The owners lived downstairs. They kept sending their kids upstairs telling us to stop you and Abdul from walking around:

“Baba is asleep downstairs.”

We were new. Work was scarce. Finding a place to live was very difficult. People saw us for our appearance, for what we wore, for the things we had. We left behind a herd of cattle, plenty of food, farm, bags of rice and wheat at home. We had come to a place where we had nothing. We had left behind a house full of food at home and had come to a place where there was none. We had no pillows and had to sleep on the floor. Often all we had for a meal was tea, sugar, and bread. *Thalkh-Thorosh = Thalkh – Bitter; Thorosh – Sour; Hazaragi dish. *Saazman = Political party/organisation *Ser = Unit of measurement equal to 7 kilos *Watan = Farsi/Arabic for homeland

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 16

10410815_345163149021874_1430725723564559355_nYour late baabaie once took me for a pilgrimage to the Dahmarda shrine. The shrine is a reminder of the Kuchi-Hazara wars. He and Aatay AbdurRahim pointed at different hilltops as they recounted the battle for Dahmarda.

The Kuchis had better guns and were more numerous. They had pushed us back into a narrow gorge. We were lost and desperate, so much so that the women of Dahmarda tied their trousers on sticks and raised them on their roofs. This was either to shame the Kuchis or to confuse them, or perhaps to remind their men that their honor was at stake.

The Kuchis had almost overpowered us when a horse-rider emerged from the spot where the shrine is. The rider wore black and rode a white horse. The rider rode straight into the Kuchi lines and broke through it. In the ensuing chaos, their lines faltered, and we gained our confidence. We were sure that the higher powers were with us; may be the Kuchis believed that too. They ran away.

It was the first time that the Kuchis had been beaten back. Before that, they had been taking over Hazara land all around Dahmarda. If not for that battle, they would have taken over Dahmarda as well. The Hazaras of Rasna, Nawa, Jhanda and other places were dispossessed. They either fled into the mountains or to Pakistan and Iran.

On the way back, passing through Rasna, we ran into an Awgho on a horse. He told us off,

Off the path, Hazara!

We all had to move off the road to let him pass. He was proud and arrogant. He rode on without even taking a second look at us.

Under the Taliban, the new Kuchis returned. They brought their cattle to graze on our farms. The villagers had asked them leave. In their arrogance, they had laughed:

Relax, Hazara kafir. We will return next year, and become next-door neighbors.

The next year, they didn’t dare return. The Americans saved our people. Bless the Americans.

*Kafir= Arabic term for infidel, unbeliever; Derogatory term used for a non-believer
*Baabaie = Hazaragi for grandfather
*Awgho = Slang term for Afghan; a term Hazaras use to refer to Pashtuns

Disclaimer: While these anecdotes may be based on actual events, they’re by no means meant to invoke prejudice, hate or love, support for one community or another. Read with context and time in mind.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 15

For a woman to survive life in the mountains, she had to be like a resilient man on the inside. The men beat up their wives over petty things, over nothing, often just to establish their authority, but usually to take out their frustration over other problems. There was nothing the wives could do about it. The villagers and the relatives always sided with the husband. It was a man’s world.

This one time, I was cleaning the cowshed, and I was annoyed that my daughters weren’t giving me a hand. I got cranky and scolded them. Your grandfather heard it. He yelled at me and called me over. I was terrified, and did not go. He broke a few branches off the nearest tree, rushed over to the cowshed, and began flogging me. He kept hitting me until all the sticks had broken into little pieces. I screamed, I cried but in vain. Once he was done, he left me alone.

Later in the day, my brother came over and saw my bloodshot eyes. He inquired if I had been beaten up. I was upset and said nothing. I was scared that if I told him anything, it would result in a fight between the two, and then between the two families, and the loss of my family. He understood and left. I followed him, and later found both of them sitting under a tree and talking. I was glad they were talking. I was upset no more and walked back home happy.

On another occasion, I was preparing a meal when your grandfather stormed in. He yelled at me and told me to stop cooking. I was startled, and didn’t know what was going on. I resumed cooking, but he stopped me. He screamed at me that he had been knocking the door for so long and I hadn’t opened it. He was furious. He took me by my arm, dragged me out, and asked me to leave, and return to my parents. I hesitated but he forced me out. I had to return to my parents. No one came for me. A day later I had to return to my children.

We quickly forgot it each time, and moved on. Your late grandfather was an angry man. He beat me up for minor things. So did all the other men. Often, we did not even know what our fault was.

Moral of the Story: Be good to your wives/partners/each other. If you aren’t, chances are your children will write anecdotes about it.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 14

Hadi jan, many years before you were born, we were ruled over by a despot. I don’t remember his name, but I remember that he was ruthless. People said he was a communist supported by Shorawi (Soviet Union). He had overthrown the king, and forced him to run away. Everyone prominent, and anyone who had ever sided with the king was taken away, and then shot dead or buried alive.

 122Aatay Zia-e Sirqol, Akhund Karblaye of Kosha, two sons of Usta Rajab, two sons of Raees Abdullah Khan, Sima Samar’s husband, and countless others were taken away. They never returned. Their bodies were never found.

Aabay Mansoor lost her husband:

He was asleep. They came for him at midnight. He walked out wearing a perahan. It was cold. He asked to be allowed to change and kiss his children goodbye. He wasn’t allowed to. They took him away. He never returned.

They took away Qareedar Babai. They were in a convoy driving to Ghazni when it was ambushed. The soldiers fled. Qareedar and others were freed.

The people rose up against the governor and the King. From the mountains they attacked the governor in Tameer. They attacked all night. The government soldiers were besieged inside their fort in Tameer. The sounds of bullets and bombs, and the flashes of light kept us awake all night.

The next day, I met Aatay-GhulamLi. He was jubilant:

Congratulations! The Mujahideen broke through their defenses.The soldiers fled into the farms. They were chased and killed.

The government sent their jets to avenge the governor. The dropped big bombs, mostly into the mountains and hills. They avoided the villages. We had two visitors from Haydar. I was serving them lunch under the mulberry tree when the jets attacked Tameer. We saw the bombs drop, and smoke shoot up the sky. The explosion was so huge that I dashed for home thinking everything was falling apart. I lost my headscarf, but in fear I did not dare turn back to get it.

There was a huge fire, which lasted for days. I thought everyone was dead and turned into ash. Later we found out that the planes had hit the fuel depot and all the fire was from the burning timber.

*Shorawi = Farsi term for the Soviet Union

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 13

The Kuchis came to the hills every year. They spent the entire summer in the area. They ate from our orchards, claimed their right on the crops, ate our food and at times, stayed at our homes. Their cattle and camels grazed all over our land, while they grazed all over our homes and livelihood.

One hot summer day, the girls were getting mulberries from the tree when they dropped a full container.

“Ay khag da sar e Awgho!” (Damn the awgho!), I exclaimed.

Bakhtawar Awgho, who I did not know was up the next mulberry tree, heard me.

He yelled:

Khag bar sar e Hazara! Khagbar sar e Hazara! Khag bar sar e Hazara!” (Damn the Hazara!)

I was taken aback. I panicked and dropped all the mulberries. I huddled my girls together, and rushed back home.

Bakhtawar Awgho, Sher Jan and Sahib Jan came from Rasna. They were not nice people. They did all they wanted in the summer. They barged into our homes when they wanted. They demanded food, took our belongings, and beat up anyone who resisted. They had the support of the government. We despised them, but were too afraid and too weak to ever say anything.

In the Autumn the Kuchis returned home, only to return the following summer. Then came the war, and mehrbani khuda, they stopped coming. May be that was the one good thing about the war.

*Kuchi = Afghan Pashtun nomads
*Awgho = A variant of the word Afghan; a term Hazaras use to refer to Pashtuns
*Mehrbani Khuda = By the grace of God.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 12

There is a special joy in simplicity. You don’t need many reasons to be happy, just a few good ones.

We lived simple lives, and simple things made us happy.

At weddings men walked great distances to find a Ghazal-Goy who could sing songs for the occasion.

On sunny winter days, grown men spent their time playing shighai and gowli on the roofs and big rock-slabs. The young pelted passersby with snowballs. We ate carrots, turnips, while lamb jerky was a delicacy reserved for special occasions.

The old were good storytellers; the young were keen listeners. Old white-bearded men gathered in small circles to sing ghazal. At night, we all got together, drank tea, told stories; the women spun their yarn, and told of tales from places beyond the mountains.

The birth of a son was a special occasion. Everyone had to sing – the young, the old, the able, and the talentless. Men covered themselves with chador and did aakhoo and charkhag. At one shawshini, GhulamLi dressed as a peerag. He knocked, and when I opened the door, he pushed his way through the door. I screamed, ran terrified and jumped into my father’s lap. They all laughed.

These days, people don’t talk straight. They talk in riddles. Life is not simple anymore.

*Ghazal = Traditional Hazaragi songs that combine Persian poetry with a variant of throat singing
*Ghazal-goy = Ghazal singer
*Shighai, Gowli = Traditional Hazaragi games played with animal bones
*Aakhoo, Charkhag = Traditional Hazaragi dances
*Shawshini = Tradition wherein the family stays awake the whole night singing, playing games, and eating sweets to celebrate the birth of a son
*Peerag = Old man; Young men disguise as old men as part of a Shawshini fun/game usually to scare the kids

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 11

At noon we reached Lashkirai, a small dusty town controlled by the Hezb-e-Islami group. We were afraid. We were also carsick; so carsick that we almost forgot we were afraid. We had tea. I got better, and afraid again. We journeyed on. We spent the night in Moqor waiting for a caravan of large trucks to travel along to escape the bandits, the Kuchis and the Mujahideen.

The following evening, we stopped by an isolated mud-house hotel by the road. The late Qambar Ali asked if we wanted to eat. We didn’t want to eat, and for that sin the hotel owner didn’t let us in. We had to spend the night sleeping over one another inside the crammed car. Qambar Ali and Qadeer stood outside and guarded the car all night. At day break, we hit the open plains and the car jumped up and down and swayed from side to side as it crept towards the unknown.

That evening, just as the darkness fell upon us, the sound of bullets cracked from all directions, our vehicle was being shot at. We screamed and hugged one another. We were told to keep our heads low. The car sped up. It raced through the open plains as fast as it could. The crackling died down and we survived. Qambar Ali pointed at a far away light: “Those are Kuchis. They wanted us to stop. They would have shot us either way”. We journeyed on.

At noon the next day, along a narrow pass, the car was stopped by an armed Pashtun man who stood straight in the middle of the road, guns blazing. He demanded that we let him travel in the car or he would kill us all. The man from Sabz Chob jumped out of the vehicle, raised his rifle and challenged him. They yelled at each other a few times before the Pashtun man let us go. As the car left, the guns remained blazed and ready to shoot. We were scared. Nothing happened.

At dawn the next day, we arrived at a little green wadi rich with vegetation and rain water. It was close to the border. We stopped, all got out of the car, and laughed at one another. We were covered head to toe in white soft dust and looked like ghosts. We had evaded death, we were homeless but we were happy that we had survived.


“If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden.”
Haruki Murakami

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 10

That early morning, in complete darkness and with heavy hearts, we crossed the Jaar pass, leaving behind everything we had. There were no goodbyes, no kisses, just tears.

The day before, we had made Qorti for lunch when Moallem appeared on our doorstep. I thought that in your father’s absence, he was there to help us prepare for the harvest, but the expression on his face said otherwise. I still remember his words:

“Mamoor has sent over Qambar Ali and another person from Sabz-Chob to take you all to Pakistan. You have been told to pack some food, clothes and nothing else. Don’t tell anyone, not even your daughters. If the commander finds out, he will stop you”.

He said we would leave through Lomo. He returned later that night to tell us that the roads through Lomo were too dangerous because the commander’s men had been seen in the market there. We were to leave through Sang-e-Shanda instead. My heart was not in the right place but I nodded in agreement.

I got up early that morning to pray before departure. I walked down to the spring for ablution but when I returned, I saw Moallem waving at me from behind the house. We had no time. Moallem picked your sleeping brother out of his cradle. I picked you up, and we all left. Thus began our journey into the unknown. There were no goodbyes, no kisses, just tears. Hadi jan, that’s how we left the only home we had ever known.