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.


Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 9

Everything changed when the war started. Everyone abandoned us. The village sided with the commander and his party, against your father, against us. They raided our house. It was the betrayal by those we trusted that hurt us the most. Two of my own brothers sided with the commander.

Your father’s close friend was the one who tricked me into opening the house door on the night of the raid. There was a knock. I asked who it was at the door. He answered. I trusted him and opened the door. Armed men, the commander’s men found their way in.



They declared your father an apostate. The villagers ostracized our family. We didn’t belong anymore. We didn’t communicate, didn’t socialize. They even forced the village shepherd to make choice between herding our flock or that of the rest of the village. He made his choice. We were unwanted.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 8


“Sister, it was unlike anything I have seen before. It was round, and looked like a hand-washing basin. Men and women spoke out of it.”

“Women spoke out of it!? Could you see them?”

“No, you could hear them, but they weren’t there. It was magic.”

Mullah Rabzan’s wife had just returned from Sang-e-Masha where she had been attending a wedding. She had seen the men play something on a “radio” (gramophone). For weeks after that, this magic was the talk of the village.


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Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 7


When people speak of the good old days, they speak of delusions. If you were rich, the old days were good. If you were poor and helpless like we were, the old days were the days of despair. Food was scarce, and a lot of work and hard labor yielded little fruit.


Your baabaye and I farmed the land in the gorge along the river. We had no tools and supplies, and had to lease them from Aatay Chaman in exchange for the promise of a share of the yield. We worked hard and long in harsh conditions. Upon harvest, Aatay Chaman came over to reap his reward. He claimed one pile for leasing to us his bulls, another one for providing us with the seeds, another one for the tools we had used, and the last one for something else, right in front of our bewildered eyes. He claimed every last bit of grain we had harvested, and left us with nothing. We had nothing to go on. He could not care less. He went into the village to hire laborers to help him carry the grain to his home.

His wife was different. She was kind. She called me over. She picked up many hands full of grain and poured them into my scarf. She said, “take this, run, and hide it somewhere. Don’t tell anyone I gave you this. This will let you feed your children.” And that was all we got for months of laboring.

Those, my child, were the “good old days”.

*Baabaye = Hazaragi for grandfather; old man.
*Aata = Hazaragi for father, i.e. Aatay Chaman: Chaman’s father

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 6

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. People led simple lives. We were all farmers. People were good to one another.

My first born was a son. Jaan Mohammad and other villagers came to our place for shaw-shini. They stayed up all night long, sang ghazal, ate, and laughed. Early the next day, they ate dried fruit and naan-boota, and then returned to their own homes to sleep. 12 days later, my first born died.


*Shaw-Shini = A tradition wherein relatives celebrate the birth of a son with a night of songs, games and festivities.
*Ghazal = Traditional Hazara songs that combine Persian poetry with central Asian throat singing
*Naan-boota = Traditional Hazara dish made with butter, yoghurt, and ground dried bread