Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 46

We had been led to believe that musicians, singers were bastards; and those who listen to music were destined to have molten lead poured into their ears on the day of judgment. Unlike you guys, we couldn’t listen to music at any time or any day. The elders and the mullahs decreed that music an affront to god, and an instrument of the devil. They said the devil created music to distract the believers from prayers, and instigate corruption. Most people treated music and artists with disgust. You lot listen to music the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. Such is your life.

d7684d5334a161630c02e18373d0bac341235374cdaa0c4f298e16dfa2421e91Many years ago, at Aabay Saifulla’s wedding, the village mullahs prohibited music, encouraged chants of Salawat, segregated men and women. That whole wedding looked like a funeral. Your father’s rebellion in the face of the village meant that we were banished from the village and kept out of the wedding. Your mother, Aabay Saifullah’s own sister, wasn’t invited. I and my youngest daughter, Aabay Wahida sat by the front window, longing and looking, as the wedding procession approached our house, walked past it, and walked away towards the pass and beyond, without taking a second look at us, one of their own. I could hear them from across the pass, chanting Durood and Salawat, and then, those sounds too, dimmed and disappeared. The aftermath of the wedding procession too, felt like the aftermath of a funeral – eerie silence and dejection everywhere, as if, as if something had died in the village.

Months went by, and we put that behind us. Your father’s cousin, Mohammad Hussain of Geru, came to your father to borrow money to pay his wedding. He did. He returned later to ask for his gun, to carry it on his shoulder, as a groom on a horseback. But come the day of the wedding, neither your father, nor our family were invited to the wedding. The three families who weren’t in the commander’s party, were left out – our family, the family from Qolbili, and Doctor Saraw’s family. The rest of the village got together and celebrated.

In the year before that, me neice, Aatay Rasheed’s daughter, was being wedded off to Thayna Jaar village. The groom’s family sought the permission of the bride’s father to play some music, and beat drums in front of the main procession. He nodded. No sooner had the music begun playing that loud screams and condemnation made their way to the front. The mullahs pushed their way in and out. The screamed at the youth at the front, scolded them, and called them awful awful things. I think one of those mullahs was my nephew, Baseer, the idiot mullah now based in Iran. He snatched the cassette player and raised it to smash it unless the music was stopped.

The village elders held him back but the music died there. There was more Salawat, no music, now laughter, no joy, no songs of wedding, but prayers and salawat. I still don’t know why the people were so stupid. But as soon as the procession reached the the pass, it was a different territory. Your father ran to the front, did a loud ‘AAHOOOYE!’, began waving jacket in one hand, and danced. The children, and young boys joined him. This was rebellion. This made the mullahs so made, but it made us all so happy.

Such was the life back then.

*Salawat/Durood = Islamic chants

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Stores My Grandmother Told Me – 45

Music was forbidden, singers were frowned upon, and the act of singing was deemed equal to bringing dishonor to the family. Even the open minded families who brought singers from far away places for their weddings and child-birth celebrations, fed and placed those singers separately, and treated them as less deserving than other guests.

As a teenager, I used to sing songs all day long when I was the family shepherd, running up and down the mountains. As did my brother, the late Aatay Khadim Hussain. Sometimes we sat together by a large rock, and sang loud songs in the mountains. And then we grew up in age, but we didn’t grow out of wanting to sing together when we could.

 

IMG_2910My firstborn was still a young baby when I visited my parents. The following day, as I cared for my baby in the goolkho, my brother walked in, closed the door, and pleaded with me:

Come on aaghai, let’s sing a ghazal before I take hookah and charcoal for father’s guests.

We were in a long corridor, and it was all quiet. We sat there for those brief moments, and broke out in songs, like the old days, like we sang in the mountains.

On another day, years earlier, we were carrying meal up the Akhta valley for my father and other men from the village who were there to collect firewood for the coming winter. We delivered the meal and then set off on our descent. We stopped to rest by a few large rocks. He sang, and then I sang, and then we sang together as our voices echoed in the valley below.

We sang loud, without a care in the world. As we sang, I noticed that some men resting on the rocks on the other side of the valley. The sat next to their stack of firewood, and were staring at us, listening to our songs. I alerted my brother. We were shy and we stopped singing. We picked our bag, and continued our return trip to the village.

My late brother was the child after me. We were best friends. We understood each other. May God bless his soul.

 

*goolkho = kitchen
*aaghai = sister
*ghazal = traditional hazaragi song

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 44

There was once a degho named Kalbi Zawar in our village. He had big scratch marks on his forehead, and the hair and part of the ear on the right side of his head were missing. The children in the village were scared of him. It is said that in his younger days, he had slept near the barn one night to guard his cattle. A wolf had attacked him in his sleep, mauled him and disfigured his face forever. The villagers believed that a wolf will chase after any person it has bitten once; the scratch was the mark of the hunted. Zawar was afraid to go out alone at night for the rest of his life. He believed that the same wolf was out there looking for him.

d7684d5334a161630c02e18373d0bac341235374cdaa0c4f298e16dfa2421e91In the days of my father, people dwelled in the villages, and beyond them lived the predators. During the war, the people moved everywhere, some of the people became predators, and actual animals vanished. In those days, people always traveled in groups, and only the bravest and most clever men ventured into the high mountains to collect firewood and hunt. My father told me stories about people who had been attacked by bears and leopards around the Akhta valley, only a short distance away from the village.

People were afraid of Bears. Bears built nests in and around their caves, and built little places to sleep, keep their cubs, jump around, and run up and down the slopes. Villagers rarely ventured past the foothills. A villager named Sayed Ismail once set out to walk to the Paato mountains. He ran into a pack of bears. The bears chased him, mauled him, and slapped him to near death. The nearby villagers heard his screams and came to his rescue. He had been beaten so bad, he was unrecognizable for weeks. The villagers wrapped him in sheepskin to save his life. He survived.

Wolves and hyenas were the most fearsome of all the animals in the mountains. The hunted in packs, attacked cattle, and when they could, killed and ate villagers. One afternoon, as I and my mother sat in the cattle barn, I sensed that there was something running round and around the barn. I alerted my mother, she looked out and said that it was a wolf. We reinforced the barn door and windows to keep the wolf out that night. But wolves are persistent, and that night, that wolf or that pack tried to dig under the barn wall to get inside and eat. We saw a dig area and scratch marks on the wall the next morning.

On another night, I almost lost my daughter Habiba to a hyena. She was probably 4 or 5 years old at the time. It was winter, the earth was covered in snow, and the men were busy sipping tea, smoking hookah, and reading the Shahnama. She had to go to the toilet, so I took her outside to the bushes behind the house. I was standing by and waiting for her to finish when I heard a growling sound. I looked up and saw this massive hyena running at us through the snow. It had its eyes locked upon us. I screamed as loud as I could. I grabbed Habiba and rushed for the house door. I had barely made five steps before the creature outmaneuvered me. It stood right at the door, staring at me, growling. I was paralyzed with fear, my arms became numb, I couldn’t scream, Habiba fell out of my arms, and I fell on my knees. Your grandfather and my brothers ran out of the house with shovels and sticks in their hands. The hyena ran away and disappeared into the darkness.

Many years later, one day as I sat home in the Sun and sipped tea, I heard Sakina scream. I ran towards the barn to see what was wrong.

Look Aabay, the chicken is eating a snake!

I went closer and saw that a large snake and the chicken were facing off. I gave Sakina a stick and told her to stand at the door. I picked a stick and attacked the snake. It slithered into a heap of alfalfa. I kept striking the heap with the stick, and hit anything that moved. I kept going. I killed that snake. I found it motionless. It was big. I could not even lift it with a shovel. I measured its length, and it was ten hand-span long. Snakes make home where they find food, and because of that, if you find a snake, you kill it.

Aabay Malik from the village did voodoo healing to treat people out of illnesses, bee stings and snake bites. She and her son could catch snakes. She treated and helped many to recovery, but she couldn’t save her own son. He had chased after a snake, and jumped into a pit full of snakes. The snakes bit him and wrapped around his legs. He had had to take off his Pyjamas to get the snake off. By the time he reached the village, his appearance had change. He had been bitten many times. His father and mother did these voodoo rituals and prayers for him for 4 days. But the venom had destroyed his organs. He kept spitting blood, and 4 days after the bites, he died.

I was twice stung by hornets. Both times I had to have injections to save me. The first time I got a sting, I was sleeping in front of the old house on a warm afternoon. I felt a sting on my left side. I quickly got up, took off my skirt, and threw it away. There was a yellow hornet there. I put some medicine on it, and thinking not much of it, tried to get back to sleep. In the space of an hour and perhaps less, I felt sick, I began stuttering, and then vomiting. I felt nauseous. Your grandfather gave me an injection, and only then I felt better. Another time, I was cutting up firewood when I was stung on my hand. The same thing happened again. I became drowsy, nauseous and very sick. Your late grandfather gave me the injection, and it made me better. To this day, I am scared of hornets buzzing around.

*Shahnama = The Shahnama is a long epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between c. 977 and 1010 CE and is the national epic of Greater Iran
*degho = farmer
*watan = homeland
*Aabay = mother

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 43

A person’s home is in his heart. You are young. You feel at home here. I am old. My home will always be in the mountains where I spent my childhood. Even after a lifetime away, I think about it everyday.

SONY DSCYou were too young to understand. I was never at home in Pakistan. The war had forced us off our home and farms, far away from our mountains, and far far away from those we knew. We ended up khusk-o-khali in a new country, and with no one to turn to in our time of need. Life was difficult. We ate half-cooked rice every day. It was never enough, and we were left hungry. At night, we all crammed into the little room that belonged to Yousuf’s brother. We didn’t have pillows to sleep on, so we tucked our clothes under our heads. At least we weren’t out in the open. Yousuf’s old mother, may God bless her soul, brought food for you, the children, in secret from her daughter-in-law. She was an angel.

After that, we rented a room in the same house as Baqir’s family in Sayedabad. Like your father, Baqir was also a member of the party. We lived as a collective. We took turns to cook, and prepared meals every other night. Your father left for the war or something related to the Party. The Party paid us small stipends. It was never enough. Baqir received the payments for both the families. His family wore better, ate better, and lived better. We didn’t. Baqir was doing something mischievous.
Your baby brother fell ill. He was weak and pale. We had no money to take him to a doctor. I asked Baqir for money. He said the Party couldn’t pay us anymore. One day a Pashtun man from the Party visited us. He inquired about our well-being. He looked at you and your brother. I explained to him what was happening. He cursed Baqir, and accused him of keeping more for himself. He encouraged your mother to study. He gave us 200 or 300 rupees to see a doctor. I used some of it to take both of you to a doctor and buy medicine. I saved some, I don’t know what happened to the rest. Perhaps I used it to buy knives, spoons, plates and cups.

Baqir’s wife accused us of stealing her scissors, and later her cutlery. She took away the spoons and knives I had purchased. Her brother in law found out, and scolded her. She later found her scissors under the rug in her own room. She then returned to us the knives and spoons.

From there, we moved to Ali Dost’s house, and then we rented a room at the house of Hafiz the blind. He had three children. The two older ones were very good kids. The youngest, Talib was a thief. He stole from the neighbors, and from us. He stole your mother’s watch. We had to move to another house, and then another.

From there we moved to the house of the Thori. We spent a winter there. There we met Dunya Ali’s mother. They were an excellent family. It was a good experience. Then we moved to Hazara Town. By that time, we had learned their ways. We knew enough to find our way around the city. Life became a little better.

Your father’s obsession with his Party kept us poor and miserable, living life on meager stipends. People like him did all the work, people like Baqir kept all the money. Had it all been the will of the Party, we would have starved, and the men would have worked their lives off and died for people who cared neither for them or for us, but their own groups. I am glad that damned party shattered into pieces. It made us all better off.

We were not strong. Living in all those places, with all those different people, and dealing with them everyday made us stronger, and resilient. It opened our eyes and minds.

 

*khushk-o-khali = Dry and Empty