Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 51

There we were, banished, in a small village that was divided in to three parts by religion and party loyalty. Our family and the three other banished families from the village formed our own little group, our own little village. The commander’s faithful used the main mosque for the commemoration. We, the unfaithful, formed our own at one of the houses. The families in Choona didn’t sway either way and formed their own group.

Moharram is a month for charity and nazr. Back in those days the families in the village took turns to make vows, prepare feasts, and organize the rituals for mourning and story-telling. In Moharram that one year we anticipated the families to prepare with the same arrangements as before.

Those of us in the Thayna-Aaghil usually got together for it all. Your father said he was going away to speak to your maternal grandfather, his father-in-law, about the arrangements for the month. He went away for long, and returned appearing quite upset.

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I knew something was not right. I let him be at first, and then went to him to ask if the arrangements had been agreed upon. He tried to get away:

The arrangement was the same as before. Nothing had changed.

I got angry:

What does that mean? The same as old!?

He opened up:

I went to speak to Mirza Lalay. He looked at me but said nothing at all. He got up, picked up his shovel and walked away to the farms in Lingaah without even saying a word.

“What! Why?”

I then walked to Choonah and speak to Mohammad Ali there. He told me that my father-in-law Mirza Lalaee and my uncle Aatay Rasheed had paid him a visit the previous night and informed him of the decision by the villagers to banish us.

I was sad and startled:

Are you sure!? I have been grooming a sheep to sacrifice for the nazr this year.

I knew that those in Choona would be the first to prepare a feast. The next day, I waited for an invite.

The morning passed, afternoon came-by and the evening went but no one came to us, there was no invite.

In the afternoon I met Zia Gul and young Shamsia. She was at the spring to fetch water. She was a child, innocent. She could keep no secrets:

Grandma, we are going to Choona tonight for the feast. We have been invited. You haven’t. We are going to feast. You aren’t.

She laughed.

Her mother picked her up. She cried. I scolded her, and told her to do exactly as she was told by her family.

That night they went to feast. The village went there. We stayed home, had our meal at home, and we didn’t speak much.

Our family and the three other banished families from the village formed our own little group, our own little village. The commander’s faithful used the main mosque for the commemoration. We, the unfaithful, formed our own at one of the houses. The families in Choona didn’t sway either way but formed their own group. There we were, banished, in a small village, divided in to three groups by religion and party loyalty.



Moharram = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mourning_of_Muharram
*Nazr = Religious vows
*Thayna = Lower
*Aaghil = Village

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 50

In the year when the black disease came to the village, eight babies were taken to the cemetery at paass-e-gardo. Before them there was only one grave at the new cemetery. The old Ghulam Ali Kakai had fallen ill and passed away. The old cemetery was full and too close to the path of the spring floods. For Kakai, the villagers picked paass-e-gardo as the site for the new cemetery – the land there was barren, abandoned and beyond the view from any point in the village. Kakai was taken there one late afternoon, and there he rests today. He left behind a daughter, Gul Chaman, and nobody else.

DSC02123The next year, the specter of the black disease, whooping cough visited the village. Within a few terrifying months, it killed most of the babies in our small village, 8 of them. Two died on the same day. The babies coughed for months, and eventually coughed their lives out.

The villagers called it a curse. They cursed the late Ghulam Ali Kakai:

That cursed bastard died and dragged all these kids behind him.

In the later years, cough, rash and disease killed even more children. The rash appeared small and ordinary, then it quickly spread all over their bodies and disfigured their faces and bodies. It killed them. The dead would be so disfigured; their families couldn’t even given them a final bath before burial. Leprosy was a merciless killer.

When I last visited paass-e-gardo, it appeared as if the whole village was there – my brothers, your maternal grandfather, my friends, and relatives. It appears to be full.



*Paass = Beyond
*Gardo = Pass; Paas-e-Gardo = Beyond the Pass

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 49

In the year after your grandfather disappeared, it was our turn in the village to guard the mountain for firewood. In the spring and summer the village families took turns to guard the nearby mountains against fire-wood raiders from other villages, and outsiders trying to steal our yearly supply of firewood.

It was our turn, we had no man in the family, women could not undertake the guard duty, and your father, my eldest son, was 13. In one year, he had had to go from being a child to bearing the responsibilities of a grown-man. He had to look after a large family, our farms and become our breadwinner and guardian.

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In the Spring that year Kareem Bakul from the village came to me:

Bekay, keep Hassan from heading into the mountains. He is young. He is inexperienced. He suffers from episodes of serious headaches. Should anything happen to him in the mountains, what are you going to do?

I thanked him for his empathy:

Thank you for your concern Kakay-shi. I will speak to him when he returns.

I promised to him to stop your father from becoming the ‘meer-e-koh‘ for the year.

He returned from Sang-e-Masha that night:

Aabay, pack me some bread, and food for tomorrow. I will head out into the mountains early tomorrow morning.”

I sat him down next to me, and calmly told him what I had in mind.

He stood up:

Is this what he said!?

I stared back at his angry face:

Yes.

He repeated the question three times.

Is this what he said!?

Is this what he said!?

Is this what he said!?

I replied:

Yes.

He continued:

If tomorrow and the next day and the day after, this family has no firewood, nothing to eat, and nothing to wear, will Kareem Bakul help you out? Will he bring you any firewood!? Will he work on the farms!?

I had little to say:

No, he won’t. He won’t help us. God will.

He would have none of that.

Then, Khalaas! Regardless of whether you pack me food, I am heading into the mountains tomorrow morning.

And that’s what happened. The 13-year-old boy rose up early the next morning, headed into the mountains, and became the meer-e-koh for the year. He guarded the mountains for the entire village.

At the end of the season, he brought back a barn full of firewood. He came to me and sought guidance for what could be used as fuel, and collected as firewood and what could not. I instructed him and showed him what to do. He followed.

He was a determined kid. He left early every day, and returned in the late evening. I would stand outside and look for his figure in the mountain slopes. It made me jubilant every time I spotted him, and the over-sized stack of firewood on his back, climbing down the mountain, one step at a time. For the few years that followed, we had plenty of firewood and food. Life was okay.

 

 

*Bekay = Brother’s Wife
*Kakay = Uncle
*Shi = Of Someone/Something; Kakayshi = His uncle
*Meer-e-Koh = Leader of the Mountains
*Khalaas = The end.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 48

We had heard there was a new king on the throne in Kabul. He was called Taraki. He was cruel. People suffered while he sat on the throne. Every day and every night we heard rumors and horror stories. People were afraid to recite the Quran and offer their prayers at their own homes. They feared it might offend Taraki, and he might send over his poloos to punish the people. We heard that people had been taken away for owning copies of the Quran. We had a Quran at home. I was afraid. I had to hide it. I dug a hole in the kitchen floor. I kissed the Quran, wrapped it in multiple layers of bags, and buried it in that hole. I was confident the poloos will not find it if they came and searched our home. Weeks passed. One morning as I sat on the floor sipping tea, I sensed that there was something crawling under the floor. I paid attention. There was something crawling from underneath the kitchen floor. I was alarmed. I began digging into the floor. I pulled out the Quran. Rats had tunneled their way through, gnawed through the multiple layers of bags, and had begun gnawing the Quran. SONY DSCIn those days, the village mullah was Shaikh Raeesi from Anguri. We thought if the poloos took one person away, that would be him. He was terrified. He spent his days amongst the rocks in the mountains above the village. He descended upon us every now and then, filled his swag with food, and returned to the mountains. On another day, your auntie Zia Gul was reciting the Quran at home. She read as if she was whispering. At that very moment, there was a knock on the door. My body paralyzed from fear. She looked at me as if she was about to die. I was almost certain that the agents of the King had found us, they had heard Zia Gul read the Quran. They must have been eavesdropping, and they wanted to take her away. As these thoughts went through my head, there was another knock on the door. I trembled, got up and walked to the door. I feared that it was the end. I unchained the lock, peeked out, and there he stood, with no sign of worry on his face, the always oblivious, Ewaz Kakai. He wanted food and tea. To see him there made me happy and angry at the same time. Kakai did not understand. When one is afraid, one loses the control of their decisions. Fear controls everything. *Poloos = Colloquial for Police

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 47

Where did you go Kakai?

He smiled and looked away.

I visited Koh-e-Qaaf. It was beautiful. I met fairies there, and now I have returned because I am hungry.

Young Shirin Jan’s and Ewaz’s father had died, their mother was well and alive. People still called them orphans. Mullah Khagbad adopted his niece and nephew, and married the widow mother, but not long after, the mother too, died. With the mother and father gone, there was no one in the world to care for them anymore. They had no family. Their relatives abandoned them. They had been good young children, but after that, they became orphans, they were discarded, and forsaken.

 310To survive, the brother and sister began doing manual labour for the families in the village. They herded cattle, collected firewood, worked on people’s farms, and performed household chores in exchange for food and handouts.

They grew up. Ewaz lost his mind, bechara Shirin Jan was not any better. She looked miserable. Her head was full of lice. People treated them with despise, called them names and offered them neither work, nor food and shelter.  They survived off the little food and fruits they grew on their late parents’ farm.

Even there, the village kids harassed them. They would go to Shirin Jan:

Come play with us. We will clean up your hair.

That innocent girl would believed those kids. They would make her lie face-down and then they would pretended to clean the lice off her head. She would think of it as a game. Meanwhile, the other kids would go through every corner of their family orchard, their home and steal all they could carry. This happened all the time. She would believe those village kids and play with them. In turn, the kids would steal, go away, return and steal again. Shirin Jan didn’t change. The kids didn’t either.

Ewaz turned into a recluse. They called him Ewaz Kakai – the uncle, Ewaz Dewna- the mad. He spend his nights in people’s barns, amongst cattle, on the trees, and in the hills. He barely ever went home, and barely spoke to anyone. He had no place to call home. Occasionally he would come to us to ask for food. He would tell us stories, of genies, demons, fairies of koh-e-qaaf, of things he said he saw at night. He would go missing for days and weeks, and then suddenly reappear one day, and ask for food.

Where did you go Kakai?

He would smile and look away.

I visited Koh-e-Qaaf. It was beautiful. I met fairies there, and now I have returned because I am hungry.

Ewaz grew old, and died alone, in someone’s barn, without a family or a loved one by his side. Shirin Jan was married off to Aaw-borda village. I think she too, died a few years ago.

*Bechara = Poor
*Koh-e-Qaaf = The Caucasus Mountains – Legend has it that fairies live there