Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 70

The whole village, old and young, called him Babai – the grandfather; Karblayi Babai – the grandfather who had been to Karbala. He was old. He would sit under the mulberry tree all day in the spring and summer, and he would spend most of the days reading the Koran. He had evenly spread some soft sand from the spring under the tree, and transformed the place into his own little part of the village. The whole village and everyone who passed through the village knew his little spot under the mulberry tree.

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He was a man of God. A long long time ago, in his younger days, long before I was old enough to remember anything, he had walked to Karbala. He had joined other men and walked into the hills all the way to Karbala and back. This was before there were cars and vehicles, before people knew there were other countries. He not only went to Karbala but unlike many others, he returned home alive. He must have walked days and nights and weeks and months.

Those were different days but the roads were as dangerous as they are today. Beyond the Hazara lands there were people who made their shoes from the skin of the Hazara pilgrims and wore it as trophy. They waited in the hills, ambushed travelers, robbed them of their belongings, and made shoes from pieces of skin of us infidels. Babai had made it out of those hills and returned back.

I was a teenager, and would go to the spring next to the mulberry tree to fetch water. I would carriy a pot on my shoulders, and go the spring with my face covered so that I could do the pardah from Babai.  He ignored it when I did that the first few times, but one day he asked me to stop; then scolded me:

Until a few days ago I would see you run around with the other children, and you would sing and walk here and there behind your flock of sheep. Today I see you covering your face like a grown woman. Don’t you act like a grown up. You are like my child. Also, you will tumble and break the pot and your father will beat you up.

I stopped doing that.

Karblayi Babai lived to be many years over 100 years old. No one knew how old he was but he was everyone’s babai. May he rest in peace.

——
*Pardah = Veil
*Babai = Grandfather/Old man
*Karblayi = A person who has been to Karbala for pilgrimage

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 66

We used different names for different seasons.

The first month of a winter is Siyabar. It is very cold. Before that came Baamo, the last month of autumn. Baamo was cold, but not nearly as cold as Siyabar. After Siyabar came Najir. In this month, the air was less cold, but with less cold came dangerous avalanches. The village was at the foot of the Jaaba mountain. The collapsing snow brought down huge slabs of rock down with it, and made a terrifying “GorrrrrR” sound. The valley was steep enough to contain it but anything and everything that came in its way was wiped out.

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After Najir it was Ooral with flowing springs, blooming flowers and the change in the air  the month of Nowroz. Then it was the month of Ed, the first proper month of spring. Then Barredd, and it became warmer. Then it was Aakhir Maahe Baar. Then Awal Maahe Thaayesto – the mulberry season, and when the birds flocked to pick the trees clean. It made us all very busy. We had to wait for the right time to pick the trees before the birds. Then it was Ghol-e-Thaayesto – the apricot season. Then Thirmaa brought a cool and ugly change in the air. It was followed by Aakhire Thirma and we prepared for the snow.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 63

“Khowar! I hear your daughter and daughter-in-law listen to a radio. It is time you stopped them. It is a sin to listen to the radio.”

Moallem had purchased a pocket radio from Kabul. He gave it to us as a gift. It ran on big and ugly looking batteries. The batteries were scarce. Your aunt and mother would switch it on and listen to music once or twice a day as they sipped tea in the winter sun. I would sit by the window to look out for any approaching relatives or villagers. I feared if they found us listening to music, they would say bad and horrible things about us, and call us names. I thought no one knew.

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Your great aunt from Hotqol visited us that winter. One day, while staying with us, when it was all quiet, she pulled me aside to speak to me:

“Khowar! I hear your daughter and daughter-in-law listen to a radio. It is time you stopped them. It is a sin to listen to the radio.”

I was startled. I mumbled:

Aghay, that may not be true. Who told you that?

She did not even pause:

The village is talking about it. They fear you might become kufri.

It was that bad. The mullahs, some of them my own nephews including Basir, Hashimi, Mahdawi, Rizwani, Hakimi and others made the decisions for everyone. They were like Taliban. They were disgusting people themselves, but they wanted to make the decisions for others. Most of the village followed them. We did not.

 

 

*khowar/aghay = sister
* kufri = infidel like

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 59

My eldest brother had asked him to deny his inheritance to his daughters as we were already married.

He sighed and smiled at him:

I have two daughters, both gifts from God. My daughters are not married to people who will quarrel with you over a piece of land. They have their own share. It is up to them to decide what they wish to do with their inheritance.

I am the daughter of a farmer. My aatay owned a little piece of land on the foothill of Akhta Mountain in the upper half of the village. Aatay hired a farmer every year to help him with plant, raise, and reap wheat, barley, potato, and carrot farms. We never had to buy much. We lived off the land. Food, water, meat, vegetables, everything came from the land. The land gave us fifteen to sixteen heaps of wheat every year. It was not only us; all the families did well.

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Water was plentiful. In the winters it snowed above the height of a grown person. One could walk the paths and be invisible in the snow. You could sink in the snow if you did not follow the paths cleared by the villagers. The farms were irrigated by two main dams in the mountain above the village. In the spring water gushed out of the rocks, fresh water springs appeared in every corner. The dams spilled every day and it took the power of two grown men to unblock the dams to irrigate the land. We raised cattle, flock of sheep, two cows, and they gave us all the butter, milk, yoghurt you can buy in the markets here. At the onset of winter every year, aatay slaughtered two or three sheep to be dried and stored as beef jerky for the colder months. Because all we needed was there in the village and in the mountains, we never needed to worry about the outside, the world beyond the mountains only existed in stories.

Aatay died young. He only ever saw two of his grandchildren. Abay Esmatullah would sit in his lap and point to his missing tooth:

Look! A cow stole grandfather’s tooth.

He went to eat mulberries with the family one day. We all ate together. He then told others to continue while he returned home.

Later that night I heard that he had a stomachache. Just before sleep time my brothers came for me:

Come with us. Aatay is sick.

I left behind my babies. He was in agony. He was in anguish. All the pain was in his stomach. My uncle joked with him:

Once you get better, you will look back at your cries and laugh.

He said nothing at first and then only replied:

I hope.

The next day my uncle from Sar-e-Asp came to write his will. My eldest brother had asked him to deny inheritance to his daughters as they were already married.

He smiled back at him:

I have two daughters, both gifts from God. My daughters are not married to people who will quarrel with you over a piece of land. They have their own share. It is up to them to decide what they wish to do with their inheritance.

The following night he was in even more anguish. He screamed and sighed. It looked like his belly was going to burst. We brought him a container. He spewed his guts out – it was all black, dense liquid. He threw up, and just like that, in a few moments, he breathed his last. He laid back, sighed, and passed away. Appendicitis killed him.

*Aatay = Father
*Aabay = Mother

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 58

Many women died during childbirth, many more children never got the chance to become adults. The ills that are today cured by taking one of those tablets you people keep in the fridge, have killed so many people in my lifetime. One evening someone would complain of a stomach ache, the next morning they would be dead, and by that afternoon, he would be buried in Paas-e-Gardo. People did not know better. All medications in access were herbs found in the mountains around us. Sometimes the rich families travelled to villages days away and brought with them a doctor on the back of a donkey. He instantly became the main attraction in the village. I remember people used the same injection for many people in many villages, and was kept with a trusted person. Only the hooshyaar knew what went into it.

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Your father was away. He was too busy with politics and the war. He barely had any time for his own children. At noon on one day you became very ill. You turned pale, began throwing up and it looked like you were going to pass out. We had already lost your brother before you. It alarmed us all. We sent for your maternal grandfather. He was unwell, and could not show up with his donkey to take you to the clinic in Tameer.

I did not know better. I picked you up in my arms, headed out, headed up for the pass, and began running towards Tameer. You could not hold your head, and it swayed from side to side. I kept running ahead, crossed the pass, ran down the hill, into the little valley and all the way to Gardon-e-Kosha. I must have run for an hour, before your ill grandfather on donkey-back caught up with me. I put you on the animal and from there we rushed you to Sima Samar.

*hooshyar = Clever / The widely recognised clever person in the village

Moral: It takes a village to raise a child.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 54

The birth of son was cause for celebration; the whole family celebrated the birth of a male heir. Daughters were no heirs; at every opportunity the parents reminded the daughters that they were inherent outsiders, born to one family but belonging to another one, that of their husband’s.

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The mother, herself a daughter once, was the happiest at the birth of a son. By giving birth to a son, she had met the expectations of her in-laws, and assured the succession of the family lineage. Women from the village gathered at her home for shawshini, to sit up all night, and dance and sing and celebrate. The women had two nights of shawshini for the birth of a son. The men had the third night. There were no celebrations for the birth of a daughter, khaagsir.

When I was young, I heard of the birth of Aatay Hanif. People gathered at their house and celebrated. I could not go; I do not recall why. I could hear the noise and the clapping. The women sang, did akhkhu-poofi, and stayed up all night. They served tea, sweets, bosragh, stories and jokes until dawn. At dawn, people ate, returned home and slept for the better part of the day. I joined them on the second night. Everyone had to sing. Aabay Qareedar, then the oldest person in the family, asked all women and girls to sit around her. They did, she sang, and got everyone else to sing. It is one of the rare happy memories from my childhood.

People lived off the land. They raised cattle. There was qadeed in the winter. It snowed more than the height of the average person and people remained cut off for months, the families shared whatever they had saved and stored. That way everyone made it through. People made chawkhal out of tree branches, tied it to the sole of their feet, and walked on the snow without sinking into it. They walked on the snow to get to their farms and scatter the ashes from the fireplace and the over on to the fields. Come spring, and the fields would be fertile and green, the streams flowing full – so much water that kids couldn’t cross them.

I hear that it does not snow as much anymore. It barely snows at all. People don’t even have enough drinking water now. People struggle to find a cup full of water in the streams. People have money and machines, but it is not the way it used to be. People aren’t happy, not even for short periods. They never have enough.

*Aatay = Father
*Aabay = Mother
*Shawshini = Staying up to celebrate all night
*Khaagsir = Poor, Wretched
*Bosragh = Hazaragi cake
*Qadeed = Dried lamb
*Chawkhal = Snowshoe

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 52

We hoped it would be only a short journey and we would return. We never returned. We became refugees. Your father had been the rebel. They first chased him down to the mountains of Rasna; from there they forced him to flee to Pakistan. From Pakistan, he arranged for us to be picked up under the moonlight, leaving everything behind but our family.

Our lives turned upside down when you were approximately two, and Abdul was about five months old. Your father had befriended Nasim, Abbas Karblaye’s son. He frequented our house, and he was like a family member to us.

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One late evening there was a knock on the door. I asked who it was:

Nakhchi, I am Nasim. Open the door.

I opened the door but to my surprise there were two other people with him. He said they were his and your father’s friends. I let them in. They said they had come from Pato.

I instructed your mother to serve them dinner. After tea, they said they were tired and had to leave. They said they had been sent by your father to pick up the weapon.

We have no guns.

The looked at Nasim and then said they had clue given to them by your father:

Mamoor said the gun was concealed in the chimney.

I was astounded. That’s where it was. Only a select few knew that. I believed them, and that is how they managed to get the gun from me. I did not know they were the commander’s men.

Unbeknown to me, Nasim had betrayed us. Your father had befriended Nasim and entrusted him with the locations of the weapons. It was all Nasim’s handy work … perhaps he had been forced to reveal everything. That beghayrat!

My son-in-law Aatay Ali Jan had been beaten beyond recognition. His skin had turned dark red. He had been forced to hand over your father’s hand-gun. They had also visited Moallem-e-Jaar and had taken away some weapons from them. I thought my baby son would be next. I sent your uncle to Jaar and had him hide for weeks in Ishaq’s winter shed. He was only a child. I made him go away, far away. I sent him over the mountains with Aatay Ali Jan one night, on foot, through the mountains, eventually all the way to Pakistan. 

Your father found out. He sent us a secret message to take the bare minimum of our belongings and flee to Pakistan. That’s what we did; under the moonlight, leaving everything behind, hoping that it would be only a short journey. We never returned. We became refugees.

*Nakhchi = Auntie
*Beghayrat = Dishonourable