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 – 65

Jaghori used to get many refugees from Uruzgan. I do not recall whether they were fleeing Pashtuns or the civil war or both, but they used to arrive in groups of many families.

I used to speak to the ones who passed through the village. They had stories to tell. Many said they had land and livelihoods, and they had all been taken over by Kochis. Others had fled because of the wars among the mullahs. Some had even left behind their daughters or young children, unable to carry them over the mountains. They had fled on donkeys and horsebacks, walking through the mountains for days before arriving in Sang-e-Masha.

When the refugees from Uruzgan first arrived in Jaghori, donkeys and their clothes were all they had. They were in tatters. Some people of Jaghori mocked them for having nothing but donkeys.

They were not impressed:

We have arrived with donkeys, but at least we have them. When your turn comes, you won’t even have donkeys to flee on.

Ten years later it happened. When the war came and the people of Jaghori had to flee, many did not even have their own donkeys to flee on. They had nothing but the clothes on their bodies, just like the people of Uruzgan.

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Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 64

In my days, the women in the village sang songs and celebrated happy times more than men did. These days, women can not sing or even laugh because their men will scold them or worse.

When there was a wedding or a son was born to a family in the village, the women stayed up late and had three night long village party. On the day of the wedding, the groom and bride went to their future home on horseback. The family followed them with songs of joy, dance, and drumbeat. Sometimes they brought a professional drummer and ghazal-goy. You could hear them from far and wide.

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When they crossed another village, the women and girls there stopped them in their path to look at the bride’s face. The men kept walking, and the women stopped along with the bride until the girls had had an eye full.It was an innocent tradition. People of all ages sang, the young were not good at it, the older people were better – they remembered good poems, and good songs. The drummer would hang the drum from their necks and beat both sides of it in melody. The caravan walked with the beat of the drum. When the drum stopped, the people stopped. The restart of the drumbeat was the sign to move.

Hassan of Chuna was a popular ghazal-goy. He was popular at weddings and shaw-shini. Mama, Maamad were other singers from the village. They would not just attend any wedding or party. They had to be convinced, and promised rewards. The elders and the influential villagers had to go to them, and promise them good food or clothes to get them to sing. The parties began with grilled beef or lamb, sweet tea and dry fruits followed, and then came songs, stories and jokes. It continued right until sunrise.

If anyone fell asleep, the others played practical jokes on them. They placed their shoes under their noses, or tickled them in their feet, tickled their ears with a piece of string, or took items out of their pockets as a joke.

I think people knew so little about the world, their expectations were so low that they did not have much to ask for and anything worry about. People observed their religion, they did, but there was a time and place for it. People also laughed and lived.

ghazal-goy = traditional singer
shaw-shini = birth party

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 – 62

Paqirsayn was born when they lived in Joysolto. I vaguely remember visiting them after the birth of their son. He said the child had been born in poverty, and therefore named Paqir (Poor) Hussain.

They had left watan as children, and settled in Polkhomri in the north. I met the eldest, Nadirsayn, after about 50 years in Kabul. His wife had come with him. She did not look like she was a Hazara. She was kind.

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Nadir’s oldest sister was Aabay Azizulla, then Aakima, then Gul Bibi and then Patima. Then there were Nadirsayn, Paqirsayn and Khadimsayn. They were born from your great grandfather’s second marriage, to an Awgho woman. He and his children were starving in watan. Paqirsayn was born when they lived in Joysolto. I vaguely remember visiting them after the birth of their son. He said the child had been born in poverty, and therefore name Paqir (Poor) Hussain. The did not tell anyone where they were going. They lied to other villagers telling them they were moving to Ootqol, but soon we all found out they had gone to Polkhomri.

Khadimsayn’s mother was vicious, a terrifying woman. The tribal noble Ghulam Hassan Khan had married her in Kabul, and brought her to Jaghori. Even the khan could not deal with her. He went into hiding, and divorced her through his brothers. She had then remarried your maternal great grandfather. Their fights brought the whole village to a standstill. She would stand outside the house, and scream, and swear and curse at him. He would not dare come out.

The Awgho who passed through village did not accept her as one of their own. They said she was not a Awgho because she had face tattoos. They called her a Jatt, and got mad when we called her Awgho.

We were all starving, but we did not leave the village. She made them leave the village, leave Jaghori and went mountains away, to Polkhomri. Your great grandfather died in the north, and is buried in Polkhomri. I never met him again, but I met his children for the first time in Kabul, after more than 50 years.

*Watan = Homeland

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 61

One day mullah Salihi disappeared. He had left the country and had gone to Iran. A few weeks later up to four young girls from the village had become pregnant.

Perhaps my memory betrays me but for the better part of my life we did not have a mosque in the village, or a full time mullah. These things came to us when the troubles began. The villagers used the house with the largest room and corridor as the place for sermons and prayers during Moharram. I remember them visiting my father’s place in the balna-aaghil. The women gathered in the corridor, and men gathered in the sun-room to say their prayers and listen to the sermons delivered by a Sayed, or the elders in the village. Men beat their chests, the women stayed and listened, and then we all returned home, back to our lives and livelihoods. All the leaders and prayer leaders in the villages had their own families to look after, farms to care for, cattle to herd and the same problems the rest of us had. They did not sit above the rest of us.

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That generation died. The order changed. People went to madrassas in Ootqol, Kabul and Iran. They returned as mullahs with special books, looks and garments. They went from village to village, and preached, and did little else. Along with them came a mosque and more. The mullahs and elders forcefully acquired the land where the village mosque stands today. That is the reason why it is such a cursed place, and nothing good ever comes out of it.

In the later years the villagers paid a person named Salihi to become the mullah for the village. He had attended madrassas in Iran and read all the prayers and magic. The villagers paid him, fed him, and gave him a share of their income every year. The sent their young children to the mosque to this mullah so that they could learn their religious obligations, rituals and prayers.

One day Salihi disappeared. The villagers could not find him. He was not in the village, and they could not find him in Sang-e-Masha or Jaghori. He was not in the country but had gone to Iran. A few weeks later up to four young girls from the village, the girls who studied before him at the mosque had become pregnant. Salihi had lured them into his room at the mosque under the pretence of teaching them the Islamic way to bathe, and raped them. Not one girl, not two, four girls. The babies were aborted, the lives of the girls and the honour of their families was ruined, and the mullah fled to safety in Iran.

Many years later when the country was quieter, I heard that Salihi had returned to watan and become the secretary to the district governor and commander. It is as if nothing had even happened. That devil might still be there, he may still be a mullah at some far away village, he may still be working for the governor, and he may still be abusing children.

*Mullah = Islamic clergy
*Moharram = The frist month of the Islamic calendar, observed as a month mourning in Shia Islam
*Madrassa = Islamic school
*Balna-Aaghil = Upper Village
*Watan = Homeland

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 60

Shaykh brother died because something happened to his heart. Aatay Saadiq died after he was viciously beaten up by his own son. Appendicitis killed Aatay Khadimsayn, and loneliness killed Aatay Rasheed. Aabay Mamdyaqoob is half alive. May Aatay Abdulsayn live long.

Shaykh brother was the eldest. He died when we were still in Watan. He had been ill. In those rugged mountains there were no doctors or medicine. They had given him everything they could get their hands on. I went to see him. He lay in the corner. He sounded drugged. We sat and spoke for a short time.

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My sister approached him, sat next to him to comfort him, and placed her hand on his heart. He instantly sat straight up. He let out a sigh:

Aghay! You killed me!

He turned pale, his head tilted back and he breathed no more. No motion, no more sighs, nothing. He died.

My other brother Aatay Sadiq was an elder of the village and the family. An old man, he was beaten up by his son Juma Khan, over I do not know what! He beat him up so bad, the whole village heard his screams and cries for help. None went to his rescue. He did not survive that. He sustained injuries, fell ill and died. That beating killed him. That bastard Juma Khan still lives.

I saw my other brother Aatay Khadimsayn on the hospital bed in Quetta. I had not been told that he was in town. He had been so ill, they had had to take him across the border, straight to a hospital. I was taken to him. He lay on the bed but his stare did not look normal. I stood there and then walked up to him. I asked if he recognised me. He held my hand, and whispered:

I can tell from your voice that you are my sister.

He held my hands, but he kept staring at the ceiling. The bed he was on was wet. I asked his wife for the reason. He said the stitches from the surgery had gone off. Yellow puss had been oozing out of the cuts. And that was my last ever conversation with my sweet brother. I was returned home. The next time I saw him, he was wrapped in a white shroud, lifeless, gone forever.

Aabay Mamdyaqoob was almost killed by Hemiplegia. She lives as one half of herself, on a bed all day and all night, all the time, needing help to do even something as basic as rolling from one side to the other. She can not go around, be about and do what she likes. She spends her days crying, recalling names of her children and trying to identify the relatives visiting her.

I had two brothers left. Aatay Rasheed was left all alone. His children abandoned him, abandoned the country. He had a whole village, empty of people, to roam around at his age. Loneliness killed him.

I have a brother left – the only heir to my father. May god keep him safe and alive for his children and grandchildren.

*Watan = Homeland
*Aghay = Sister
*Aatay = Father

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 – 57

The grooms, adorned in madrassi turbans, sat on the first horses; the brides, covered in bright green shawl, on the second ones. The procession had traveled from Dawood to bring to their village two sisters from Koshay Daala. Our little village just happened to be on their path.

It wasn’t every day that a wedding procession passed through the village. They beat the hand drums, and the sound of the drums got closer and closer as they approached the pass. We heard the drum, and like the other young girls from the village, we rushed to the direction of the pass outside the village. We saw the first few horses leading the procession, and then people on foot and luggage loaded on donkeys. There might have been 30 people, all well dressed, but appearing tired and covered in dust.

d7684d5334a161630c02e18373d0bac341235374cdaa0c4f298e16dfa2421e91There was a tradition back then. Some kids held hands to form a chain and block the path of the procession to ask to be paid to allow passage. Some boys lit little fires on the path, and did the same. The girls and women of the village did not ask for money, but instead, they lined up and each asked to see the face of the bride as a charge for allowing passage.

We lined up, and waited for our turns. I was with my friends. We stood in the queue. Our turns came, we lifted the veil of the brides, looked at their faces, ran back to our own little groups, and spent the rest of the afternoon giggling and laughing about how ugly those two sisters were. We were kids, mean kids.