Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 83

We have an old Hazaragi saying that az bekaar shishto kada dokhtar zaydo khooba – it is worthier/better to give birth to a girl than remain idle. That is how the old ones saw it, just above nothing at all.

The birth of your youngest aunty Aabay Wahida it did not make your grandfather very happy. She was his seventh daughter when he only had the one son, your father. She was born at our home but ultimately belonged to someone else, the family she would be married into. When my youngest, the second son, was born after her, it earned her a new place and a better status in the eyes of the family. She had brought after her a son. She had been a good omen, a bringer of better fortunes because a son had followed her.

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This did not matter because it was only short-lived. It was very soon after that your grandfather walked out of the village and never returned to see either of them grow up.

 

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 79

Wazir Begum was my one and only sister. She was older than me but I do not know by how many years. Not too old, a little bit, maybe more. We did not know our ages. My mother never told us. She was a strong girl and my mother’s assistant when I was still a child.

One day, when my father was at a feast at Atay Abdur Rahim’s, the elders asked him whether he preferred one or two. He was perplexed and asked as to what it meant. They told him to answer the question, and said nothing else. They told him to choose between one and two. He chose two. The men clapped, cheered and the family boys walked in with plates full of sweets. In my father’s absence, the elders had decided that that my father had to swap her daughter with Karblayee Babaye’s two daughters. In choosing two, my father had gotten two daughters in exchange for one. Wazir was to marry Hussain Ali and Hussain Ali’s two sisters were to marry two of my brothers. And that is how Wazir Begum’s fate was sealed. My father approved but my mother was not happy about it. It did not matter because the elders had already decided.

The marriage did not happen because in that year Hussain Ali had gone to Kabul for his military service. Like other young men of his age, he had to go away for two years to be in the King’s army, otherwise he would have been arrested by the King’s men. We waited for a year before my father received news that Hussain Ali he had fallen so ill during his service that he had to be brought back home. Men from the village went away and brought him back, but Hussain Ali did not recover. He died soon after. With his passing, we thought that Wazir would be free again. We were wrong.

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Yaqubli, Hussain Ali’s elder brother, had a wife and two daughters. A year after Hussain Ali’s death, Yaqubli’s wife fell ill and died. His family demanded that Wazir marry Yaqubli. My mother did not approve because of the big age difference. Yaqubli’s family visited kept visiting us, and then convened a meeting of the elders to convince my parents to accept their demands. In that meeting they vowed to get Wazir even if she escaped into the sky or hid in the ground.

My father accepted the words of the elders. Wazir married Yaqubli, and later that year, my brothers later married two of Yaqubli’s sisters.

Wazir was tall, strong, healthy and energetic. She was so until she grew old and then collapsed. She never looked as old as she was. She was full of life and stories. She developed high blood pressure when she was older. That brought her fall, and she remained paralyzed for eight years. Her daughters-in-law looked after her during that time. They did a good job. God bless them. Wazir is no more.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 73

Hassan was nineteen or twenty or perhaps younger, perhaps a little older when he died. I do not recall how and I do not know why. He just fell ill suddenly, and died half a day later.

Hassan was my my uncle’s – my father had a half-brother – son. His father and my father were from the same father but different mothers. We were Hassan’s family. He was still a child when he lost his father and mother. He was a clever child, and grew up to become a brave young man. He had learned the spell used to catch snakes and lizards. He would go into the hills and chase snakes when he had nothing else to do. He read the spells, caught snakes, sewed their mouths shut, wrapped them around his neck or waist, and return to the village to scare children and adults alike. He caught big snakes, some so big that it must have been an effort to carry them down the mountains.

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I remember this one time when he was bitten by a snake he had brought to the village. We worried and begged him to go and see someone, the mullah perhaps but he was not worried. He murmured his spells a few times and blew it out over the bite mark, and walked back in to the fields. We all thought he was going to die. He returned home, ate and went to sleep. Early the next morning, the old Karblaye came looking for him:

Go and wake him up. Check if he still lives.

No sooner had Karblaye asked for him that Hassan walked out of the room with a smile on his face. He sounded unfazed:

Snakes? No snakes can kill me.

Hassan got married a few years later. He had a daughter. He was a happy person, and adored his baby daughter. He returned from the fields one afternoon and said he was ill. He went to sleep, and just like that, he died. He did not wake up from the afternoon sleep.

I do not know what it was. Perhaps he had been bitten, or perhaps he had an illness. He might have had any of the many diseases that were common in the mountains. There were no doctors and there was no medicine. He died.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 72

In the days of the revolution the mullahs and their supporters used to do exactly the same things that the Taliban are doing today. They attacked schools, punished teachers, forced people to keep their children away from schools and education, beat up women and girls, and persecuted the open-minded and educated people. When we first enrolled your uncle into school, the mullahs, some of them my own nephews and people from our own village, opposed us openly and loudly, they spoke out against us, and tried everything to get us to enroll him into the mosque instead. We refused, and they continued opposing us and harming us for as long as we lived in Watan. In those days everyone who attended a school was called an kafir.

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At the time we feared the mullahs like the people fear the Taliban today, and the mullahs were as ruthless as the Taliban are today. Mullahs opposed the new changes in the same way that the Taliban fight against the new changes today.

The mullahs divided people into Nasri, Nahzati, Hezb Islami, and they fought all the time. The called everyone else infidels. In the days just after the Soviets left Jaghori, Ali Madad Khan, the old tribal noble from Sang-e-Masha and a frail and white-bearded man at the time, was attacked upon, chased, dragged out and killed at his home near the Sang-e-Masha bazaar. Ali Madad Khan was declared an infidel the mujahideen in Sang-e-Masha. They surrounded his family fort and then forced their way in. The old man hid inside the tunnels in the massive walls. They found him there, dragged him out, stood the old man against the trees on his own farm and then shot him. They then prevented anyone from burying his corpse. His young children tried to retrieve his body and prevent it from being eaten by foxes and jackals. The mujahideen beat back the boys and groped the girls saying they were searching them for grenades. The old Ali Madad Khan lay in the open for days and nights, and jackals took bites off it before they allowed his brothers to bury his old body.

Ali Madad Khan, although the son of a Khan, was one of the nobles of Jaghori who had done some good things for the people. It was mainly because they were educated, and they had traveled the world. They introduced the people to new machinery for their farms and to new crops; they also set up schools for girls and boys. But all of this was short-lived. The new kings in Kabul opposed the nobles and the mullahs issued religious decrees against them and the changes they had introduced. The Khans and their educated children were either captured and killed by the kings of Kabul or by the mullahs.

The same mullahs and the commander later tried to kill your father. They called him a Sholayee, and declared that the Sholayee are liable to be killed because they were kafir. Your father was able to escape but others were not so lucky. Today it is the Taliban who are doing the bad things and the mullahs are pretending to be the good people.

 

*Watan = Homeland
*Kafir = Infidel
*Mujahideen = Islamic holy warrior
*Sholayee = Maoist

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 71

Akhund Rizwani of Jaala had finished his Islamic studies in Iran. He had returned to Watan
and remained the mullah for many villages. Eventually he had been hired as the village mullah for our village. People paid him money, food, and a share of their harvest every year. Every family in the village took a turn to have him over for dinner, and this turn rotated around the village. In return, he led the prayers at the village mosque, at funerals, and performed the Islamic rituals during the holy months of Ramazan and Muharram. In the winter, when the schools were closed by the cold and the heavy snowfall, he gathered the village children at the mosque, and taught them how to read the Quran, their prayers, and how to perform other religious obligations. Most villagers sent their sons and daughters to his classes. They liked him because he was friendly, dressed neat, and was younger than most other clergymen.

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One day, when we lived in Quetta, we heard that Rizwani had suddenly disappeared. In the weeks after his disappearance, five, not one, not two, not three, not four, but five, perhaps even more girls from the village had fallen pregnant. All these girls were mere teenagers. All these girls had been students of Rizwani, and had attended his Quran classes. In his classes he had undressed the girls and told them that he would teach them “the Islamic way to bathe”. He had raped them, and repeated his deed with the next girl. This had happened over many weeks.

Before the families of these girls could find out, he had fled the village, traveled to Kabul and then to Iran.

Many years later we heard that the mullah had returned to Jaghori and had been appointed as the office-keeper for the commander. He probably walks free now, and is perhaps a mullah in another village.

 

*Watan = Homeland
*Akhund/Mullah = Clergyman

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.

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

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 69

Life in the village was cruel, it was more cruel for girls and women than it was for the boys and men.

I was a young girl when my elder sister was married off and taken to her husband’s home. My mother went over with her to stay with her new family for a few days. I was left behind as the only girl at home, and I was expected to look after the home, the family, the cattle and farms. Before that day, I had only ever helped my mother with a few chores, and suddenly I was expected to cook and bake and do everything mother did.

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I had to bake bread. I prepared the dough, and heated the oven. I had made the dough so bad I could only make bread as wide as my palm. My father came over, had a good look at it, and laughed:

My daughter has made a tikki.

The following evening, I tried to do it differently. I baked bread, but the dough was still bad. The bread came out only a little larger. My father ate it and laughed again:

My daughter has made pathirmal.

On the third day and the third attempt, I got it all right. Father ate it and said:

Aaha, now this is right!

With my sister and mother gone, I had to learn things fast and I did. The men did not help. They just came and looked at the end result.

My sister used to teach me how to sew clothes for the family. I was a slow learner. My sister would poke the back of my hand with needles when I got it wrong. It was painful but it forced me to learn.

I remember that one day I got my mother to help me out with the sewing. I finished and walked over to my sister to show her my work. She prepared to poke my hand with the needle, but she could not believe what she saw. She looked up at me and smiled:

Good girl. You have learned and you have done it.

*Tikki = Hazaragi bread similar to Asian Baba bread
*Pathirmal = Thick crusted Asian bread the size of frying pan

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 68

Chadar, Chadari and Hijab came to us from Kabul and Iran. Our people did not know the idea of women covering their hair and face. We had our own way of doing things, dressing up, and beliefs.

In my days and the days before me, the girls and boys wore caps – colourful caps, with topug at the front, and colourful threaded braids hanging from the sides. The family sewed up one for every child every few years, and the girls wore theirs until they were married, and thereafter they wore the cap and covered it with colourful scarf and jewellery.

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Photo by Basir Seerat or Najibullah Musafer

Women worked on the farm, looked after the family, looked after cattle, did the work, while the men sipped tea and lazied in the shade in summers and in the sun in winters. Women sewed those caps and clothes and the topug and the braids and the designs. The men wore caps of different colours and had bright colourful topug. Your uncle wore one as a kid, and another when he grew up a little. We made one for your father. It was an essential part of the clothing. Men wore the cap, boys wore the cap, girls wore the cap, and women wore the cap and a once married, put a fabric on the top.

When the first men returned from Kabul, and Iran and Najaf, they brought back other ideas. They brought back chadar and chadari and black veils and white caps, and in my lifetime the colours, and the colourful dresses and colourful caps slowly faded away.

 

*topug = popping on the side of caps made from threads
*chadar = long scarf
*chadari = full veil usually worn in Afghanistan and Pakistan

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