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.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 56

They brought the dead bodies home late in the evening, in the house of the Punjabis in Nechari. Aatay Rohullah’s lifeless body was brought upstairs amid wails and screams. The body of the other man was left downstairs.

We had thought Aatay Rohallah was staying at the community library, along with the other men from the party and their relatives. Unbeknown to us, he had travelled to the coal-mines in Mach to look for work like other thousands of Hazaras. Somewhere in the holes in those mountains he had touched a live-wire and had been electrocuted. Another man, also from Watan, had approached to pull him away from the electric wires. He too, had been caught by the wires and killed there.

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He had been family. He had stood with your father during his most difficult days. He had been in the war. He was with us when we fled, with us on the terrifying journey to Pakistan, and with us in our first years in Quetta. Every Friday he came home to us in the overcrowded room we had rented from the Punjabis in Nechari. He was one of us. He was family, and after all that, he was no more.

Weeks after his death, funeral and burial, his oldest brother Mamdulla came from Watan. We heard about it and we made food and arrangements to welcome him. Aatay-Wahida and your uncle went to receive him. They returned empty handed and said Mamdulla had gone to Doctor Nader instead of us, and had had the Fateha there. I scolded them and send them back to bring him home as we were family. They returned and and got him to come over. He was upset. I argued with him:

His death isn’t our fault. I did not kill him. Mamoor did not kill him. He did not tell us where he was going. He went to the mines of his own will, without even telling us.

He appeared not to care. That was neither fair, nor true. I continued:

If you cared so much, you should not have let him come. But you did. You were there when we fled and circumstances in which we did. His back was hurt; you guys, his own brothers did that to him. He told me about it. He could not even do physical work, you should have stopped him.

He told me how you lot locked him up in the toilet and took turns to beat him up in twos. He told me you kept hitting until he could no longer move and his back was injured. He told me how you beat him for being a member of the party, to force him to stop being with the party. You beat him up until your mother intervened, begged you and even took out her breasts to shame you for the milk she had fed you all, to stop you from killing your own brother.

He tried to find a way out of it.

He fell off a roof and hurt his back.

I stopped him there:

Say all you want but you know that it is true. He was more at home with us than with you lot. And today, you dare think that we would wish him harm.

He hung his head down, and did not speak a word.

Years later, we still had a photo of Aatay Rohullah on our shelf, and his grave lay in a country far away from his home, his wife and children.

*Watan  = Homeland
*Fateha = Prayer service

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 55

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For a brief time your uncle was our shepherd. He took the flock around for water and vegetation.

On this day he was with Karblaye’s son  Zia. They set off for Linga valley to get water, and because there was good grass there, on the grounds just before the gorge. He returned home shortly, his face all red, and tears dried up around his eyes.

Ishaq’s son Mohammad Hussain had slapped had scolded him, and then slapped him around for bringing the flock to Linga, the grounds he thought was exclusively for their use, and not for the village. Zia told me the story; your uncle said nothing.

Your father returned home. I was cautious and careful. The relationships in the village were already in ruins, and I did not want it to get worse. We were banished as it was, things could only have gone downhill for us. I stayed quite, unaware that Zia would tell everyone about the beating.

I saw your father busy by the spring next to the mulberry tree. The next moment I turned around and saw him running towards Linga as fast he could. It appeared as if he was being chased after. I was horrified, as if someone just set my body on fire. I screamed and chased after him, but he disappeared into the trees.

I chased after him. The flock was scattered all over the valley. I instructed your uncle to take the flock to your aunties in Jaar to avoid an encounter with wolves. He set off quickly and I made my way towards the gorge.

I saw a small figure emerge out of the gorge. His head was covered in white, and he was holding his hand on one side of his head. I knew it in my bones that there was something wrong. The person got closer, and I noticed half of his face, his head cover and his clothes drenched in blood. My legs trembled. Your father was drenched in his own blood. He was holding the wound with his hand to stop it from bleeding.

I screamed, and ran towards him:

What the hell happened!

His eyes remained fixated on the ground:

Ishaq attacked and hit me.

Hearing my screams, Abdul Hassan Karblaye approached.

I pleaded with him to take him home:

I beg of you, take him home. I will go and throw rocks at Ishaq’s door. How can he do this to a kid. Today either I will die or Ishaq will.

Karblaye stopped me. He pleaded with me not go:

I am also angry, but first we need to get him help. Look at him. He is all pale and white, like a corpse.

We dragged him. There was a big cut on his head, and it was bleeding. He went unconscious. We carried him home. We sent for Mohammad Ali Doctor. He came and stitched his head. Karblaye and Mohammad Ali Doctor stayed up all night looking after him. They were good men.

Worried, I sent for your maternal grandfather. He was in the commander’s party. He didn’t give a damn. We sent for Qareedar. He refused to come to my aid:

It is all your son’s fault. If he joins our party, we will teach Ishaq a lesson. If not, don’t come to me.

That was the response of the elders to a widow and her bloodied son, who did not happen to be in the commander’s party. The did not care. Except for the help of two or three good families, we were all on our own.

Weeks and months went by. That winter, in the midst of the snowfall, I was walking to Jaar to see my daughter, when I ran into him just past the pass. Ishaq stopped and stared at me. I felt the same fire in me. I yelled at him, cursed him, and spat on his face as many times as I could. He stood there, said nothing and walked away.

I met Ishaq again a few years ago. He came to greet me. He was old and fragile – a mere shadow of the fiery person he had once been. He appeared remorseful. We sat and spoke about those days. A few months later, he passed away.

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

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