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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 53

The commander’s own brother, Karblaye stayed out of the fight, and the war, and left the village. My brothers, two of them, joined hands with the commander to banish us, raid our home, torture our relatives, loot your father’s shop, and attempt to kill him. Such were our lives in watan.

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Two of my brothers were active members of the commander’s party at the time when they looted our shop and distributed everything your father had among the members of their party. But that’s what the villagers were like. With the exception of a few families, the whole village stood with the commander, and against us. We did not worry much about others, but the betrayal of those close to us hurt us the most, and turned watan into a forbidden place.

Ours was the first house past the pass. The road into the village ran past the front of the house. In the days before we had to flee, I saw the commander walk into the village flanked by my nephew Juma, and another person whose identity I don’t recall. I was cleaning the front of the barn when I saw these figures appear on the pass. I knew it was them. As they walked past the front of the house, they had a look at the house, and then at me. I saw them and I spat in their direction. They stopped, and paused there with their faces all red. I stood my ground and looked them in the eyes. They turned around, and walked away mumbling.

Decades passed, and the next time I saw the commander was when this white-bearded old person visited us in Kabul. He appeared to be a mere shadow of what he had been. I am sure that he remembered the time I had spat at him, in the same way that I remembered everything he had done to my family.

*Watan = The village; Homeland

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