Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 55

IMG_2910

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.

1509974_370893729785446_1513224823289833401_n

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.

d7684d5334a161630c02e18373d0bac341235374cdaa0c4f298e16dfa2421e91

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.

1509974_370893729785446_1513224823289833401_n

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 – 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.

399686989_472366f0be_o

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

Stores My Grandmother Told Me – 45

Music was forbidden, singers were frowned upon, and the act of singing was deemed equal to bringing dishonor to the family. Even the open minded families who brought singers from far away places for their weddings and child-birth celebrations, fed and placed those singers separately, and treated them as less deserving than other guests.

As a teenager, I used to sing songs all day long when I was the family shepherd, running up and down the mountains. As did my brother, the late Aatay Khadim Hussain. Sometimes we sat together by a large rock, and sang loud songs in the mountains. And then we grew up in age, but we didn’t grow out of wanting to sing together when we could.

 

IMG_2910My firstborn was still a young baby when I visited my parents. The following day, as I cared for my baby in the goolkho, my brother walked in, closed the door, and pleaded with me:

Come on aaghai, let’s sing a ghazal before I take hookah and charcoal for father’s guests.

We were in a long corridor, and it was all quiet. We sat there for those brief moments, and broke out in songs, like the old days, like we sang in the mountains.

On another day, years earlier, we were carrying meal up the Akhta valley for my father and other men from the village who were there to collect firewood for the coming winter. We delivered the meal and then set off on our descent. We stopped to rest by a few large rocks. He sang, and then I sang, and then we sang together as our voices echoed in the valley below.

We sang loud, without a care in the world. As we sang, I noticed that some men resting on the rocks on the other side of the valley. The sat next to their stack of firewood, and were staring at us, listening to our songs. I alerted my brother. We were shy and we stopped singing. We picked our bag, and continued our return trip to the village.

My late brother was the child after me. We were best friends. We understood each other. May God bless his soul.

 

*goolkho = kitchen
*aaghai = sister
*ghazal = traditional hazaragi song

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 44

There was once a degho named Kalbi Zawar in our village. He had big scratch marks on his forehead, and the hair and part of the ear on the right side of his head were missing. The children in the village were scared of him. It is said that in his younger days, he had slept near the barn one night to guard his cattle. A wolf had attacked him in his sleep, mauled him and disfigured his face forever. The villagers believed that a wolf will chase after any person it has bitten once; the scratch was the mark of the hunted. Zawar was afraid to go out alone at night for the rest of his life. He believed that the same wolf was out there looking for him.

d7684d5334a161630c02e18373d0bac341235374cdaa0c4f298e16dfa2421e91In the days of my father, people dwelled in the villages, and beyond them lived the predators. During the war, the people moved everywhere, some of the people became predators, and actual animals vanished. In those days, people always traveled in groups, and only the bravest and most clever men ventured into the high mountains to collect firewood and hunt. My father told me stories about people who had been attacked by bears and leopards around the Akhta valley, only a short distance away from the village.

People were afraid of Bears. Bears built nests in and around their caves, and built little places to sleep, keep their cubs, jump around, and run up and down the slopes. Villagers rarely ventured past the foothills. A villager named Sayed Ismail once set out to walk to the Paato mountains. He ran into a pack of bears. The bears chased him, mauled him, and slapped him to near death. The nearby villagers heard his screams and came to his rescue. He had been beaten so bad, he was unrecognizable for weeks. The villagers wrapped him in sheepskin to save his life. He survived.

Wolves and hyenas were the most fearsome of all the animals in the mountains. The hunted in packs, attacked cattle, and when they could, killed and ate villagers. One afternoon, as I and my mother sat in the cattle barn, I sensed that there was something running round and around the barn. I alerted my mother, she looked out and said that it was a wolf. We reinforced the barn door and windows to keep the wolf out that night. But wolves are persistent, and that night, that wolf or that pack tried to dig under the barn wall to get inside and eat. We saw a dig area and scratch marks on the wall the next morning.

On another night, I almost lost my daughter Habiba to a hyena. She was probably 4 or 5 years old at the time. It was winter, the earth was covered in snow, and the men were busy sipping tea, smoking hookah, and reading the Shahnama. She had to go to the toilet, so I took her outside to the bushes behind the house. I was standing by and waiting for her to finish when I heard a growling sound. I looked up and saw this massive hyena running at us through the snow. It had its eyes locked upon us. I screamed as loud as I could. I grabbed Habiba and rushed for the house door. I had barely made five steps before the creature outmaneuvered me. It stood right at the door, staring at me, growling. I was paralyzed with fear, my arms became numb, I couldn’t scream, Habiba fell out of my arms, and I fell on my knees. Your grandfather and my brothers ran out of the house with shovels and sticks in their hands. The hyena ran away and disappeared into the darkness.

Many years later, one day as I sat home in the Sun and sipped tea, I heard Sakina scream. I ran towards the barn to see what was wrong.

Look Aabay, the chicken is eating a snake!

I went closer and saw that a large snake and the chicken were facing off. I gave Sakina a stick and told her to stand at the door. I picked a stick and attacked the snake. It slithered into a heap of alfalfa. I kept striking the heap with the stick, and hit anything that moved. I kept going. I killed that snake. I found it motionless. It was big. I could not even lift it with a shovel. I measured its length, and it was ten hand-span long. Snakes make home where they find food, and because of that, if you find a snake, you kill it.

Aabay Malik from the village did voodoo healing to treat people out of illnesses, bee stings and snake bites. She and her son could catch snakes. She treated and helped many to recovery, but she couldn’t save her own son. He had chased after a snake, and jumped into a pit full of snakes. The snakes bit him and wrapped around his legs. He had had to take off his Pyjamas to get the snake off. By the time he reached the village, his appearance had change. He had been bitten many times. His father and mother did these voodoo rituals and prayers for him for 4 days. But the venom had destroyed his organs. He kept spitting blood, and 4 days after the bites, he died.

I was twice stung by hornets. Both times I had to have injections to save me. The first time I got a sting, I was sleeping in front of the old house on a warm afternoon. I felt a sting on my left side. I quickly got up, took off my skirt, and threw it away. There was a yellow hornet there. I put some medicine on it, and thinking not much of it, tried to get back to sleep. In the space of an hour and perhaps less, I felt sick, I began stuttering, and then vomiting. I felt nauseous. Your grandfather gave me an injection, and only then I felt better. Another time, I was cutting up firewood when I was stung on my hand. The same thing happened again. I became drowsy, nauseous and very sick. Your late grandfather gave me the injection, and it made me better. To this day, I am scared of hornets buzzing around.

*Shahnama = The Shahnama is a long epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between c. 977 and 1010 CE and is the national epic of Greater Iran
*degho = farmer
*watan = homeland
*Aabay = mother

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 43

A person’s home is in his heart. You are young. You feel at home here. I am old. My home will always be in the mountains where I spent my childhood. Even after a lifetime away, I think about it everyday.

SONY DSCYou were too young to understand. I was never at home in Pakistan. The war had forced us off our home and farms, far away from our mountains, and far far away from those we knew. We ended up khusk-o-khali in a new country, and with no one to turn to in our time of need. Life was difficult. We ate half-cooked rice every day. It was never enough, and we were left hungry. At night, we all crammed into the little room that belonged to Yousuf’s brother. We didn’t have pillows to sleep on, so we tucked our clothes under our heads. At least we weren’t out in the open. Yousuf’s old mother, may God bless her soul, brought food for you, the children, in secret from her daughter-in-law. She was an angel.

After that, we rented a room in the same house as Baqir’s family in Sayedabad. Like your father, Baqir was also a member of the party. We lived as a collective. We took turns to cook, and prepared meals every other night. Your father left for the war or something related to the Party. The Party paid us small stipends. It was never enough. Baqir received the payments for both the families. His family wore better, ate better, and lived better. We didn’t. Baqir was doing something mischievous.
Your baby brother fell ill. He was weak and pale. We had no money to take him to a doctor. I asked Baqir for money. He said the Party couldn’t pay us anymore. One day a Pashtun man from the Party visited us. He inquired about our well-being. He looked at you and your brother. I explained to him what was happening. He cursed Baqir, and accused him of keeping more for himself. He encouraged your mother to study. He gave us 200 or 300 rupees to see a doctor. I used some of it to take both of you to a doctor and buy medicine. I saved some, I don’t know what happened to the rest. Perhaps I used it to buy knives, spoons, plates and cups.

Baqir’s wife accused us of stealing her scissors, and later her cutlery. She took away the spoons and knives I had purchased. Her brother in law found out, and scolded her. She later found her scissors under the rug in her own room. She then returned to us the knives and spoons.

From there, we moved to Ali Dost’s house, and then we rented a room at the house of Hafiz the blind. He had three children. The two older ones were very good kids. The youngest, Talib was a thief. He stole from the neighbors, and from us. He stole your mother’s watch. We had to move to another house, and then another.

From there we moved to the house of the Thori. We spent a winter there. There we met Dunya Ali’s mother. They were an excellent family. It was a good experience. Then we moved to Hazara Town. By that time, we had learned their ways. We knew enough to find our way around the city. Life became a little better.

Your father’s obsession with his Party kept us poor and miserable, living life on meager stipends. People like him did all the work, people like Baqir kept all the money. Had it all been the will of the Party, we would have starved, and the men would have worked their lives off and died for people who cared neither for them or for us, but their own groups. I am glad that damned party shattered into pieces. It made us all better off.

We were not strong. Living in all those places, with all those different people, and dealing with them everyday made us stronger, and resilient. It opened our eyes and minds.

 

*khushk-o-khali = Dry and Empty

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 41

The good are good regardless of the time of the year. The scoundrels display rare but false  honesty and goodness in Ramazan. During the civil war many years ago, Ramzan brought a lull in the fighting. People ventured out of their villages and farms, and it appeared as if the peace would last.

I heard from Moallem of Sirqol that the neutral families and villages had mediated between the warring groups. They had negotiated a cease-fire. It was the month of Ramazan, perhaps the day before the 3rd Qadr. There was an unusual calm, perhaps a little too calm.

Your mother and I had just sat down to break our fast that evening when gunfire shattered our new-found calm. It was close, perhaps from just beyond the pass. There was periodic gunfire at first, and then it was chaos. I walked out to see what was going on, but I saw nothing at the pass beyond the village or on the mountains around us. It was further away. This went on for the whole evening. We broke our fast but we lost all our appetite. How can one eat when there is no peace of mind! We sat together in the dark, nervously waiting for something to happen, something terrible. There was no sleep, no appetite.

 

 449

Early the next day I saw Aatay Abdul Khaliq walk into the village. He looked neither scared, nor sad, but he had a lot to say:

The commander and his men had agreed to the Ramazan ceasefire but used the lull to plan their mischief. On the night after the ceasefire, they made their way to Tabqoos, behind enemy lines. They dined there, and in the early hours of the morning crawled up the mountain to attack their rival groups in their trenches in the mountains of Paato.

That night the opposition had put a man named Ali Madad on guard duty. It is said that Ali Madad had spotted people crawling up the hill, but as he approached them to find out who it was, he was shot and killed. His comrades were alerted by the gunshots, and soon, they rained hell down that mountain slope. The cease-fire was broken, and it was back to war and killing as usual.

Your uncle returned early from school the next day:

The commander’s plan fell on its face. Many of their men were killed. The bodies were laid out in the open near Sang-e-Masha. One of the dead men was so huge, they had to drag him down the hills. The shopkeepers joked extracting oil from his body. The dead were quickly dispatched to their villages for quick burial.

The truth is that those people were always scoundrels, Ramazan was just an excuse to lie and deceive the people.