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 – 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 – 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

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