Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 80

Our lives were difficult, our grieves were plenty and misery had a habit of finding its way to us, especially in the years after your grandfather disappeared.

We lived in Taina Aghil – the lower section of the village, and the all the streams flowed in from the foothills – Balna Aghil. There was a bad drought for a few years, and we were left without sufficient water for irrigating the land. The little water that streamed down the mountains was all used up in Balna Aghil, and the streams running through our farm dried up completely. In desperation, your father, still a teenager, approached the families of Balna Aghil to ask them to let some flow down the valley. Almost all agreed to do so, except Mamaye – the commander’s right hand man. Mamaye said that he would rather let the water flow to nowhere than let it flow to our farm. That was it. Most of the farm dried up that year, and most of the crop was wasted.
Days later your father sent your uncle to Serqol to ask Moallem, close relative and cousin, to lend us his bulls to help plough a patch of the farm. Moallem did not say no but he said everything else that meant no. He said he had already been approached by many people and that some had even offered to pay money. I understood what this meant – we were unable to pay and hence we could not borrow the bulls. Your uncle returned empty handed.

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Your uncle was a child at the time, a young child. Contrary to the advice of most of the villagers, your father enrolled him into a school. He walked to Sangemasha. He walked for hours through the hills to get there, and hours on his way back. The summer heat was crushing and the terrain was difficult. Every few days a week he returned home bloodied-nose, exhausted by of the heat. I advised him to stay at his sister’s home at noon and to then walk home when it was cooler in the afternoon. He did that for a few days, and then returned home early one day. I scolded him for walking in the heat again, and asked what had happened. He was upset:

Sister had guests over. When I got there, she was taking a plate of fruits to the guests. She saw me, she called me over and she kissed me on the cheek. She gave me a piece of fruit and she called me her life. She then told me not to return anymore. Her in-laws did not like my visits.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 77

The war was not just about people getting killed and hurt, it was also about how brother fought against brother, and how families and relatives were split and bitterly divided. The women did not have much say in what happened. It was the men who got into fights and arguments and fought against one another. Often we did not understand what the problem was but we had to play along. When the men were away, most of us got along fine.

Your father and your maternal grandfather were in opposing parties. We lived one roughly hundred steps apart but during the war we felt like we were worlds apart. We did not even acknowledge one another when our paths crossed. We did not use the village water-spring at the same time, and avoided interaction. Your mother could not visit her siblings and parents, and your aunt could not visit us. It was terrible. Khaag da sar azu roza kina.

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In early spring one year, your maternal  grandfather slaughtered a sheep and threw feast for the villagers. This was a few months before you were born. Given your mother’s pregnancy and the rarity of good food in the village, I expected them to send over some for your mother. They did not send any. The guests and villagers walked by our house, ate in the feast, and walked back. We were not invited. Late in the evening there was a knock on the door. I opened the door and found Aabay Saifulla and your aunt at the door with food in their hands. They said they had waited for your grandfather to go to the mosque for prayers before secretly making their way to our house to bring some food.

On another day I was at my paternal home in Geru for my elder brother’s funeral. Aatay Shukrullah’s older brother was also there along with other villagers. He was with the Mullahs and he had a beef against your father. He greeted everyone else at the home but not to me. He walked right past me. At the end of the prayer service that day, he consoled my sister but walked out straight past me.

Years after we became refugees, all the people who had fought against us and forced us out, visited us and stayed at our home on one occasion or another. We look past what had happened but we could not forget about it.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 75

Our tiny village is on a mountain slope. At the time we lived there, the land barely produced enough food to feed the families. Today, it can not even feed the few families that still live there. What difference does it make anyways! Most of the families have moved out, and many have even left the country. Those left behind do not even have enough drinking water for most of the year.

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Bachay Haji Ghulai [Haji Ghulai’s son] said that a long time ago the people of Haydar lived on that land. Your great grandfathers, perhaps those before them were powerful and forcefully took over the area. I do not know what happened to the people of Haydar who lived here. Perhaps they fled past the pass where they now live, and where your auntie lives. I do not know.

Bachay Haji Ghulai said that your ancestors took over this land by force. The old ruins in by the stream in Saraw and another one by the ridge in Qolbili are all that remains of the people before us. Your ancestors came from Sangemasha, the grandparents of AbdurRahim had land in Tabqus and elsewhere. I do not know where the others came from.

It belonged to Haydar, then it was our home, and now only the old and very young live there. Perhaps complete strangers will own it in the future.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 73

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

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

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

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

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

Snakes? No snakes can kill me.

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

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

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 72

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 71

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

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

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

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

 

*Watan = Homeland
*Akhund/Mullah = Clergyman

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 68

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

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

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Photo by Basir Seerat or Najibullah Musafer

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

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

 

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

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 64

In my days, the women in the village sang songs and celebrated happy times more than men did. These days, women can not sing or even laugh because their men will scold them or worse.

When there was a wedding or a son was born to a family in the village, the women stayed up late and had three night long village party. On the day of the wedding, the groom and bride went to their future home on horseback. The family followed them with songs of joy, dance, and drumbeat. Sometimes they brought a professional drummer and ghazal-goy. You could hear them from far and wide.

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When they crossed another village, the women and girls there stopped them in their path to look at the bride’s face. The men kept walking, and the women stopped along with the bride until the girls had had an eye full.It was an innocent tradition. People of all ages sang, the young were not good at it, the older people were better – they remembered good poems, and good songs. The drummer would hang the drum from their necks and beat both sides of it in melody. The caravan walked with the beat of the drum. When the drum stopped, the people stopped. The restart of the drumbeat was the sign to move.

Hassan of Chuna was a popular ghazal-goy. He was popular at weddings and shaw-shini. Mama, Maamad were other singers from the village. They would not just attend any wedding or party. They had to be convinced, and promised rewards. The elders and the influential villagers had to go to them, and promise them good food or clothes to get them to sing. The parties began with grilled beef or lamb, sweet tea and dry fruits followed, and then came songs, stories and jokes. It continued right until sunrise.

If anyone fell asleep, the others played practical jokes on them. They placed their shoes under their noses, or tickled them in their feet, tickled their ears with a piece of string, or took items out of their pockets as a joke.

I think people knew so little about the world, their expectations were so low that they did not have much to ask for and anything worry about. People observed their religion, they did, but there was a time and place for it. People also laughed and lived.

ghazal-goy = traditional singer
shaw-shini = birth party

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 63

“Khowar! I hear your daughter and daughter-in-law listen to a radio. It is time you stopped them. It is a sin to listen to the radio.”

Moallem had purchased a pocket radio from Kabul. He gave it to us as a gift. It ran on big and ugly looking batteries. The batteries were scarce. Your aunt and mother would switch it on and listen to music once or twice a day as they sipped tea in the winter sun. I would sit by the window to look out for any approaching relatives or villagers. I feared if they found us listening to music, they would say bad and horrible things about us, and call us names. I thought no one knew.

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Your great aunt from Hotqol visited us that winter. One day, while staying with us, when it was all quiet, she pulled me aside to speak to me:

“Khowar! I hear your daughter and daughter-in-law listen to a radio. It is time you stopped them. It is a sin to listen to the radio.”

I was startled. I mumbled:

Aghay, that may not be true. Who told you that?

She did not even pause:

The village is talking about it. They fear you might become kufri.

It was that bad. The mullahs, some of them my own nephews including Basir, Hashimi, Mahdawi, Rizwani, Hakimi and others made the decisions for everyone. They were like Taliban. They were disgusting people themselves, but they wanted to make the decisions for others. Most of the village followed them. We did not.

 

 

*khowar/aghay = sister
* kufri = infidel like

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 61

One day mullah Salihi disappeared. He had left the country and had gone to Iran. A few weeks later up to four young girls from the village had become pregnant.

Perhaps my memory betrays me but for the better part of my life we did not have a mosque in the village, or a full time mullah. These things came to us when the troubles began. The villagers used the house with the largest room and corridor as the place for sermons and prayers during Moharram. I remember them visiting my father’s place in the balna-aaghil. The women gathered in the corridor, and men gathered in the sun-room to say their prayers and listen to the sermons delivered by a Sayed, or the elders in the village. Men beat their chests, the women stayed and listened, and then we all returned home, back to our lives and livelihoods. All the leaders and prayer leaders in the villages had their own families to look after, farms to care for, cattle to herd and the same problems the rest of us had. They did not sit above the rest of us.

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That generation died. The order changed. People went to madrassas in Ootqol, Kabul and Iran. They returned as mullahs with special books, looks and garments. They went from village to village, and preached, and did little else. Along with them came a mosque and more. The mullahs and elders forcefully acquired the land where the village mosque stands today. That is the reason why it is such a cursed place, and nothing good ever comes out of it.

In the later years the villagers paid a person named Salihi to become the mullah for the village. He had attended madrassas in Iran and read all the prayers and magic. The villagers paid him, fed him, and gave him a share of their income every year. The sent their young children to the mosque to this mullah so that they could learn their religious obligations, rituals and prayers.

One day Salihi disappeared. The villagers could not find him. He was not in the village, and they could not find him in Sang-e-Masha or Jaghori. He was not in the country but had gone to Iran. A few weeks later up to four young girls from the village, the girls who studied before him at the mosque had become pregnant. Salihi had lured them into his room at the mosque under the pretence of teaching them the Islamic way to bathe, and raped them. Not one girl, not two, four girls. The babies were aborted, the lives of the girls and the honour of their families was ruined, and the mullah fled to safety in Iran.

Many years later when the country was quieter, I heard that Salihi had returned to watan and become the secretary to the district governor and commander. It is as if nothing had even happened. That devil might still be there, he may still be a mullah at some far away village, he may still be working for the governor, and he may still be abusing children.

*Mullah = Islamic clergy
*Moharram = The frist month of the Islamic calendar, observed as a month mourning in Shia Islam
*Madrassa = Islamic school
*Balna-Aaghil = Upper Village
*Watan = Homeland