Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 60

Shaykh brother died because something happened to his heart. Aatay Saadiq died after he was viciously beaten up by his own son. Appendicitis killed Aatay Khadimsayn, and loneliness killed Aatay Rasheed. Aabay Mamdyaqoob is half alive. May Aatay Abdulsayn live long.

Shaykh brother was the eldest. He died when we were still in Watan. He had been ill. In those rugged mountains there were no doctors or medicine. They had given him everything they could get their hands on. I went to see him. He lay in the corner. He sounded drugged. We sat and spoke for a short time.

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My sister approached him, sat next to him to comfort him, and placed her hand on his heart. He instantly sat straight up. He let out a sigh:

Aghay! You killed me!

He turned pale, his head tilted back and he breathed no more. No motion, no more sighs, nothing. He died.

My other brother Aatay Sadiq was an elder of the village and the family. An old man, he was beaten up by his son Juma Khan, over I do not know what! He beat him up so bad, the whole village heard his screams and cries for help. None went to his rescue. He did not survive that. He sustained injuries, fell ill and died. That beating killed him. That bastard Juma Khan still lives.

I saw my other brother Aatay Khadimsayn on the hospital bed in Quetta. I had not been told that he was in town. He had been so ill, they had had to take him across the border, straight to a hospital. I was taken to him. He lay on the bed but his stare did not look normal. I stood there and then walked up to him. I asked if he recognised me. He held my hand, and whispered:

I can tell from your voice that you are my sister.

He held my hands, but he kept staring at the ceiling. The bed he was on was wet. I asked his wife for the reason. He said the stitches from the surgery had gone off. Yellow puss had been oozing out of the cuts. And that was my last ever conversation with my sweet brother. I was returned home. The next time I saw him, he was wrapped in a white shroud, lifeless, gone forever.

Aabay Mamdyaqoob was almost killed by Hemiplegia. She lives as one half of herself, on a bed all day and all night, all the time, needing help to do even something as basic as rolling from one side to the other. She can not go around, be about and do what she likes. She spends her days crying, recalling names of her children and trying to identify the relatives visiting her.

I had two brothers left. Aatay Rasheed was left all alone. His children abandoned him, abandoned the country. He had a whole village, empty of people, to roam around at his age. Loneliness killed him.

I have a brother left – the only heir to my father. May god keep him safe and alive for his children and grandchildren.

*Watan = Homeland
*Aghay = Sister
*Aatay = Father

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 42

Khadim’s father, Hussain’s father and Bachay Atay Jan Ali of SarMazar were the last people to see him alive. They had journeyed together, and then they returned home to their families. He didn’t.

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We lost him. We had no one to send to look for him. My oldest boy was 13, my youngest boy was a baby, and in that God-forsaken country, girls cannot travel by themselves. We sat by as months and years passed by. We kept hearing stories:

We walked for many days and nights. The days were extremely hot and the nights were extremely cold. And then it began raining such that the Sun and heat disappeared. It kept raining, and it got really cold. The desert was vast, open and had nowhere for us to hide. We were stranded without adequate food and shelter. Khalifa’s son had set off with only the clothes he had on. He had no other clothes to keep him warm. He felt weak, laid under a small tent we made for him using our jackets, scarfs and coats. He shivered, and died of cold in the middle of nowhere.

While the rest of us stopped and talked about returning, he was determined to keep going. He left us there, and walked into the rain and mist. We saw him walk away and disappear in the rain and mist of the desert.

For a long time that was all we knew, and nothing more. Then one day few years later, from the front window of the house, I saw a stranger walk into the village. He paused just past the pass, looked around, and headed straight to our house. He sat outside and said nothing. I felt nervous and sent for your father.

Your father greeted the man:

Salam. You haven’t introduced yourself. What brings you to our home?

He went straight to the point:

I have a letter from your father. I have been sitting here for a long time, and I haven’t even been offered tea.

I and your father just stood there, staring at this man, in utter silence.

Why didn’t you say something?

He looked around. He sounded nervous.

Let’s not talk about it here. Let’s go in and we can talk about it.

We went inside. I made him tea. There was hope after all.

Your father told me the name of your village. He told me to look for a large mulberry tree, and go to the house right next to it. I spotted the tree and your house from the pass. I knew it was the right house.

He asked for a hookah. I sent Zia Gul to my brother’s house to get a hookah. The poor girl was so jubilant, she ran up and told every one about the man. She returned with a hookah, and followed by Hussain’s father.

The man was startled:

Who is he? Why is he here?

I was surprised to see the man that nervous and startled. I tried to calm him down:

He is my brother. He is our own.

Hussain’s father greeted the man. They had tea. He described the journey.

It was cold and rainy in the desert. We were set upon by local bandits. We ran for our lives, and soon became lost. There was more rain, and it became unbearably cold. My brother-in-law wore a shawl. We huddled together and he covered us with his shawl. He lit a cigarette, and took a long puff. He passed it around. It did nothing. There were no more cigarettes left. Khalifa’s son was fragile. He could barely walk. My brother-in-law said we better leave or we would all die. The dying kid didn’t want us to leave. He pleaded with us, and said we would all die anyways. Let’s die together here rather than one at a time. My brother-in-law left the shawl cover, he fastened his belt and shoes, and began walking into the mist. We sat there, huddled together, staring at him walk into the mist.

The stranger raised his hand.

I believe you. He does not know that you all live.

He took a folded paper out of his pocket, stared at it and then put it back.

This isn’t the letter from your father. This is for a family in Kosha.

He searched his other pockets.

I may have left the letter with the other person in Angori.

He instructed your dad to visit Angori, and get the letter from him.

At this moment, my older brother Shaikh walked in.

The man was so started, he almost got up to leave.

Who invited all these people!? Why are you bringing in all these people!?

I tried to calm him again.

He is my brother. He sent you the hookah.

The man did not calm down. He was visibly startled. He slammed the tea container on the ground, got up and headed for the door. My brother followed him. We pleaded with him to tell us more. I begged him to take a letter with him. The man did not wait. He put on his shoes, and headed for the pass.

He took a few steps, and then turned to me.

What kind of brothers are they! Tell them to man up, and go to Iran to find your husband. Your brothers don’t believe me. They ask asking me for the color of his clothes. I take hundreds of people to Iran. How can I remember every person’s clothes and face. Your husband is in Iran. He is fine and healthy.

With those words, he headed for the pass. In the same way that he had walked in, he walked out of the village. He was a people smuggler. He was fearful the villagers would report him to the government. In those days, people smugglers were luring people, and taking their money to take them to Iran. There were rumors that some villages had reported and handed over people-smugglers to the government.

Your father visited the address in Angori. The man there denied any knowledge of the other person, or of your grandfather. He denied he was a people smuggler.

That was that. We never heard from that person again. We looked for him, but no one knew him, or his whereabouts. He disappeared, and so did all our hopes.

Many years later I realized that your grandfather may really have reached Iran. He may have been alive. He was a clan elder and man of honor. He probably thought that he had left behind his brothers in law and friends. He thought they were dead. He probably thought there was no honor in returning to the village without them. To make it worse, the smuggler never returned to return to take a reply letter from us to your grandfather. Perhaps, perhaps that made him think that we didn’t want him back. He probably thought we had given up on him.

It doesn’t matter thought. What difference does it make now. We never heard from him again. We had no way of finding out about him or looking for him. Just like that, he was gone. We still don’t know what happened to him.

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.

 

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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.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 39

Zara’s life was a tragedy. She began life with all the joys in the world, but lived it in agony, and died in misery and solitude.

Zara was your father’s paternal aunt. She was married off to Hotqol. Her husband had two adolescent children from a previous marriage – a boy and a girl. They had lived with their grandfather in another village after the passing of their mother. They returned home after Zara had her children.

 26When we visited her a few summers after her marriage, she seemed happy. She had two beautiful daughters. They were healthy and good looking. I also met her youthful step-children. The girl was lovely and beautiful. The boy was strong, and already helping out his father. They were nice, and welcoming. Zara had a beautiful and happy family.

And then it all changed. A year or two later it all vanished, like the night devours all sunlight. Zara’s happy days were devoured by a nightfall of misery. First her step-children fell ill, and died, one after the other. A few weeks later, or perhaps months later, her own daughters fell ill and died. She gave birth to a son. The new-born too, died. In a short time, their five children died, in front of their eyes.

Zara’s step children had contracted Tuberculosis while living with their grandfather. When they returned to their father, they fell ill, suffered and both died. The Tuberculosis then killed Zara’s two daughters and her new-born son.

Zara and her husband were left all alone. It pains me to even think about what she went through, and how she endured all of that. She became a recluse, and a social outcast. She was unrecognizable

She came to visit us once. She had aged so much in such few years. She looked old, and was ill, and bloated. There were no doctors or hospitals back then. There was no treatment. People tried herbs, and prayers and talisman. None of it worked for her. The condition destroyed her organs. She could not have children anymore.

Years went by. Zara and her husband were old, weak, ill and all alone. She asked my husband, her brother, to send one of our kids over every now and then. I sent over Rubaba. She stayed with them one winter and then returned. Next I sent Hafeeza. She was clever and stubborn. She stayed for a night, and returned the next day. My other children were too young to send over.
Then, one day, Zara’s husband fell ill, and died in Hotqol. A day later Zara fell ill, and had to be taken to Kabul to see a doctor. She died a week later. She was buried in Kabul, a long distance away from her husband in Hotqol. They died a week apart.

Hadi jan, a home is good with people, with children. Otherwise, it’s just an empty life-less building.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 31B

There was an old weapons depot at Qash-Oshtor (the Camel Slope) just above the village. The commander and his party kept stored their weapons there. The Pashi tribesmen interrogated the locals and found out about it. What they didn’t find out was that the depot was surrounded by a minefield. There was narrow pathway there but only a select few, who had already fled, knew about it.

 19Armed Pashi men approached the depot location. They walked on looking for signs on the ground. One of them stepped on a mine. In a bang and a plume of smoke, he was left in pieces and dead. The rest of their men stopped in their steps, and retreated back into the village.

Later in the day, they forced men of the village on to the minefield to retrieve the body. Among them was Ghulam Reza, who told me his story many years later when they too, became refugees in Pakistan.

The Pashi forced a group of us to Qaash-Oshtor. They had their guns pointed at us, and threatened to shoot us if we didn’t do as instructed. I was forced on to the minefield to drag out the body.

Aghay, I tried to step lightly on to the ground in front of me. Every step, I thought, would be my last. I stopped. They yelled that they would shoot if I stopped again. I walked past a splatter of flesh and blood, and reached his limbs. With both hands, I dragged him out. As I dragged him along the ground, I could hear jingles and pieces of jewellery fall out of his waistcoat. Those were women’s jewellery – perhaps stolen from the families in the village.



*Aghay = Sister in Hazaragi
*Qash = Slope / Eyebrow

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 31

We lived on the mountain-side in Darre-Ajay at the time. We had moved many houses over those few years but we were still new to the city and the country. We didn’t know many people, and we didn’t feel at home. The men went out looking for work, the rest of us stayed home. What else could we do! After all, we were strangers.

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One day your father and Moallem returned home earlier than usual. They spoke of a war and deaths, and said the commander had reaped what he had sown. In the market, they had run into Musa Shaltaye from Watan. Musa had a story to tell.

The Pashi tribe captured Sang-e-Masha from the commander’s forces. The commander, his family and his men fled into the mountains.

The Pashi came to the village, set the commander’s house on fire, captured some of his men, killed his cattle, and tore up his authority to shreds. All the while, the commander hid behind the large rock slabs on the top of Jaaba mountain above the village, and watched all of this unfold.

The commander’s brother, a strong and bulky man, crawled up the Shikhi hill with a Kalashnikov in hand to attack the Pashi men. He was spotted and shot before he could get even close. He was killed there, and for 3 days his body lay out in the open.

Mullah Haydar had ran down to the valley stream to hide. The old man died there of a heart attack. The shock and fear killed him.

The Pashi then captured some villagers including your maternal uncle, and the commander’s right hand-men Mamay and Allaywar. Allaywar was captured as he tried to make his way up the Jaaba mountain with a bag full of food destined for the commander. Mamay was picked up from the village. The other men were released. Allaywar and Mamay were imprisoned taken all the way to Pashi.

Mamay’s son fled to hide in Mamoor Sarwar’s house in Sang-e-Masha. Later they found the kid dead under the pile of blankets he had used to hide himself.

In Pashi, the two prisoners Allaywar and Mamay were bound in chains and locked up in a bunker. They were roughed up, and denied water and food. It is said that the Pashi kept them starved and then, through the hole in the bunker roof threw down bits of bread. The guards also sprayed the bunker with salt powder to make the prisoners thirsty, and then gave them very little water. In the darkness of the bunker, the two prisoners were heard fighting over the little food and water they received.

The two died starved in that bunker. First, one died, and then, the other. Their chains never came off.

When their bodies were returned, they were said to be unrecognizable, the chains embedded in their flesh. They were buried along with the chains.

What the Pashi did was horrifying, but theirs was revenge for what had been done to them. In the weeks before they attacked, the commander’s men had ambushed a group of Pashi men. The Pashi commander Chamran had been wounded and chased into the hills. He had been found in a cave and shot dead. Other Pashi men had been imprisoned and brought to Dolna by the commander’s men. Lucky for them and unlucky for the commander, the Pashi men had managed to escape at night, and had found their way back to Pashi.

The Pashi tribe had been enraged by what had happened. Furious, their elders had mobilized their man to avenge their men and commander. And avenge, they did.

 

*Pashi = A Hazara tribe native to Ghazni
*Watan = Homeland

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 30

In my days, people had many children. Some children died. More sons meant more helping hands, more people to work and earn for the family. Bechara girls were unwanted, uncelebrated at birth and unappreciated in life. People preferred to have as many sons and as few girls as possible.

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I had 10 children. I lost one. My first child was a son. I lost him when he was twelve days old. He turned pale yellow and then passed away.

My oldest is Gul Zewar. She has 8 daughters, 2 sons, 36 grand children, and 6 great grand children. Her great grandchildren are my great great grandchildren.

Then I had Rubaba. She has 4 sons, 3 daughters, and 14 grandchildren.

After her, there is Habiba. She has 6 daughters, 3 sons, and 11 grandchildren.

My fourth daughter is Hafeeza. She has 6 sons, 3 daughters, and 4 grandchildren.

My fifth child is a son Hassan. He has 4 sons, 2 daughters, and 1 grandchild.

Then I had Bakhtawar. She has 5 daughters, 4 sons, and 4 grandchildren.

After her is Sakina. She has 6 daughters, 3 sons, and 11 grandchildren. She lost four others.

Then there is my youngest daughter Zubaida. She has 3 sons and 1 daughter.

My youngest child is Nabi. He has 3 sons.

One day when I am gone, if every child, grandchild and great grandchild of mine prays for me once, that will be sufficient for me. That’s all I ask for.

*Bechara = Hapless