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.

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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 – 46

We had been led to believe that musicians, singers were bastards; and those who listen to music were destined to have molten lead poured into their ears on the day of judgment. Unlike you guys, we couldn’t listen to music at any time or any day. The elders and the mullahs decreed that music an affront to god, and an instrument of the devil. They said the devil created music to distract the believers from prayers, and instigate corruption. Most people treated music and artists with disgust. You lot listen to music the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. Such is your life.

d7684d5334a161630c02e18373d0bac341235374cdaa0c4f298e16dfa2421e91Many years ago, at Aabay Saifulla’s wedding, the village mullahs prohibited music, encouraged chants of Salawat, segregated men and women. That whole wedding looked like a funeral. Your father’s rebellion in the face of the village meant that we were banished from the village and kept out of the wedding. Your mother, Aabay Saifullah’s own sister, wasn’t invited. I and my youngest daughter, Aabay Wahida sat by the front window, longing and looking, as the wedding procession approached our house, walked past it, and walked away towards the pass and beyond, without taking a second look at us, one of their own. I could hear them from across the pass, chanting Durood and Salawat, and then, those sounds too, dimmed and disappeared. The aftermath of the wedding procession too, felt like the aftermath of a funeral – eerie silence and dejection everywhere, as if, as if something had died in the village.

Months went by, and we put that behind us. Your father’s cousin, Mohammad Hussain of Geru, came to your father to borrow money to pay his wedding. He did. He returned later to ask for his gun, to carry it on his shoulder, as a groom on a horseback. But come the day of the wedding, neither your father, nor our family were invited to the wedding. The three families who weren’t in the commander’s party, were left out – our family, the family from Qolbili, and Doctor Saraw’s family. The rest of the village got together and celebrated.

In the year before that, me neice, Aatay Rasheed’s daughter, was being wedded off to Thayna Jaar village. The groom’s family sought the permission of the bride’s father to play some music, and beat drums in front of the main procession. He nodded. No sooner had the music begun playing that loud screams and condemnation made their way to the front. The mullahs pushed their way in and out. The screamed at the youth at the front, scolded them, and called them awful awful things. I think one of those mullahs was my nephew, Baseer, the idiot mullah now based in Iran. He snatched the cassette player and raised it to smash it unless the music was stopped.

The village elders held him back but the music died there. There was more Salawat, no music, now laughter, no joy, no songs of wedding, but prayers and salawat. I still don’t know why the people were so stupid. But as soon as the procession reached the the pass, it was a different territory. Your father ran to the front, did a loud ‘AAHOOOYE!’, began waving jacket in one hand, and danced. The children, and young boys joined him. This was rebellion. This made the mullahs so made, but it made us all so happy.

Such was the life back then.

*Salawat/Durood = Islamic chants

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.

 

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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 – 40

Sometimes the difference between a smart person and stupid person becomes clear when they have to face change. The same applies to a people, and a tribe. Our people have usually been stupid. They made stupid decisions. We are still paying for it.

My parents told me many stories about Hazara elders who were taken away, pushed off a cliff, or stoned to death. The elders were taken to jails run by the kings’ men. They were put face down on the ground, covered under a shawl, and then pelted with rocks by tens and hundreds of people. One of your ancestors, not sure which one it was, was taken away by the king’s men. They made him dig a hole in the ground, and then buried him in it chest high. They pelted him with rocks until he was covered in blood and wounds and dust. He was buried under a pile of rocks. They assumed he was dead and left him out in the open to be consumed by wolves and jackals. The man was alive. He must have been very blessed. In the darkness of that night, he crawled out from underneath that pile and escaped into the mountains. He lived, and made his way back to the village. He was the only survivor the old villagers knew.

 

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Every year the king sent polooss to the villages. They brought with them orders, tax demands, and a lot of terror. The polooss stayed in the best house in the village, and only the bravest men in the village went to speak to them and serve them food. The people had to comply with his orders and demands – an entire village surrendering to a single polooss, that was us. There was usually one tax on the harvest yield, another to pay for polooss’ journey, another for each head of cattle, and another if the king was at war somewhere. The tax was rarely collected in currency, and usually in the form of butter, wool, jewellery, cattle, crop-yield, and other valuables. If a village refused to pay, the king sent more polooss armed with sticks and guns. A visit from the polooss forced villagers into the hills. Some families hid in their homes, many just picked up everything they could and run up the nearest mountain. Our hills and mountains have always been our protectors.

Years passed and the king was deposed. A new king came to power. There was a change. The king’s men came into the villages to open schools. They made it compulsory for girls and boys and men and women to go to school. The people complied. The mullahs preached against it. They said the schools were there to turn people into communists and non-Muslims. The mullahs kept preaching against education for women and girls. They preached that girls were being sent to school to be turned into prostitutes, the boys to be made into communist soldiers.

The people believed the mullahs and turned against schools. They bribed the polooss to keep their children out of school. I know of a family in the village who handed all their wheat-yield for the year to the polooss to keep their son out of school. We were afraid. I buried a Quran in the fields because the government was taking away people found with Quran. In some areas the villagers burned down their schools and killed the teachers. In other areas, they declared jihad against the government. People said they would rather die than send their girls to school. And in some places they did that – they died but did not send their girls to school. Instead, many sent their girls and boys to the mullahs. Some of the mullahs then mistreated, assaulted and raped their girl students. Interestingly, those few who were too poor and weak to take their children out of school were lucky. Their children became teachers, pilots, engineers and soldiers.

What was the result of all of that! The result was that many generations of our people, all of us remained illiterate and uneducated. We did that to ourselves. We had no access to schools for a generation and more. We burned down the schools, we killed and chased away the teachers, and brought in the mullahs. Our world was confined to the valleys of the mountains. We turned our backs to change and to the rest of the world. Our people became stupid. We suffered for those mistakes. We are paying for those mistakes.

 

*Polooss = Police

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 36

I hate lightning.

A long time ago, a man from Haidar visited Balna-Aaghil of the village. He was there to borrow a bull from Chaman to crush his wheat-yield for the year. He was staying in Chaman’s guestroom when dark clouds rolled in over the village. At that moment, Chaman’s wife happened to be on the roof, cleaning the roof-surface to dry apricots.

In a few moments of mid-day later that day, a man from the village saw her being flung from one end of the roof to the other; half of her body landed on the ledge with the torso dangling off the edge. What followed was the loudest crackle and thunder I have ever heard in my life.

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The guest from Haider, the man I was talking about, he lay dead in Chaman’s guest room. He had been standing at the window inspecting the drizzle outside when he was struck by lightning. He could not move one step before he was struck dead. He was killed in an instant. The same lightning bolt that killed him, also struck Chaman’s wife on the roof. She was badly hurt but fortunately for her, still alive.

The villagers got together at Chaman’s to inspect the damage. We were all so shocked we couldn’t believe it.

The villagers in Haidar couldn’t believe it either. The man’s family suspected that he had been murdered. They sent many villagers to look at what had happened. Some of them came armed, ready for a fight. They spoke to the people from our village. They met Chaman’s wife and saw her perilous condition, they saw the visibly charred path of the lightning bolt. Only and only then did they believe that their man hadn’t been murdered but had been the victim of nature.

In sad mourning on a dark afternoon that afternoon, they carried his body back across the Haidar mountain pass.

In the village of Awboorda-Joysulto, a woman, who had sat by the window of her house spinning wool, was struck by lightning and killed. Another man was struck in the village of Shilbitoo, just past the gorge. He died on the spot. In Daala-Ambolagh, a lightning bolt struck a large rock and sliced it in to two clean halves, with one half rolling down on to the pathway.

So you see Hadi jan, that is why I am very scared of lightning.

*‌Balna = Upper
*Aaghil = Neighborhood
*Kotal = Mountain Pass