Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 83

We have an old Hazaragi saying that az bekaar shishto kada dokhtar zaydo khooba – it is worthier/better to give birth to a girl than remain idle. That is how the old ones saw it, just above nothing at all.

The birth of your youngest aunty Aabay Wahida it did not make your grandfather very happy. She was his seventh daughter when he only had the one son, your father. She was born at our home but ultimately belonged to someone else, the family she would be married into. When my youngest, the second son, was born after her, it earned her a new place and a better status in the eyes of the family. She had brought after her a son. She had been a good omen, a bringer of better fortunes because a son had followed her.

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This did not matter because it was only short-lived. It was very soon after that your grandfather walked out of the village and never returned to see either of them grow up.

 

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 66

We used different names for different seasons.

The first month of a winter is Siyabar. It is very cold. Before that came Baamo, the last month of autumn. Baamo was cold, but not nearly as cold as Siyabar. After Siyabar came Najir. In this month, the air was less cold, but with less cold came dangerous avalanches. The village was at the foot of the Jaaba mountain. The collapsing snow brought down huge slabs of rock down with it, and made a terrifying “GorrrrrR” sound. The valley was steep enough to contain it but anything and everything that came in its way was wiped out.

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After Najir it was Ooral with flowing springs, blooming flowers and the change in the air  the month of Nowroz. Then it was the month of Ed, the first proper month of spring. Then Barredd, and it became warmer. Then it was Aakhir Maahe Baar. Then Awal Maahe Thaayesto – the mulberry season, and when the birds flocked to pick the trees clean. It made us all very busy. We had to wait for the right time to pick the trees before the birds. Then it was Ghol-e-Thaayesto – the apricot season. Then Thirmaa brought a cool and ugly change in the air. It was followed by Aakhire Thirma and we prepared for the snow.

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 – 33

Thangi Uthla is a few hours drive from the village. It is a narrow gorge that connects the mountains to the plains. People have been traveling through that gorge for ages, since my childhood, since the days of my forefathers and before. As far back as I can remember the Thangi has been infamous and bloodied. Even in the days before all the new wars, my parents told me stories about people who disappeared there or were found dead in the gorge.

 

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In the days before cars, people had to travel through the Uthla Gorge to get to Ghazni and Kabul. They traveled on foot, with their food and water on their backs, for over ten to twelve days. Some of them went to buy merchandise, food or medicine. Other men passed through the gorge to get to Kabul for their compulsory military service. If they didn’t show up for the compulsory service, the King’s poloos would arrest them, imprison them, and make the families or even the whole village pay a lot of fines. That was a fate more horrifying than risking your life on a trip to Kabul, and serving in the military for two years. Many many people, hundreds of people have been killed in that gorge.

 

The trip to Kabul was like a death sentence. First they could be killed at the gorge. Second, the Kuchis could kill them on their 10 or so many days walk to Kabul. Third, they could be shot while doing their service in very far away place. Fourth, they could get sick and die without their families finding out for up to two years. Fifth, they could be killed on an equally dangerous return trip home at the end of their service. The farewells were always difficult because people knew that there might be no return.

 

Some people who made it through, spoke of hearing cries for help, people screaming to be saved. At other times, they said they come across dead bodies. They found people’s clothes and shoes left on rock slabs and roads. God knows who the killers were. They were bandits, Kuchis, or both.

 

That was a long time ago, but things have not changed much. Those killers are still there, and they still come out to harm people passing through the gorge. They take away whoever they want, demand ranson, or kill them. If the vehicles do not stop, they shoot and kill everyone in it. Now we have a name for those killers, they are the Taliban.

 

We passed through the gorge on my trip last year. As we approached it, we saw the Taliban positioned near the entrance to the gorge. They live close by. They don’t even try to hide. Most of them weren’t even covering their faces. There is no government, or police or any other power to stop them. We spotted them from a distance, but did not stop or turn around. If we did, they would have chased us on their motorcycles. They were armed with Kalashnikovs hanging on their shoulders.

 

Many Taliban sat in the shadow of a big rock. All of them carried guns. A couple of them approached the road, waved at the car and ordered the driver to stop. All of us in the car fell dead silent. The driver read his prayers; we all read our prayers. I was terrified. Those murdarkhor could decide the fate of our lives.

 

One black-bearded white-turbaned Talib approached the car. He bent by the front window, and peeked inside. He saw that there were mostly women in the car. He turned around, and looked at the other Taliban sitting by the rock. They yelled something at each other in their own language. The one with the white turban then waved at the driver, as if instructing him to drive on. The driver read his prayers again, and began driving. We drove on and for a long time, no one said a word. We drove out of the gorge, and slowly, life returned to our bodies. We began talking, and smiling because we had made it through, and were then in Hazara territory.

 

Had there been many men in the car, they would have stopped us, searched the car, and interrogated the passengers. God knows what would have happened then. The driver had warned us that there might be Taliban on the road, but even then nothing prepared me for that amount of terror in my heart. If not through Thangi Uthla, the car would have had to go through Dasht-e Qarabagh. That is even more dangerous. On that road too, the Taliban stop the cars frequently. They also plant road-side bombs there, and blow up carloads of people. We are surrounded. Regardless of which road we take, we will be at the mercy of the Taliban. It was like that before, it is still like that.




 

*Thangi = Gorge
*Poloos = Police, Government agent
*Murdarkhor = Dirt eaters
*Dasht = Plains

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

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 28

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Ibrahim is the one guy who I know killed his wife. He lives in the next village over, and is related to your grandfather. He is wicked.
He beat up his wife. He beat her up so bad, her young daughters had to arrange transport to take her to Kabul for treatment. She didn’t make it. She died on the way to Kabul and the vehicle returned her lifeless body to the village.
I had met his wife. She was hard working – dokhtar-e-watan. Like the other poor women in the village, she labored hard, spent her days working the farms. She looked after his horse and cattle.

We were shocked to hear about her death. They lied to us about it. They said she had suddenly fallen ill and passed away. We still don’t know why he killed her.

The women who washed her body to prepare it for burial said the body was covered in marks and bruises, especially on her head. The hit on the head was what probably killed her. Nobody asked him questions or even tried to find out what had happened. They just took her and buried her body. That dog didn’t even attend the funeral. Then it all went quiet.
Her sister came over from Hotqol. She screamed that her sister had been beaten to death. We believed her but could not do much. His daughters cried and screamed but they didn’t say much. This continued for a few days and then everyone returned to their lives. People stopped caring and then forgot what had happened.

Ibrahim later remarried. He is still alive and lives in the village. I hear his son has taken to banditry.

*dokhtar = daughter
*wantan = homeland
*dokhtar-e-watan = daughter of the homeland

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 26

Jang-e-Jawri (The Battle of Corn) took place when your aunt Aabay Esmatulla was still a baby. That’s sixty years ago, may be seventy…I am not sure, dear.

One night in the summer of that bloody year, two Hazaras from Hotqol-Anguri went to the mill at Thangi Uthla to crush the family’s grain harvest. In the darkness of the night, they were set upon by Kuchis, and killed.

At the time, the villages bordering Pashtun lands constantly guarded their hills and mountains against recurring attacks. Villagers took turns to send their men to the mountains on guard duty. The bodies of the murdered Hazaras were discovered by the guards the next morning. The news soon spread to the villages, and soon, the villagers mobilized seeking revenge.

The guards and villagers then chased down the Kuchis, and killed them.

Sayed Ismail, once a farmer in our village, had been a guard and an eye-witness. He narrated:

We went out looking for the Kuchis responsible. We spotted them in the plains just beyond the gorge. We sneaked up on their position, surrounded them, and then in a surprise attack, killed them all.

Once the rage was over, we realized we didn’t know what to do with the dead bodies. We picked up the bodies, and climbed up a narrow ridge in the nearby mountains. There, one of the locals took us to a hole in the ground. One of the guys threw a rock into it to see if it was deep enough to hide the bodies. He threw the piece of rock and it was many moments before we heard it hit the bottom. Then we picked up all the nine or ten bodies one by one, and threw them down that hole.

That wasn’t enough. There had to be more bloodbath. The killers had been done with and disposed off. We wanted to teach the Kuchis a lesson. We went out looking for the Kuchi tents. We had to walk a long way to find them out in the plains. We walked up to their tents, and found an old man there. He was afraid. He had hid his daughter under the camel saddle. We killed him, we killed all their men. We left the women and children alive. We brought with us all their cattle, and distributed them amongst people in the villages. Our group then took the road up the hills and dispersed. In the hills we found another Kuchi man hiding among the rocks. We killed him too.

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Battles don’t end when the killings stops. It continues so long as the thirst for revenge is still there. When both sides want revenge, it is like the seasons of the year. It goes on forever.

The surviving Kuchi women went to the governor of Ghazni to plea for help. They cut open their breasts, and dared the governor to fight for their honor. The governor at the time was Sayed Abbass. He was powerful, and ruthless but unwell.

He sent his soldiers to speak to the Hazaras. The Hazaras denied any involvement in the massacre. The soldiers investigated. They could not find any bodies but they found out about the Kuchi cattle, which by that time had been sent deep into the mountains of Pashi and Shirdagh. The governor’s men demanded compensation for the cattle. All the Hazaras of Jaghori had to contribute wheat and other harvest to the villages of Hotqol Anguri to help them pay off the compensation.

When the men returned to Ghazni, Sayed Abbass vowed revenge, and swore to crush the Hazaras as soon as he recovered from illness. He instructed his men to be battle ready.

Sayed Abbass never recovered. His illness prolonged. He died before he could attempt to fight any battles.

They call it the Corn-War/Jang-e-Jawri. I don’t know why because it had nothing to do with corn.

*Aabay = Mother as in Aabay Estmaulla = Esmatullah’s Mother
*Jang = Fight/War/Battle as in Jang-e-Jawri = Battle of Corn
*Jawri = Corn
*Thangi = Gorge as in Thangi Uthla = Uthla Gorge

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 23

The Soviets sent their tanks to Jaghori to take back Sang-e-Masha. There were hundreds of them. We climbed on our roof-top and could see the column of tanks roll into Sang-e-Masha. There were airplanes and helicopters, and other vehicles that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The helicopters fired bombs the Mujaheddin positions on the mountain tops behind Tameer. Some of the bombs were called Parachute bombs. They started with a gentle fall, and then flashed towards the Mujaheddin posts. We could hear the bang and see the flashes of fire. The tanks rolled into the markets, and then rolled into the hills towards Chil-Baghtu. Later they turned around and returned to Lomo, and stayed there.

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The people of Sang-e-Masha fled. They arrived in their hundreds, may be thousands. Hundreds of them came to our village. Many stayed, some kept walking further into the hills, towards Haydar and Pato. Families, the young, the old, children, they kept arriving across the Jaar Pass in large groups. Some of them stopped to ask for water and food. We shared with them what we had, but there wasn’t much. It appeared that there was no one left in Sang-e-Masha. The tanks had scared away entire villages

We never anticipated it, but as the explosions, firing, and soldiers got closer to the village, we, too, had to flee. Every time there was plane in the sky, we ran out of the house and hid under the trees. We ran up the Akhta valley to hide in Ghar-e-Laalaye. To our surprise, we found most of the village already in the cave. Other families had already run up the valley the previous night. At the one end of the cave sat the families from the village, at the other end were families from Lab-e-Darya, and other villages in Sang-e-Masha. The cave was full, but people kept coming. More people were cramming into the cave when Moallem-e Jaar arrived. He screamed:

For God’s sake, leave. We are too far up the mountain. The cave can be seen from Tameer. They have binoculars.

We panicked. People forced their way out. Some rushed further up the hill, others flocked down the hill. It was chaos.

Moments later, something whizzed over our heads and slammed against the Jaaba rock face. Plumes of smoke rose from the top of the mountain. Then there was another. Then more shells whizzed past the hill. Aabay Rasheed and the rest of us screamed down the hill and hid in the trees. Some hid behind the big rocks. We were afraid. Parents forgot their children, husbands their wives, nobody knew or cared where the other person was. We thought that was it. We thought we would all die. Then it stopped. It was all quiet. We didn’t dare move. We stayed put until it was dark. Then some returned to get food, others stayed out in the open.

Khadim, Dr Ghulam Hussain’s father, was killed in Qondolqash. He thought that the tanks had left, and he returned to his home. He was shot. He crawled around his house leaving behind a blood trail. He bled to death. It was rumored that he was killed by his communist cousin who was accompanying the Soviets at the time. Another man was shot on the road to Hotqol. Ghulam Abbass from the village had been captured by the soviet soldiers:

Using gun-firing gestures they asked me if I was a Mujaheddin. I shook my head. Then the soldiers drew lines in the soil like a farmer. In their gestures they wanted to know if I used a shovel and was a farmer. I nodded and using my legs and arms acted out farming and irrigation. They let me go. I didn’t move. They pushed me, and pointed at the road. I began walking but I thought they would shoot. I walked on and on. They stood there and did nothing.

The tanks stayed in Lomo for one winter, and the fighting continued. They fortified their positions and mined the hills. After the winter, they returned to where they came from. It was months of waiting before the people returned to their homes. People just could not believe that the soviets and their Iron forts were gone.

Now that I look back and think, the Soviets were not nearly as bad as the groups that come after them. The civil war worse than the war against the Soviets. When our people turned on one another, they committed atrocities hundreds of times worse than that of the Soviets. It was the Mujahedin, then came the Taliban, and now they say there is a new group called Damish or Dashi or Daish (ISIS) or Doshi. Those despots are killing people on TV all the time. I hear they don’t even spare children. Let’s wait and see what new calamities they bring upon our people this time around.

*Ghaar = Cave
*Tameer = Central market in Jaghori