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 – 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 – 22

We lived isolated lives high in the valleys. We were strangers to the changes in the world, or rather they were stranger to us. By the time I first got to watch TV, I had already raised many children. Let alone televisions, many of us had barely seen a vehicle or an airplane.

Your late aunty from Hotqol visited Kabul. One morning her hosts turned on their pocket radio to listen to the news. Upon hearing a male voice, your auntie covered her face to do purdah. She noticed that the women of the host family did not cover their faces, did not observe purdah. She was old, and she immediately scolded them:

“You have no shame! There are strange men there, and you dare let them see your faces!”


 

When I visited Kabul, we would gather at Aatay Hafiz’s basement at night to watch TV in secret. He owned a small television set that was easy to hide and put away during the day. Your maternal grandfather was a strict man. He disapproved of television, and called it Haram. We made sure he didn’t find out we all watched TV.

 

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It is said that in the Pas-Qad valleys, when the women first saw a car, they assumed it was a type of animal they had never seen before. They called it pesh-ghorghoor-e-pas-khaagbad – literally translated as the thing that ‘makes noise at the front, and blows dust at the back’. Some women even threw grass in front of the car, assuming that if it was an animal, it had to eat grass.

That’s how strange these machines were for our people. Things have changed now. Nothing can surprise me anymore.


*Purdah = a religious and social practice of female seclusion prevalent among some Muslim communities; the practice of females covering their faces in the presence of a non-family male
*Haram = Arabic term meaning sinful; Items and practices forbidden in Islamic belief
*Pas-Qad = Backward; A derogatory term used to refer to those living deep in the mountains

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 21

Prologue: As barbaric as the treatment of prisoners and minorities at the hands of groups like ISIS is, it isn’t new, or even unusual in the recent history of the geographic and cultural Middle East. What’s unprecedented is the detailed coverage of these crimes in the social and news media. Cases in point in Story 15 and here in 21:

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In the year they killed Ali Madad Khan, your uncle was still too young to attend school, and your father worked in Tameer. It was just after Shorawi had left the area, and the factional war had only begun.

Ali Madad Khan was a tribal noble. He was old, pious but open minded. Unlike the ones before him, his generation of nobles were good people. They were educated, they had traveled the world, and knew a few things about how the world worked. They helped bring in new equipment for agriculture, introduced new crops, and set up proper schools for girls and boys.

The educated children of these nobles rebelled against the old way of life. They became teachers, doctors, engineers and officers. They spoke against the Shorawi and the mullahs. Yet they were only a few in number, and were almost all killed in the wars. Some of them were taken away and killed by the government, others were killed by the Mujaheddin and mullahs.
They mullahs issued a fatwa calling for the death of Ali Madad Khan and all the their opponents called Tanzeemi and Sholayee. The mullahs accused them of receiving support from the infidels of the USSR and China. They had introduced these slogans at school:

The USSR is worse than the US, the US is worse than the USSR, China is worse than both.

They told the people that Ali Madad Khan had strayed from the right path, and was organizing dance and music parties in his castle. They accused him and his allies of being communists, atheists and apostates, and by decree called for their death.

They besieged his castle and shot their way in. The thick walls of his castle were said to have tunnels in them, and the Khan had hid in there. The old man was chased in those tunnels, dragged out and killed in front of his young daughter. Following the execution, the mujaheddin molested his daughter, his only child at home at the time.

The Mujaheddin used his execution as a show of power and as a way to terrify their opponents. They did not let his family bury his dead body. When his daughter tried to approach his body, they Mujaheddin soldiers groped her under the pretense that they were searching her for concealed grenades and weapons. The Khan’s body lay in the open for many days. After the body had decomposed, and had been mauled by jackals, the Mujaheddin allowed his brothers to bury his old body.
Those responsible for his murder were the mujaheddin, including the commander who later tried to kill your father accusing him of apostasy and being a Sholayee. They killed everyone who opposed them. They were no better than the people they had fought and deposed. They were worse. They came from different parties. Some were called Nasri, some Nahzati, others were in Hezb Islami, and still others in Shora.

 

 

*Shorawi = Farsi for the USSR
*Mullah = Islamic clergy
*Mujaheddin = Islamic fighter; Collective noun for Islamist factions fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan
*Tanzeemi = A member of Tanzeem – nationalist faction active in the central highlands in the 1970s and 1980s
*Sholayee = A member of Shola-e-Javed – A Maoist party active in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s
*Nasri/Nahzati/Hezb Islami/Shora = Islamist Parties active in Afghanistan in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 16

10410815_345163149021874_1430725723564559355_nYour late baabaie once took me for a pilgrimage to the Dahmarda shrine. The shrine is a reminder of the Kuchi-Hazara wars. He and Aatay AbdurRahim pointed at different hilltops as they recounted the battle for Dahmarda.

The Kuchis had better guns and were more numerous. They had pushed us back into a narrow gorge. We were lost and desperate, so much so that the women of Dahmarda tied their trousers on sticks and raised them on their roofs. This was either to shame the Kuchis or to confuse them, or perhaps to remind their men that their honor was at stake.

The Kuchis had almost overpowered us when a horse-rider emerged from the spot where the shrine is. The rider wore black and rode a white horse. The rider rode straight into the Kuchi lines and broke through it. In the ensuing chaos, their lines faltered, and we gained our confidence. We were sure that the higher powers were with us; may be the Kuchis believed that too. They ran away.

It was the first time that the Kuchis had been beaten back. Before that, they had been taking over Hazara land all around Dahmarda. If not for that battle, they would have taken over Dahmarda as well. The Hazaras of Rasna, Nawa, Jhanda and other places were dispossessed. They either fled into the mountains or to Pakistan and Iran.

On the way back, passing through Rasna, we ran into an Awgho on a horse. He told us off,

Off the path, Hazara!

We all had to move off the road to let him pass. He was proud and arrogant. He rode on without even taking a second look at us.

Under the Taliban, the new Kuchis returned. They brought their cattle to graze on our farms. The villagers had asked them leave. In their arrogance, they had laughed:

Relax, Hazara kafir. We will return next year, and become next-door neighbors.

The next year, they didn’t dare return. The Americans saved our people. Bless the Americans.

*Kafir= Arabic term for infidel, unbeliever; Derogatory term used for a non-believer
*Baabaie = Hazaragi for grandfather
*Awgho = Slang term for Afghan; a term Hazaras use to refer to Pashtuns

Disclaimer: While these anecdotes may be based on actual events, they’re by no means meant to invoke prejudice, hate or love, support for one community or another. Read with context and time in mind.