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 – 70

The whole village, old and young, called him Babai – the grandfather; Karblayi Babai – the grandfather who had been to Karbala. He was old. He would sit under the mulberry tree all day in the spring and summer, and he would spend most of the days reading the Koran. He had evenly spread some soft sand from the spring under the tree, and transformed the place into his own little part of the village. The whole village and everyone who passed through the village knew his little spot under the mulberry tree.

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He was a man of God. A long long time ago, in his younger days, long before I was old enough to remember anything, he had walked to Karbala. He had joined other men and walked into the hills all the way to Karbala and back. This was before there were cars and vehicles, before people knew there were other countries. He not only went to Karbala but unlike many others, he returned home alive. He must have walked days and nights and weeks and months.

Those were different days but the roads were as dangerous as they are today. Beyond the Hazara lands there were people who made their shoes from the skin of the Hazara pilgrims and wore it as trophy. They waited in the hills, ambushed travelers, robbed them of their belongings, and made shoes from pieces of skin of us infidels. Babai had made it out of those hills and returned back.

I was a teenager, and would go to the spring next to the mulberry tree to fetch water. I would carriy a pot on my shoulders, and go the spring with my face covered so that I could do the pardah from Babai.  He ignored it when I did that the first few times, but one day he asked me to stop; then scolded me:

Until a few days ago I would see you run around with the other children, and you would sing and walk here and there behind your flock of sheep. Today I see you covering your face like a grown woman. Don’t you act like a grown up. You are like my child. Also, you will tumble and break the pot and your father will beat you up.

I stopped doing that.

Karblayi Babai lived to be many years over 100 years old. No one knew how old he was but he was everyone’s babai. May he rest in peace.

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*Pardah = Veil
*Babai = Grandfather/Old man
*Karblayi = A person who has been to Karbala for pilgrimage

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 – 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

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 – 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 – 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 – 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