Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 58

Many women died during childbirth, many more children never got the chance to become adults. The ills that are today cured by taking one of those tablets you people keep in the fridge, have killed so many people in my lifetime. One evening someone would complain of a stomach ache, the next morning they would be dead, and by that afternoon, he would be buried in Paas-e-Gardo. People did not know better. All medications in access were herbs found in the mountains around us. Sometimes the rich families travelled to villages days away and brought with them a doctor on the back of a donkey. He instantly became the main attraction in the village. I remember people used the same injection for many people in many villages, and was kept with a trusted person. Only the hooshyaar knew what went into it.

10410815_345163149021874_1430725723564559355_n

Your father was away. He was too busy with politics and the war. He barely had any time for his own children. At noon on one day you became very ill. You turned pale, began throwing up and it looked like you were going to pass out. We had already lost your brother before you. It alarmed us all. We sent for your maternal grandfather. He was unwell, and could not show up with his donkey to take you to the clinic in Tameer.

I did not know better. I picked you up in my arms, headed out, headed up for the pass, and began running towards Tameer. You could not hold your head, and it swayed from side to side. I kept running ahead, crossed the pass, ran down the hill, into the little valley and all the way to Gardon-e-Kosha. I must have run for an hour, before your ill grandfather on donkey-back caught up with me. I put you on the animal and from there we rushed you to Sima Samar.

*hooshyar = Clever / The widely recognised clever person in the village

Moral: It takes a village to raise a child.

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.

 

 449

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.

 

 207

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 – 32

 26

On my trip last year, I returned to the village to see who it was that lived on our land.
I was with your auntie. We walked into the old orchard, and began looking around to see what had changed. We saw a little girl. The expression on her face said she didn’t like us there.

What are you doing?

I smiled:

You have a beautiful orchard here, dokhtarem. We are just having a look.

She nodded but said nothing. I noticed her hiding behind the trees, and following us around the farm.
We stopped by the little stream in Lingaa, when the girl came to us with another older girl. The older girl was her sister. She greeted us, and recognized your auntie. She asked us to come over for tea. We were busy, so I promised to stop by the following day.

I visited our home the following evening. I met the two girls, and their mother. I didn’t see any men. I looked around, and thought about the old days.

I had tea with them, and told them our story.
I asked them theirs.
The lady said they were from Urozgan.

We had a house, a place like yours to call home. We had a farm and orchard.
The Taliban attacked. We didn’t have the weapons or the power to fight back.
They killed some of the villagers to terrorize us. We were terrorized. We fled into the Hazara mountains, and after weeks, ended up here.
The Taliban now occupy our village, farms and home. We are too fearful to return.



*dokhtarem = My daughter

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.

 431-2
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 – 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.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 14

Hadi jan, many years before you were born, we were ruled over by a despot. I don’t remember his name, but I remember that he was ruthless. People said he was a communist supported by Shorawi (Soviet Union). He had overthrown the king, and forced him to run away. Everyone prominent, and anyone who had ever sided with the king was taken away, and then shot dead or buried alive.

 122Aatay Zia-e Sirqol, Akhund Karblaye of Kosha, two sons of Usta Rajab, two sons of Raees Abdullah Khan, Sima Samar’s husband, and countless others were taken away. They never returned. Their bodies were never found.

Aabay Mansoor lost her husband:

He was asleep. They came for him at midnight. He walked out wearing a perahan. It was cold. He asked to be allowed to change and kiss his children goodbye. He wasn’t allowed to. They took him away. He never returned.

They took away Qareedar Babai. They were in a convoy driving to Ghazni when it was ambushed. The soldiers fled. Qareedar and others were freed.

The people rose up against the governor and the King. From the mountains they attacked the governor in Tameer. They attacked all night. The government soldiers were besieged inside their fort in Tameer. The sounds of bullets and bombs, and the flashes of light kept us awake all night.

The next day, I met Aatay-GhulamLi. He was jubilant:

Congratulations! The Mujahideen broke through their defenses.The soldiers fled into the farms. They were chased and killed.

The government sent their jets to avenge the governor. The dropped big bombs, mostly into the mountains and hills. They avoided the villages. We had two visitors from Haydar. I was serving them lunch under the mulberry tree when the jets attacked Tameer. We saw the bombs drop, and smoke shoot up the sky. The explosion was so huge that I dashed for home thinking everything was falling apart. I lost my headscarf, but in fear I did not dare turn back to get it.

There was a huge fire, which lasted for days. I thought everyone was dead and turned into ash. Later we found out that the planes had hit the fuel depot and all the fire was from the burning timber.

*Shorawi = Farsi term for the Soviet Union

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 13

The Kuchis came to the hills every year. They spent the entire summer in the area. They ate from our orchards, claimed their right on the crops, ate our food and at times, stayed at our homes. Their cattle and camels grazed all over our land, while they grazed all over our homes and livelihood.

One hot summer day, the girls were getting mulberries from the tree when they dropped a full container.

“Ay khag da sar e Awgho!” (Damn the awgho!), I exclaimed.

Bakhtawar Awgho, who I did not know was up the next mulberry tree, heard me.

He yelled:

Khag bar sar e Hazara! Khagbar sar e Hazara! Khag bar sar e Hazara!” (Damn the Hazara!)

I was taken aback. I panicked and dropped all the mulberries. I huddled my girls together, and rushed back home.

Bakhtawar Awgho, Sher Jan and Sahib Jan came from Rasna. They were not nice people. They did all they wanted in the summer. They barged into our homes when they wanted. They demanded food, took our belongings, and beat up anyone who resisted. They had the support of the government. We despised them, but were too afraid and too weak to ever say anything.

In the Autumn the Kuchis returned home, only to return the following summer. Then came the war, and mehrbani khuda, they stopped coming. May be that was the one good thing about the war.

5431638989_acf61e0a8c_b
*Kuchi = Afghan Pashtun nomads
*Awgho = A variant of the word Afghan; a term Hazaras use to refer to Pashtuns
*Mehrbani Khuda = By the grace of God.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 11

At noon we reached Lashkirai, a small dusty town controlled by the Hezb-e-Islami group. We were afraid. We were also carsick; so carsick that we almost forgot we were afraid. We had tea. I got better, and afraid again. We journeyed on. We spent the night in Moqor waiting for a caravan of large trucks to travel along to escape the bandits, the Kuchis and the Mujahideen.

The following evening, we stopped by an isolated mud-house hotel by the road. The late Qambar Ali asked if we wanted to eat. We didn’t want to eat, and for that sin the hotel owner didn’t let us in. We had to spend the night sleeping over one another inside the crammed car. Qambar Ali and Qadeer stood outside and guarded the car all night. At day break, we hit the open plains and the car jumped up and down and swayed from side to side as it crept towards the unknown.

That evening, just as the darkness fell upon us, the sound of bullets cracked from all directions, our vehicle was being shot at. We screamed and hugged one another. We were told to keep our heads low. The car sped up. It raced through the open plains as fast as it could. The crackling died down and we survived. Qambar Ali pointed at a far away light: “Those are Kuchis. They wanted us to stop. They would have shot us either way”. We journeyed on.

At noon the next day, along a narrow pass, the car was stopped by an armed Pashtun man who stood straight in the middle of the road, guns blazing. He demanded that we let him travel in the car or he would kill us all. The man from Sabz Chob jumped out of the vehicle, raised his rifle and challenged him. They yelled at each other a few times before the Pashtun man let us go. As the car left, the guns remained blazed and ready to shoot. We were scared. Nothing happened.

At dawn the next day, we arrived at a little green wadi rich with vegetation and rain water. It was close to the border. We stopped, all got out of the car, and laughed at one another. We were covered head to toe in white soft dust and looked like ghosts. We had evaded death, we were homeless but we were happy that we had survived.

 


__________________________________________________________________________
“If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden.”
Haruki Murakami

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 3

 431-2

One of my aunties was a Qalandar. The Qalandar Hazaras had been driven off their native land by the Kuchis. In the dead of winter she would tell us kids her story:

We lived in a valley called Nawoor Toghay, near Thai Bogha. We were a powerful and prosperous people. The land was fertile, and food was plentiful. We had almond farms. Upon harvesting the fruit, the women gathered to crush the seeds, and extracted almond oil. We bartered the oil for the things we needed. We also raised cattle, mostly fat and healthy sheep. The Qalandar herded their cattle on horseback. The arbab rode through the herd and sliced of sheep suet on the run. This was a show of power.

Then came the Kuchis, and it was all gone. The Kuchi attack caught us off-guard. Some fought, others could only run away. Many were butchered. We fled and were only able to carry what we could hold in our hands. We ran and hid. Many didn’t make it. We ran to the settled Pashtuns and pleaded with them to save us. They protected us, the survivors, from the Kuchis. In the darkness of the night, they helped us flee to the Hazara lands.

My auntie was old. She died and took her stories to grave. Now I am old but I remember her stories.

 

*Arbab = Nobles