Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 82

 

Many moons ago there was a severe hail-storm over the village. It came at the worst possible time of the year, just after spring, and hailstones the size of my fist fell out of the sky. It devastated the crops, the farms, the trees, the animals, and also the farmers. It hit any living thing that was not under a roof. The hailstone heaped up to a hand-span’s height over our roof. Hailstones so big, the ones in the shadows lay there for a whole day before disappearing.

The village shepherd had just made it past the pass before being caught in the storm. He had hid under a tree, and had to abandon his flock out in the open. Moments later four or five of the animals lay dead. Others limped and ran around like they had gone mad.

The fields lay flat, and the village streams flowed full with unripe apricots, apples, leaves and branches. The wheat crop for the year was destroyed, Alfalfa fields were flattened, saplings and weaker tree were brought down, and with them the hard work of all the families in the village. Crops devastated, orchards destroyed, and lives changed, all within a few moments of a long spring afternoon. We had almost nothing left, and it was only the spring. The whole year lay ahead of us.

In that year or perhaps the next one, may be even the one after that, we moved to live in Kabul. We moved to live with your maternal grandfather in Wazirabad. Musa’s father, yet to marry your aunty, was the only breadwinner for the families there. We lived in groups of five and more per room. Three families in the house. There was only a little food available to feed us all. Your grandfather had to return to Jaghori to bring to Kabul some harvest and farm produce. His cousin the Qareedar had come to him crying, telling him how isolated he had become in our absence. He had pleaded with him to return to the village.

That plea convinced him to return back to what we had escaped from in the first place. Our life in the mountains. Your mother’s family followed us soon after. We all returned to the village.

It’s true that man is tougher than a rock, and softer than a flower.

Qareedar = village chief

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Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 80

Our lives were difficult, our grieves were plenty and misery had a habit of finding its way to us, especially in the years after your grandfather disappeared.

We lived in Taina Aghil – the lower section of the village, and the all the streams flowed in from the foothills – Balna Aghil. There was a bad drought for a few years, and we were left without sufficient water for irrigating the land. The little water that streamed down the mountains was all used up in Balna Aghil, and the streams running through our farm dried up completely. In desperation, your father, still a teenager, approached the families of Balna Aghil to ask them to let some flow down the valley. Almost all agreed to do so, except Mamaye – the commander’s right hand man. Mamaye said that he would rather let the water flow to nowhere than let it flow to our farm. That was it. Most of the farm dried up that year, and most of the crop was wasted.
Days later your father sent your uncle to Serqol to ask Moallem, close relative and cousin, to lend us his bulls to help plough a patch of the farm. Moallem did not say no but he said everything else that meant no. He said he had already been approached by many people and that some had even offered to pay money. I understood what this meant – we were unable to pay and hence we could not borrow the bulls. Your uncle returned empty handed.

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Your uncle was a child at the time, a young child. Contrary to the advice of most of the villagers, your father enrolled him into a school. He walked to Sangemasha. He walked for hours through the hills to get there, and hours on his way back. The summer heat was crushing and the terrain was difficult. Every few days a week he returned home bloodied-nose, exhausted by of the heat. I advised him to stay at his sister’s home at noon and to then walk home when it was cooler in the afternoon. He did that for a few days, and then returned home early one day. I scolded him for walking in the heat again, and asked what had happened. He was upset:

Sister had guests over. When I got there, she was taking a plate of fruits to the guests. She saw me, she called me over and she kissed me on the cheek. She gave me a piece of fruit and she called me her life. She then told me not to return anymore. Her in-laws did not like my visits.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 74

A husband and wife in Baderzar took their little daughter to the mountains, and kept her in a cave. They took food and other things for her in that cave but they kept her hidden from the eyes of the other villagers.

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I do not know how long this went on for before she was discovered by a shepherd. The villagers then found out, and soon this news spread to the kharijis working in Sangemasha. The came to the village, and went to the cave where the girl was being kept by her parents. They found out that she had leprosy. The khariji took her to Sangemasha, and then to Karachi in Pakistan for treatment.

People say she received treatment for years in Karachi, and she was cured. In Karachi she met and married another leprosy sufferer from Jaghori. They settled and became rich. The girl’s parents tried to contact her but she kept them out of her life.

Leprosy was the big terror of our days. People thought leprosy sufferers were cursed. They hid the victims or took them to the mountains where they often died and were eaten by wolves, bears and jackals. People who contracted leprosy were considered cursed, their families were cursed, and their villages were cursed. It was terrifying.

When the khariji  doctors first started visiting villages to treat people, some villagers pelted rocks at them, and chased them out of their villages because they did not want others to find out.

The kharijis stayed in Sangemasha for many years and visited all the villages to treat people. They saved many people, and removed the terror of leprosy from our lives.

 

Khariji = Westerners

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 – 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.

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

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 60

Shaykh brother died because something happened to his heart. Aatay Saadiq died after he was viciously beaten up by his own son. Appendicitis killed Aatay Khadimsayn, and loneliness killed Aatay Rasheed. Aabay Mamdyaqoob is half alive. May Aatay Abdulsayn live long.

Shaykh brother was the eldest. He died when we were still in Watan. He had been ill. In those rugged mountains there were no doctors or medicine. They had given him everything they could get their hands on. I went to see him. He lay in the corner. He sounded drugged. We sat and spoke for a short time.

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My sister approached him, sat next to him to comfort him, and placed her hand on his heart. He instantly sat straight up. He let out a sigh:

Aghay! You killed me!

He turned pale, his head tilted back and he breathed no more. No motion, no more sighs, nothing. He died.

My other brother Aatay Sadiq was an elder of the village and the family. An old man, he was beaten up by his son Juma Khan, over I do not know what! He beat him up so bad, the whole village heard his screams and cries for help. None went to his rescue. He did not survive that. He sustained injuries, fell ill and died. That beating killed him. That bastard Juma Khan still lives.

I saw my other brother Aatay Khadimsayn on the hospital bed in Quetta. I had not been told that he was in town. He had been so ill, they had had to take him across the border, straight to a hospital. I was taken to him. He lay on the bed but his stare did not look normal. I stood there and then walked up to him. I asked if he recognised me. He held my hand, and whispered:

I can tell from your voice that you are my sister.

He held my hands, but he kept staring at the ceiling. The bed he was on was wet. I asked his wife for the reason. He said the stitches from the surgery had gone off. Yellow puss had been oozing out of the cuts. And that was my last ever conversation with my sweet brother. I was returned home. The next time I saw him, he was wrapped in a white shroud, lifeless, gone forever.

Aabay Mamdyaqoob was almost killed by Hemiplegia. She lives as one half of herself, on a bed all day and all night, all the time, needing help to do even something as basic as rolling from one side to the other. She can not go around, be about and do what she likes. She spends her days crying, recalling names of her children and trying to identify the relatives visiting her.

I had two brothers left. Aatay Rasheed was left all alone. His children abandoned him, abandoned the country. He had a whole village, empty of people, to roam around at his age. Loneliness killed him.

I have a brother left – the only heir to my father. May god keep him safe and alive for his children and grandchildren.

*Watan = Homeland
*Aghay = Sister
*Aatay = Father

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 – 47

Where did you go Kakai?

He smiled and looked away.

I visited Koh-e-Qaaf. It was beautiful. I met fairies there, and now I have returned because I am hungry.

Young Shirin Jan’s and Ewaz’s father had died, their mother was well and alive. People still called them orphans. Mullah Khagbad adopted his niece and nephew, and married the widow mother, but not long after, the mother too, died. With the mother and father gone, there was no one in the world to care for them anymore. They had no family. Their relatives abandoned them. They had been good young children, but after that, they became orphans, they were discarded, and forsaken.

 310To survive, the brother and sister began doing manual labour for the families in the village. They herded cattle, collected firewood, worked on people’s farms, and performed household chores in exchange for food and handouts.

They grew up. Ewaz lost his mind, bechara Shirin Jan was not any better. She looked miserable. Her head was full of lice. People treated them with despise, called them names and offered them neither work, nor food and shelter.  They survived off the little food and fruits they grew on their late parents’ farm.

Even there, the village kids harassed them. They would go to Shirin Jan:

Come play with us. We will clean up your hair.

That innocent girl would believed those kids. They would make her lie face-down and then they would pretended to clean the lice off her head. She would think of it as a game. Meanwhile, the other kids would go through every corner of their family orchard, their home and steal all they could carry. This happened all the time. She would believe those village kids and play with them. In turn, the kids would steal, go away, return and steal again. Shirin Jan didn’t change. The kids didn’t either.

Ewaz turned into a recluse. They called him Ewaz Kakai – the uncle, Ewaz Dewna- the mad. He spend his nights in people’s barns, amongst cattle, on the trees, and in the hills. He barely ever went home, and barely spoke to anyone. He had no place to call home. Occasionally he would come to us to ask for food. He would tell us stories, of genies, demons, fairies of koh-e-qaaf, of things he said he saw at night. He would go missing for days and weeks, and then suddenly reappear one day, and ask for food.

Where did you go Kakai?

He would smile and look away.

I visited Koh-e-Qaaf. It was beautiful. I met fairies there, and now I have returned because I am hungry.

Ewaz grew old, and died alone, in someone’s barn, without a family or a loved one by his side. Shirin Jan was married off to Aaw-borda village. I think she too, died a few years ago.

*Bechara = Poor
*Koh-e-Qaaf = The Caucasus Mountains – Legend has it that fairies live there

Stores My Grandmother Told Me – 45

Music was forbidden, singers were frowned upon, and the act of singing was deemed equal to bringing dishonor to the family. Even the open minded families who brought singers from far away places for their weddings and child-birth celebrations, fed and placed those singers separately, and treated them as less deserving than other guests.

As a teenager, I used to sing songs all day long when I was the family shepherd, running up and down the mountains. As did my brother, the late Aatay Khadim Hussain. Sometimes we sat together by a large rock, and sang loud songs in the mountains. And then we grew up in age, but we didn’t grow out of wanting to sing together when we could.

 

IMG_2910My firstborn was still a young baby when I visited my parents. The following day, as I cared for my baby in the goolkho, my brother walked in, closed the door, and pleaded with me:

Come on aaghai, let’s sing a ghazal before I take hookah and charcoal for father’s guests.

We were in a long corridor, and it was all quiet. We sat there for those brief moments, and broke out in songs, like the old days, like we sang in the mountains.

On another day, years earlier, we were carrying meal up the Akhta valley for my father and other men from the village who were there to collect firewood for the coming winter. We delivered the meal and then set off on our descent. We stopped to rest by a few large rocks. He sang, and then I sang, and then we sang together as our voices echoed in the valley below.

We sang loud, without a care in the world. As we sang, I noticed that some men resting on the rocks on the other side of the valley. The sat next to their stack of firewood, and were staring at us, listening to our songs. I alerted my brother. We were shy and we stopped singing. We picked our bag, and continued our return trip to the village.

My late brother was the child after me. We were best friends. We understood each other. May God bless his soul.

 

*goolkho = kitchen
*aaghai = sister
*ghazal = traditional hazaragi song

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 44

There was once a degho named Kalbi Zawar in our village. He had big scratch marks on his forehead, and the hair and part of the ear on the right side of his head were missing. The children in the village were scared of him. It is said that in his younger days, he had slept near the barn one night to guard his cattle. A wolf had attacked him in his sleep, mauled him and disfigured his face forever. The villagers believed that a wolf will chase after any person it has bitten once; the scratch was the mark of the hunted. Zawar was afraid to go out alone at night for the rest of his life. He believed that the same wolf was out there looking for him.

d7684d5334a161630c02e18373d0bac341235374cdaa0c4f298e16dfa2421e91In the days of my father, people dwelled in the villages, and beyond them lived the predators. During the war, the people moved everywhere, some of the people became predators, and actual animals vanished. In those days, people always traveled in groups, and only the bravest and most clever men ventured into the high mountains to collect firewood and hunt. My father told me stories about people who had been attacked by bears and leopards around the Akhta valley, only a short distance away from the village.

People were afraid of Bears. Bears built nests in and around their caves, and built little places to sleep, keep their cubs, jump around, and run up and down the slopes. Villagers rarely ventured past the foothills. A villager named Sayed Ismail once set out to walk to the Paato mountains. He ran into a pack of bears. The bears chased him, mauled him, and slapped him to near death. The nearby villagers heard his screams and came to his rescue. He had been beaten so bad, he was unrecognizable for weeks. The villagers wrapped him in sheepskin to save his life. He survived.

Wolves and hyenas were the most fearsome of all the animals in the mountains. The hunted in packs, attacked cattle, and when they could, killed and ate villagers. One afternoon, as I and my mother sat in the cattle barn, I sensed that there was something running round and around the barn. I alerted my mother, she looked out and said that it was a wolf. We reinforced the barn door and windows to keep the wolf out that night. But wolves are persistent, and that night, that wolf or that pack tried to dig under the barn wall to get inside and eat. We saw a dig area and scratch marks on the wall the next morning.

On another night, I almost lost my daughter Habiba to a hyena. She was probably 4 or 5 years old at the time. It was winter, the earth was covered in snow, and the men were busy sipping tea, smoking hookah, and reading the Shahnama. She had to go to the toilet, so I took her outside to the bushes behind the house. I was standing by and waiting for her to finish when I heard a growling sound. I looked up and saw this massive hyena running at us through the snow. It had its eyes locked upon us. I screamed as loud as I could. I grabbed Habiba and rushed for the house door. I had barely made five steps before the creature outmaneuvered me. It stood right at the door, staring at me, growling. I was paralyzed with fear, my arms became numb, I couldn’t scream, Habiba fell out of my arms, and I fell on my knees. Your grandfather and my brothers ran out of the house with shovels and sticks in their hands. The hyena ran away and disappeared into the darkness.

Many years later, one day as I sat home in the Sun and sipped tea, I heard Sakina scream. I ran towards the barn to see what was wrong.

Look Aabay, the chicken is eating a snake!

I went closer and saw that a large snake and the chicken were facing off. I gave Sakina a stick and told her to stand at the door. I picked a stick and attacked the snake. It slithered into a heap of alfalfa. I kept striking the heap with the stick, and hit anything that moved. I kept going. I killed that snake. I found it motionless. It was big. I could not even lift it with a shovel. I measured its length, and it was ten hand-span long. Snakes make home where they find food, and because of that, if you find a snake, you kill it.

Aabay Malik from the village did voodoo healing to treat people out of illnesses, bee stings and snake bites. She and her son could catch snakes. She treated and helped many to recovery, but she couldn’t save her own son. He had chased after a snake, and jumped into a pit full of snakes. The snakes bit him and wrapped around his legs. He had had to take off his Pyjamas to get the snake off. By the time he reached the village, his appearance had change. He had been bitten many times. His father and mother did these voodoo rituals and prayers for him for 4 days. But the venom had destroyed his organs. He kept spitting blood, and 4 days after the bites, he died.

I was twice stung by hornets. Both times I had to have injections to save me. The first time I got a sting, I was sleeping in front of the old house on a warm afternoon. I felt a sting on my left side. I quickly got up, took off my skirt, and threw it away. There was a yellow hornet there. I put some medicine on it, and thinking not much of it, tried to get back to sleep. In the space of an hour and perhaps less, I felt sick, I began stuttering, and then vomiting. I felt nauseous. Your grandfather gave me an injection, and only then I felt better. Another time, I was cutting up firewood when I was stung on my hand. The same thing happened again. I became drowsy, nauseous and very sick. Your late grandfather gave me the injection, and it made me better. To this day, I am scared of hornets buzzing around.

*Shahnama = The Shahnama is a long epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi between c. 977 and 1010 CE and is the national epic of Greater Iran
*degho = farmer
*watan = homeland
*Aabay = mother