Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 36

I hate lightning.

A long time ago, a man from Haidar visited Balna-Aaghil of the village. He was there to borrow a bull from Chaman to crush his wheat-yield for the year. He was staying in Chaman’s guestroom when dark clouds rolled in over the village. At that moment, Chaman’s wife happened to be on the roof, cleaning the roof-surface to dry apricots.

In a few moments of mid-day later that day, a man from the village saw her being flung from one end of the roof to the other; half of her body landed on the ledge with the torso dangling off the edge. What followed was the loudest crackle and thunder I have ever heard in my life.

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The guest from Haider, the man I was talking about, he lay dead in Chaman’s guest room. He had been standing at the window inspecting the drizzle outside when he was struck by lightning. He could not move one step before he was struck dead. He was killed in an instant. The same lightning bolt that killed him, also struck Chaman’s wife on the roof. She was badly hurt but fortunately for her, still alive.

The villagers got together at Chaman’s to inspect the damage. We were all so shocked we couldn’t believe it.

The villagers in Haidar couldn’t believe it either. The man’s family suspected that he had been murdered. They sent many villagers to look at what had happened. Some of them came armed, ready for a fight. They spoke to the people from our village. They met Chaman’s wife and saw her perilous condition, they saw the visibly charred path of the lightning bolt. Only and only then did they believe that their man hadn’t been murdered but had been the victim of nature.

In sad mourning on a dark afternoon that afternoon, they carried his body back across the Haidar mountain pass.

In the village of Awboorda-Joysulto, a woman, who had sat by the window of her house spinning wool, was struck by lightning and killed. Another man was struck in the village of Shilbitoo, just past the gorge. He died on the spot. In Daala-Ambolagh, a lightning bolt struck a large rock and sliced it in to two clean halves, with one half rolling down on to the pathway.

So you see Hadi jan, that is why I am very scared of lightning.

*‌Balna = Upper
*Aaghil = Neighborhood
*Kotal = Mountain Pass

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 35

Once upon a day, a long time ago, we all sat outside basking in the rare winter sunshine. I was young, and on that I must have been playing in the dirt with my sister.

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It was mid-day and in that soothing sunshine, only the occasional sound of the breeze, birds or cattle broke the silence. Then, we heard a faint noise of something rolling, something similar to a chunk of rock rolling down the hills, or the seasonal flood making its way down the valley or, as we came to know later, a car approaching from a distance. Although back then, the roads approaching the village were too narrow and rugged for cars or other machines. Khayra! As we sat there, the faint noise grew louder, and my father, every so protective of his family, grew more anxious. He began scanning the hills.

“Ohooye!”, he yelled.

He stood up, turned towards us, and told all of us to quickly go inside. We became nervous, and quickly rushed inside. My mother peeked out of the open door but father wasn’t going to have any of it. He pushed her in, and closed the door.

The noise grew very loud but sounded as if it was from very far away. Father placed his hand above his eyes, and from the shade of his hand, looked up at the sky. From the front window, we looked up in the same direction as he did. There was a dot in the sky. That dot was making the noise. It moved slowly across the sky and after a few moments, we could not see it from the window anymore. Father’s eyes followed the dot.

The noise then returned to being faint. It grew fainter, and slowly faded away. We understood that with the disappearance of the noise, the dot in the sky too, had disappeared. We waited in silence.

We returned to the sunshine. Father looked anxious but back in his seat in the Sun. He said it was a “jaaz”. He said it must have been sent by the horrid and cruel King. We all wondered what horror was to follow.

God knows where it was going or where it had come from. We had never seen one before. Some men from the village came to my father that day. They talked about it. The women talked about it. The people were scared. Others too, had hidden their women and children inside after hearing the noise and seeing the dot in the sky. They had anticipated something terrible to happen.

That ‘jaaz’, the dot in the sky, was a plane. We had never seen one before.



*Khayra = Anyways

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 18

In the old days the birth of a daughter was a curse. She was a burden on the family,and was wed away at the first available opportunity, at very young ages. The son, it was believed, supported the family and made it stronger. The daughter, it was believed, did the opposite.

I have seven daughters. When I had my youngest daughter, your father cried. He was onlya child and my only son. He wept:

“I have no brothers.”

Mullah Hissari came. He kissed him, took him for a walk, and got him some yoghurt from his home. He spoke to him and had him understand:

“I too, have only one son, Sultan. It’s okay not to have a brother. It’s okay to have all sisters.”

That conversation made him feel better. He stopped crying.

 

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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 – 15

For a woman to survive life in the mountains, she had to be like a resilient man on the inside. The men beat up their wives over petty things, over nothing, often just to establish their authority, but usually to take out their frustration over other problems. There was nothing the wives could do about it. The villagers and the relatives always sided with the husband. It was a man’s world.

This one time, I was cleaning the cowshed, and I was annoyed that my daughters weren’t giving me a hand. I got cranky and scolded them. Your grandfather heard it. He yelled at me and called me over. I was terrified, and did not go. He broke a few branches off the nearest tree, rushed over to the cowshed, and began flogging me. He kept hitting me until all the sticks had broken into little pieces. I screamed, I cried but in vain. Once he was done, he left me alone.

Later in the day, my brother came over and saw my bloodshot eyes. He inquired if I had been beaten up. I was upset and said nothing. I was scared that if I told him anything, it would result in a fight between the two, and then between the two families, and the loss of my family. He understood and left. I followed him, and later found both of them sitting under a tree and talking. I was glad they were talking. I was upset no more and walked back home happy.

On another occasion, I was preparing a meal when your grandfather stormed in. He yelled at me and told me to stop cooking. I was startled, and didn’t know what was going on. I resumed cooking, but he stopped me. He screamed at me that he had been knocking the door for so long and I hadn’t opened it. He was furious. He took me by my arm, dragged me out, and asked me to leave, and return to my parents. I hesitated but he forced me out. I had to return to my parents. No one came for me. A day later I had to return to my children.

We quickly forgot it each time, and moved on. Your late grandfather was an angry man. He beat me up for minor things. So did all the other men. Often, we did not even know what our fault was.

Moral of the Story: Be good to your wives/partners/each other. If you aren’t, chances are your children will write anecdotes about it.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 12

There is a special joy in simplicity. You don’t need many reasons to be happy, just a few good ones.

We lived simple lives, and simple things made us happy.

At weddings men walked great distances to find a Ghazal-Goy who could sing songs for the occasion.

On sunny winter days, grown men spent their time playing shighai and gowli on the roofs and big rock-slabs. The young pelted passersby with snowballs. We ate carrots, turnips, while lamb jerky was a delicacy reserved for special occasions.

The old were good storytellers; the young were keen listeners. Old white-bearded men gathered in small circles to sing ghazal. At night, we all got together, drank tea, told stories; the women spun their yarn, and told of tales from places beyond the mountains.

The birth of a son was a special occasion. Everyone had to sing – the young, the old, the able, and the talentless. Men covered themselves with chador and did aakhoo and charkhag. At one shawshini, GhulamLi dressed as a peerag. He knocked, and when I opened the door, he pushed his way through the door. I screamed, ran terrified and jumped into my father’s lap. They all laughed.

These days, people don’t talk straight. They talk in riddles. Life is not simple anymore.

*Ghazal = Traditional Hazaragi songs that combine Persian poetry with a variant of throat singing
*Ghazal-goy = Ghazal singer
*Shighai, Gowli = Traditional Hazaragi games played with animal bones
*Aakhoo, Charkhag = Traditional Hazaragi dances
*Shawshini = Tradition wherein the family stays awake the whole night singing, playing games, and eating sweets to celebrate the birth of a son
*Peerag = Old man; Young men disguise as old men as part of a Shawshini fun/game usually to scare the kids

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.

 


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“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 – 8

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“Sister, it was unlike anything I have seen before. It was round, and looked like a hand-washing basin. Men and women spoke out of it.”

“Women spoke out of it!? Could you see them?”

“No, you could hear them, but they weren’t there. It was magic.”

Mullah Rabzan’s wife had just returned from Sang-e-Masha where she had been attending a wedding. She had seen the men play something on a “radio” (gramophone). For weeks after that, this magic was the talk of the village.

 

Image via: http://adelaidia.sa.gov.au/subjects/afghans

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 6

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. People led simple lives. We were all farmers. People were good to one another.

My first born was a son. Jaan Mohammad and other villagers came to our place for shaw-shini. They stayed up all night long, sang ghazal, ate, and laughed. Early the next day, they ate dried fruit and naan-boota, and then returned to their own homes to sleep. 12 days later, my first born died.

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*Shaw-Shini = A tradition wherein relatives celebrate the birth of a son with a night of songs, games and festivities.
*Ghazal = Traditional Hazara songs that combine Persian poetry with central Asian throat singing
*Naan-boota = Traditional Hazara dish made with butter, yoghurt, and ground dried bread