Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 43

A person’s home is in his heart. You are young. You feel at home here. I am old. My home will always be in the mountains where I spent my childhood. Even after a lifetime away, I think about it everyday.

SONY DSCYou were too young to understand. I was never at home in Pakistan. The war had forced us off our home and farms, far away from our mountains, and far far away from those we knew. We ended up khusk-o-khali in a new country, and with no one to turn to in our time of need. Life was difficult. We ate half-cooked rice every day. It was never enough, and we were left hungry. At night, we all crammed into the little room that belonged to Yousuf’s brother. We didn’t have pillows to sleep on, so we tucked our clothes under our heads. At least we weren’t out in the open. Yousuf’s old mother, may God bless her soul, brought food for you, the children, in secret from her daughter-in-law. She was an angel.

After that, we rented a room in the same house as Baqir’s family in Sayedabad. Like your father, Baqir was also a member of the party. We lived as a collective. We took turns to cook, and prepared meals every other night. Your father left for the war or something related to the Party. The Party paid us small stipends. It was never enough. Baqir received the payments for both the families. His family wore better, ate better, and lived better. We didn’t. Baqir was doing something mischievous.
Your baby brother fell ill. He was weak and pale. We had no money to take him to a doctor. I asked Baqir for money. He said the Party couldn’t pay us anymore. One day a Pashtun man from the Party visited us. He inquired about our well-being. He looked at you and your brother. I explained to him what was happening. He cursed Baqir, and accused him of keeping more for himself. He encouraged your mother to study. He gave us 200 or 300 rupees to see a doctor. I used some of it to take both of you to a doctor and buy medicine. I saved some, I don’t know what happened to the rest. Perhaps I used it to buy knives, spoons, plates and cups.

Baqir’s wife accused us of stealing her scissors, and later her cutlery. She took away the spoons and knives I had purchased. Her brother in law found out, and scolded her. She later found her scissors under the rug in her own room. She then returned to us the knives and spoons.

From there, we moved to Ali Dost’s house, and then we rented a room at the house of Hafiz the blind. He had three children. The two older ones were very good kids. The youngest, Talib was a thief. He stole from the neighbors, and from us. He stole your mother’s watch. We had to move to another house, and then another.

From there we moved to the house of the Thori. We spent a winter there. There we met Dunya Ali’s mother. They were an excellent family. It was a good experience. Then we moved to Hazara Town. By that time, we had learned their ways. We knew enough to find our way around the city. Life became a little better.

Your father’s obsession with his Party kept us poor and miserable, living life on meager stipends. People like him did all the work, people like Baqir kept all the money. Had it all been the will of the Party, we would have starved, and the men would have worked their lives off and died for people who cared neither for them or for us, but their own groups. I am glad that damned party shattered into pieces. It made us all better off.

We were not strong. Living in all those places, with all those different people, and dealing with them everyday made us stronger, and resilient. It opened our eyes and minds.

 

*khushk-o-khali = Dry and Empty

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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 – 17

We arrived in Quetta, Pakistan. It was a big, very big city. It had more cars, more people, more noise, and more smoke than I could have ever imagined. The city was arid, and had a pungent smell to it. Whatever little savings we had, was spent on the journey. We began life from scratch; worse, we had to borrow money and food from others. We couldn’t afford to rent our own place, and had to move in with others. At first we stayed with Yousuf in Sar-e-Khartar. His wife was stingy. On our arrival at the end of the journey, they served us Thalkh-Thoroosh. We were exhausted. That meal made us sick, especially your mother and Aabay Wahida. dsc_1282 Our days didn’t get any easier. We never had enough food. Those were tough days. They would ask your dad for money to bring one ser of rice or flour but brought very little of it. Turns out, the measurements in Pakistan were different to those in watan. We craved for food. Unbeknown to her daughter-in-law, the late Yousuf’s mother brought us food, especially for you, my grandchildren. You were young then and needed a lot of food. From there, we were taken to Sayedabad.There, it was even worse. Baqir’s wife gave us one room for 7 people.She was very stingy. She didn’t like us. This one time, she lost a pair of scissors. She accused us of stealing it. Frustrated, I sat down with her mother-in-law:

“Why would we do that? We will sit outside and you can go in and search our room.”

Days later the scissors were found under the rug in her own room. Another time she accused us of stealing her cutlery. Moallem had got us a few spoons and knives. I told her to search the room, look at the ones we had and figure out if we had hers. She found nothing. She harassed us. It was hard. These people were members of the Saazman. Everything was communal and shared. It was very hard. Those with status got everything. Those at the bottom suffered. From there we went to live in the house of the Punjabis in Nechari, in the upper floor. The owners lived downstairs. They kept sending their kids upstairs telling us to stop you and Abdul from walking around:

“Baba is asleep downstairs.”

We were new. Work was scarce. Finding a place to live was very difficult. People saw us for our appearance, for what we wore, for the things we had. We left behind a herd of cattle, plenty of food, farm, bags of rice and wheat at home. We had come to a place where we had nothing. We had left behind a house full of food at home and had come to a place where there was none. We had no pillows and had to sleep on the floor. Often all we had for a meal was tea, sugar, and bread. *Thalkh-Thorosh = Thalkh – Bitter; Thorosh – Sour; Hazaragi dish. *Saazman = Political party/organisation *Ser = Unit of measurement equal to 7 kilos *Watan = Farsi/Arabic for homeland

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 – 10

That early morning, in complete darkness and with heavy hearts, we crossed the Jaar pass, leaving behind everything we had. There were no goodbyes, no kisses, just tears.

The day before, we had made Qorti for lunch when Moallem appeared on our doorstep. I thought that in your father’s absence, he was there to help us prepare for the harvest, but the expression on his face said otherwise. I still remember his words:

“Mamoor has sent over Qambar Ali and another person from Sabz-Chob to take you all to Pakistan. You have been told to pack some food, clothes and nothing else. Don’t tell anyone, not even your daughters. If the commander finds out, he will stop you”.

He said we would leave through Lomo. He returned later that night to tell us that the roads through Lomo were too dangerous because the commander’s men had been seen in the market there. We were to leave through Sang-e-Shanda instead. My heart was not in the right place but I nodded in agreement.

I got up early that morning to pray before departure. I walked down to the spring for ablution but when I returned, I saw Moallem waving at me from behind the house. We had no time. Moallem picked your sleeping brother out of his cradle. I picked you up, and we all left. Thus began our journey into the unknown. There were no goodbyes, no kisses, just tears. Hadi jan, that’s how we left the only home we had ever known.

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Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 2

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In the days when I was young, people didn’t travel much. They thought the world was a small place. Aatay Madi from the village had been to Shalkot – these days people call it Quetta. The people in the village and the surrounding villages called him Ali Ahmad Shalkoti. We had heard of the towns and the cities. We had never heard of a place called Pakistan. Things have changed so much since the days when I was young. The world is so big, aadami so small.

*Aadami = Farsi/Urdu for Man