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 – 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 – 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.

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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 – 56

They brought the dead bodies home late in the evening, in the house of the Punjabis in Nechari. Aatay Rohullah’s lifeless body was brought upstairs amid wails and screams. The body of the other man was left downstairs.

We had thought Aatay Rohallah was staying at the community library, along with the other men from the party and their relatives. Unbeknown to us, he had travelled to the coal-mines in Mach to look for work like other thousands of Hazaras. Somewhere in the holes in those mountains he had touched a live-wire and had been electrocuted. Another man, also from Watan, had approached to pull him away from the electric wires. He too, had been caught by the wires and killed there.

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He had been family. He had stood with your father during his most difficult days. He had been in the war. He was with us when we fled, with us on the terrifying journey to Pakistan, and with us in our first years in Quetta. Every Friday he came home to us in the overcrowded room we had rented from the Punjabis in Nechari. He was one of us. He was family, and after all that, he was no more.

Weeks after his death, funeral and burial, his oldest brother Mamdulla came from Watan. We heard about it and we made food and arrangements to welcome him. Aatay-Wahida and your uncle went to receive him. They returned empty handed and said Mamdulla had gone to Doctor Nader instead of us, and had had the Fateha there. I scolded them and send them back to bring him home as we were family. They returned and and got him to come over. He was upset. I argued with him:

His death isn’t our fault. I did not kill him. Mamoor did not kill him. He did not tell us where he was going. He went to the mines of his own will, without even telling us.

He appeared not to care. That was neither fair, nor true. I continued:

If you cared so much, you should not have let him come. But you did. You were there when we fled and circumstances in which we did. His back was hurt; you guys, his own brothers did that to him. He told me about it. He could not even do physical work, you should have stopped him.

He told me how you lot locked him up in the toilet and took turns to beat him up in twos. He told me you kept hitting until he could no longer move and his back was injured. He told me how you beat him for being a member of the party, to force him to stop being with the party. You beat him up until your mother intervened, begged you and even took out her breasts to shame you for the milk she had fed you all, to stop you from killing your own brother.

He tried to find a way out of it.

He fell off a roof and hurt his back.

I stopped him there:

Say all you want but you know that it is true. He was more at home with us than with you lot. And today, you dare think that we would wish him harm.

He hung his head down, and did not speak a word.

Years later, we still had a photo of Aatay Rohullah on our shelf, and his grave lay in a country far away from his home, his wife and children.

*Watan  = Homeland
*Fateha = Prayer service

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 51

There we were, banished, in a small village that was divided in to three parts by religion and party loyalty. Our family and the three other banished families from the village formed our own little group, our own little village. The commander’s faithful used the main mosque for the commemoration. We, the unfaithful, formed our own at one of the houses. The families in Choona didn’t sway either way and formed their own group.

Moharram is a month for charity and nazr. Back in those days the families in the village took turns to make vows, prepare feasts, and organize the rituals for mourning and story-telling. In Moharram that one year we anticipated the families to prepare with the same arrangements as before.

Those of us in the Thayna-Aaghil usually got together for it all. Your father said he was going away to speak to your maternal grandfather, his father-in-law, about the arrangements for the month. He went away for long, and returned appearing quite upset.

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I knew something was not right. I let him be at first, and then went to him to ask if the arrangements had been agreed upon. He tried to get away:

The arrangement was the same as before. Nothing had changed.

I got angry:

What does that mean? The same as old!?

He opened up:

I went to speak to Mirza Lalay. He looked at me but said nothing at all. He got up, picked up his shovel and walked away to the farms in Lingaah without even saying a word.

“What! Why?”

I then walked to Choonah and speak to Mohammad Ali there. He told me that my father-in-law Mirza Lalaee and my uncle Aatay Rasheed had paid him a visit the previous night and informed him of the decision by the villagers to banish us.

I was sad and startled:

Are you sure!? I have been grooming a sheep to sacrifice for the nazr this year.

I knew that those in Choona would be the first to prepare a feast. The next day, I waited for an invite.

The morning passed, afternoon came-by and the evening went but no one came to us, there was no invite.

In the afternoon I met Zia Gul and young Shamsia. She was at the spring to fetch water. She was a child, innocent. She could keep no secrets:

Grandma, we are going to Choona tonight for the feast. We have been invited. You haven’t. We are going to feast. You aren’t.

She laughed.

Her mother picked her up. She cried. I scolded her, and told her to do exactly as she was told by her family.

That night they went to feast. The village went there. We stayed home, had our meal at home, and we didn’t speak much.

Our family and the three other banished families from the village formed our own little group, our own little village. The commander’s faithful used the main mosque for the commemoration. We, the unfaithful, formed our own at one of the houses. The families in Choona didn’t sway either way but formed their own group. There we were, banished, in a small village, divided in to three groups by religion and party loyalty.



Moharram = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mourning_of_Muharram
*Nazr = Religious vows
*Thayna = Lower
*Aaghil = Village

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 50

In the year when the black disease came to the village, eight babies were taken to the cemetery at paass-e-gardo. Before them there was only one grave at the new cemetery. The old Ghulam Ali Kakai had fallen ill and passed away. The old cemetery was full and too close to the path of the spring floods. For Kakai, the villagers picked paass-e-gardo as the site for the new cemetery – the land there was barren, abandoned and beyond the view from any point in the village. Kakai was taken there one late afternoon, and there he rests today. He left behind a daughter, Gul Chaman, and nobody else.

DSC02123The next year, the specter of the black disease, whooping cough visited the village. Within a few terrifying months, it killed most of the babies in our small village, 8 of them. Two died on the same day. The babies coughed for months, and eventually coughed their lives out.

The villagers called it a curse. They cursed the late Ghulam Ali Kakai:

That cursed bastard died and dragged all these kids behind him.

In the later years, cough, rash and disease killed even more children. The rash appeared small and ordinary, then it quickly spread all over their bodies and disfigured their faces and bodies. It killed them. The dead would be so disfigured; their families couldn’t even given them a final bath before burial. Leprosy was a merciless killer.

When I last visited paass-e-gardo, it appeared as if the whole village was there – my brothers, your maternal grandfather, my friends, and relatives. It appears to be full.



*Paass = Beyond
*Gardo = Pass; Paas-e-Gardo = Beyond the Pass

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

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