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.

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Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 62

Paqirsayn was born when they lived in Joysolto. I vaguely remember visiting them after the birth of their son. He said the child had been born in poverty, and therefore named Paqir (Poor) Hussain.

They had left watan as children, and settled in Polkhomri in the north. I met the eldest, Nadirsayn, after about 50 years in Kabul. His wife had come with him. She did not look like she was a Hazara. She was kind.

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Nadir’s oldest sister was Aabay Azizulla, then Aakima, then Gul Bibi and then Patima. Then there were Nadirsayn, Paqirsayn and Khadimsayn. They were born from your great grandfather’s second marriage, to an Awgho woman. He and his children were starving in watan. Paqirsayn was born when they lived in Joysolto. I vaguely remember visiting them after the birth of their son. He said the child had been born in poverty, and therefore name Paqir (Poor) Hussain. The did not tell anyone where they were going. They lied to other villagers telling them they were moving to Ootqol, but soon we all found out they had gone to Polkhomri.

Khadimsayn’s mother was vicious, a terrifying woman. The tribal noble Ghulam Hassan Khan had married her in Kabul, and brought her to Jaghori. Even the khan could not deal with her. He went into hiding, and divorced her through his brothers. She had then remarried your maternal great grandfather. Their fights brought the whole village to a standstill. She would stand outside the house, and scream, and swear and curse at him. He would not dare come out.

The Awgho who passed through village did not accept her as one of their own. They said she was not a Awgho because she had face tattoos. They called her a Jatt, and got mad when we called her Awgho.

We were all starving, but we did not leave the village. She made them leave the village, leave Jaghori and went mountains away, to Polkhomri. Your great grandfather died in the north, and is buried in Polkhomri. I never met him again, but I met his children for the first time in Kabul, after more than 50 years.

*Watan = Homeland

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 – 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 – 29

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My sister is a far cry from the tall and empowering figure she used to be. She is older than me, and I have always looked up to her. It is difficult to see her in that perilous shape, laying in bed, counting down her days.

She had a stroke. She has been hemiplegic for four years. She can barely move. She needs assistance to perform her basic bodily functions. She needs to constantly rolled over to one side and the other, otherwise her flesh will rot. Her daughters-in-law are having to look after her, and they have a hard time doing it.

Those bechara are not to blame. It is difficult to look after someone for so much and for so long. Four months is a long time. Four years is too long.

I saw her last year. We talked all the time. As usual, I went and sat next to her one day. She looked at me and was startled. She wept.

Are you my aaghaye? Where have you been? When did you come? Who are all these other people with you?

I had to sit there and explain things to her like I explain them to my baby grandson. Old age is a cruel time of life.

I pray that if something like that ever happens to me, I should die quickly. I don’t want to end up like that. Else, I will suffer and so will everyone else.

*bechara = hapless, poor
*agghaye = sister

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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