Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 75

Our tiny village is on a mountain slope. At the time we lived there, the land barely produced enough food to feed the families. Today, it can not even feed the few families that still live there. What difference does it make anyways! Most of the families have moved out, and many have even left the country. Those left behind do not even have enough drinking water for most of the year.

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Bachay Haji Ghulai [Haji Ghulai’s son] said that a long time ago the people of Haydar lived on that land. Your great grandfathers, perhaps those before them were powerful and forcefully took over the area. I do not know what happened to the people of Haydar who lived here. Perhaps they fled past the pass where they now live, and where your auntie lives. I do not know.

Bachay Haji Ghulai said that your ancestors took over this land by force. The old ruins in by the stream in Saraw and another one by the ridge in Qolbili are all that remains of the people before us. Your ancestors came from Sangemasha, the grandparents of AbdurRahim had land in Tabqus and elsewhere. I do not know where the others came from.

It belonged to Haydar, then it was our home, and now only the old and very young live there. Perhaps complete strangers will own it in the future.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 72

In the days of the revolution the mullahs and their supporters used to do exactly the same things that the Taliban are doing today. They attacked schools, punished teachers, forced people to keep their children away from schools and education, beat up women and girls, and persecuted the open-minded and educated people. When we first enrolled your uncle into school, the mullahs, some of them my own nephews and people from our own village, opposed us openly and loudly, they spoke out against us, and tried everything to get us to enroll him into the mosque instead. We refused, and they continued opposing us and harming us for as long as we lived in Watan. In those days everyone who attended a school was called an kafir.

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At the time we feared the mullahs like the people fear the Taliban today, and the mullahs were as ruthless as the Taliban are today. Mullahs opposed the new changes in the same way that the Taliban fight against the new changes today.

The mullahs divided people into Nasri, Nahzati, Hezb Islami, and they fought all the time. The called everyone else infidels. In the days just after the Soviets left Jaghori, Ali Madad Khan, the old tribal noble from Sang-e-Masha and a frail and white-bearded man at the time, was attacked upon, chased, dragged out and killed at his home near the Sang-e-Masha bazaar. Ali Madad Khan was declared an infidel the mujahideen in Sang-e-Masha. They surrounded his family fort and then forced their way in. The old man hid inside the tunnels in the massive walls. They found him there, dragged him out, stood the old man against the trees on his own farm and then shot him. They then prevented anyone from burying his corpse. His young children tried to retrieve his body and prevent it from being eaten by foxes and jackals. The mujahideen beat back the boys and groped the girls saying they were searching them for grenades. The old Ali Madad Khan lay in the open for days and nights, and jackals took bites off it before they allowed his brothers to bury his old body.

Ali Madad Khan, although the son of a Khan, was one of the nobles of Jaghori who had done some good things for the people. It was mainly because they were educated, and they had traveled the world. They introduced the people to new machinery for their farms and to new crops; they also set up schools for girls and boys. But all of this was short-lived. The new kings in Kabul opposed the nobles and the mullahs issued religious decrees against them and the changes they had introduced. The Khans and their educated children were either captured and killed by the kings of Kabul or by the mullahs.

The same mullahs and the commander later tried to kill your father. They called him a Sholayee, and declared that the Sholayee are liable to be killed because they were kafir. Your father was able to escape but others were not so lucky. Today it is the Taliban who are doing the bad things and the mullahs are pretending to be the good people.

 

*Watan = Homeland
*Kafir = Infidel
*Mujahideen = Islamic holy warrior
*Sholayee = Maoist

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 68

Chadar, Chadari and Hijab came to us from Kabul and Iran. Our people did not know the idea of women covering their hair and face. We had our own way of doing things, dressing up, and beliefs.

In my days and the days before me, the girls and boys wore caps – colourful caps, with topug at the front, and colourful threaded braids hanging from the sides. The family sewed up one for every child every few years, and the girls wore theirs until they were married, and thereafter they wore the cap and covered it with colourful scarf and jewellery.

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Photo by Basir Seerat or Najibullah Musafer

Women worked on the farm, looked after the family, looked after cattle, did the work, while the men sipped tea and lazied in the shade in summers and in the sun in winters. Women sewed those caps and clothes and the topug and the braids and the designs. The men wore caps of different colours and had bright colourful topug. Your uncle wore one as a kid, and another when he grew up a little. We made one for your father. It was an essential part of the clothing. Men wore the cap, boys wore the cap, girls wore the cap, and women wore the cap and a once married, put a fabric on the top.

When the first men returned from Kabul, and Iran and Najaf, they brought back other ideas. They brought back chadar and chadari and black veils and white caps, and in my lifetime the colours, and the colourful dresses and colourful caps slowly faded away.

 

*topug = popping on the side of caps made from threads
*chadar = long scarf
*chadari = full veil usually worn in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 61

One day mullah Salihi disappeared. He had left the country and had gone to Iran. A few weeks later up to four young girls from the village had become pregnant.

Perhaps my memory betrays me but for the better part of my life we did not have a mosque in the village, or a full time mullah. These things came to us when the troubles began. The villagers used the house with the largest room and corridor as the place for sermons and prayers during Moharram. I remember them visiting my father’s place in the balna-aaghil. The women gathered in the corridor, and men gathered in the sun-room to say their prayers and listen to the sermons delivered by a Sayed, or the elders in the village. Men beat their chests, the women stayed and listened, and then we all returned home, back to our lives and livelihoods. All the leaders and prayer leaders in the villages had their own families to look after, farms to care for, cattle to herd and the same problems the rest of us had. They did not sit above the rest of us.

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That generation died. The order changed. People went to madrassas in Ootqol, Kabul and Iran. They returned as mullahs with special books, looks and garments. They went from village to village, and preached, and did little else. Along with them came a mosque and more. The mullahs and elders forcefully acquired the land where the village mosque stands today. That is the reason why it is such a cursed place, and nothing good ever comes out of it.

In the later years the villagers paid a person named Salihi to become the mullah for the village. He had attended madrassas in Iran and read all the prayers and magic. The villagers paid him, fed him, and gave him a share of their income every year. The sent their young children to the mosque to this mullah so that they could learn their religious obligations, rituals and prayers.

One day Salihi disappeared. The villagers could not find him. He was not in the village, and they could not find him in Sang-e-Masha or Jaghori. He was not in the country but had gone to Iran. A few weeks later up to four young girls from the village, the girls who studied before him at the mosque had become pregnant. Salihi had lured them into his room at the mosque under the pretence of teaching them the Islamic way to bathe, and raped them. Not one girl, not two, four girls. The babies were aborted, the lives of the girls and the honour of their families was ruined, and the mullah fled to safety in Iran.

Many years later when the country was quieter, I heard that Salihi had returned to watan and become the secretary to the district governor and commander. It is as if nothing had even happened. That devil might still be there, he may still be a mullah at some far away village, he may still be working for the governor, and he may still be abusing children.

*Mullah = Islamic clergy
*Moharram = The frist month of the Islamic calendar, observed as a month mourning in Shia Islam
*Madrassa = Islamic school
*Balna-Aaghil = Upper Village
*Watan = Homeland

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 – 27

When I turned 9, like the girls of my age in the village and beyond, I had to observe fast. The boys had it easy; they could wait until they were 16 before having to do the same.

I was young, quick on my feet, and hence the family shepherd. Shepherding was exhausting work. I had to go up and down the hills all day, chase and look after the herd. It didn’t make fasting was any easier.

The summer days were long, the Sun shone bright and hot like the Sun of roz-e-qiyamat. You can imagine what it must have been like to eat and drink nothing from dawn to dusk. My tongue would dry up and stick to the palate of my mouth.

To avoid exhaustion, I dipped my feet in the cold spring water, and poured water over my head before heading back into the Sun. I wouldn’t dare drink water or eat anything, or even think about it. If I did, I would be punished by my parents, and bring bad name to the family.

SONY DSCAfter observing fast all day, we gathered around the earth-oven where my late mother baked bread. We quenched all that thirst and hunger with a piece of bread, and water. Occasionally, mother made tea. In that hot weather, we would rather have that than anything oily. For Pash-Shawi we would eat bread with yoghurt. The food in Watan wasn’t good or plentiful to begin with. By observing fast, we just made it so much worse for ourselves.

When I missed my prayers, or didn’t memorize and read it properly, my older siblings cursed me, and my parents got angry. They cursed and scolded me for defying the commands of God. We just blindly followed what we had been taught by the generations before us.

When you see people of the older generations with all the health issues, remember that it is a consequence of how they lived most of their lives in the mountains. In our youth, we didn’t care much for the pain and illnesses. Now that I am old, I can trace back all my illnesses to my difficult youth and childhood.

 


 

*Roz-e-Qiyamat = Dooms Day
*Pash-Shawi = Pre-dawn meal
*Watan = Homeland

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 20

It was the wedding of Aatay Rasheed’s daughter. The party was ready, and on horse-back and on foot, the villagers set off for Thayna Jaar – soon to be the bride’s home.

As we set off, the groom’s party sought Aatay Rasheed’s permission to play some music and dance in celebration. He gave a hesitant nod. No sooner had the music started, that these bearded few people began screaming. They were the mullahs, and they pushed their way to the front. They were fuming with anger that someone had dared play music.

“It’s HARAM!”, they declared.

One of the mullahs, my Iran-based nephew Baseer, picked up the cassette player over his head and threatened to smash it to the ground if any more music was played. He frothed:

“Music invites the devil. Prayers bring blessings.”


The villagers and the procession began chanting prayers and salawat. There was no more music, no more laughter, just a loud chorus of salawat. It felt like a funeral procession.

Once the procession had reached the outer limits of the village, your father, still young, walked to the front. He held his arms up, jacket in the one hand, and began dancing. The children clapped, some of the men joined in. The women beat the drums. There was music, and the procession danced and laughed all the way to Thayna Jaar. Fearing backlash from your father and the youth, the mullahs could do nothing but watch in anger and despair.

It was a good day. But once that was over, they stopped inviting us to the weddings. My nephew Mohammad Hussain got married. They didn’t invite us. Your auntie got married. They didn’t invite us. They didn’t like your father’s dance.

*Haram = Arabic for sinful; forbidden on religious grounds
*Salawat = Prayers wishing peace upon the prophet and his family.