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 – 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 – 40

Sometimes the difference between a smart person and stupid person becomes clear when they have to face change. The same applies to a people, and a tribe. Our people have usually been stupid. They made stupid decisions. We are still paying for it.

My parents told me many stories about Hazara elders who were taken away, pushed off a cliff, or stoned to death. The elders were taken to jails run by the kings’ men. They were put face down on the ground, covered under a shawl, and then pelted with rocks by tens and hundreds of people. One of your ancestors, not sure which one it was, was taken away by the king’s men. They made him dig a hole in the ground, and then buried him in it chest high. They pelted him with rocks until he was covered in blood and wounds and dust. He was buried under a pile of rocks. They assumed he was dead and left him out in the open to be consumed by wolves and jackals. The man was alive. He must have been very blessed. In the darkness of that night, he crawled out from underneath that pile and escaped into the mountains. He lived, and made his way back to the village. He was the only survivor the old villagers knew.

 

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Every year the king sent polooss to the villages. They brought with them orders, tax demands, and a lot of terror. The polooss stayed in the best house in the village, and only the bravest men in the village went to speak to them and serve them food. The people had to comply with his orders and demands – an entire village surrendering to a single polooss, that was us. There was usually one tax on the harvest yield, another to pay for polooss’ journey, another for each head of cattle, and another if the king was at war somewhere. The tax was rarely collected in currency, and usually in the form of butter, wool, jewellery, cattle, crop-yield, and other valuables. If a village refused to pay, the king sent more polooss armed with sticks and guns. A visit from the polooss forced villagers into the hills. Some families hid in their homes, many just picked up everything they could and run up the nearest mountain. Our hills and mountains have always been our protectors.

Years passed and the king was deposed. A new king came to power. There was a change. The king’s men came into the villages to open schools. They made it compulsory for girls and boys and men and women to go to school. The people complied. The mullahs preached against it. They said the schools were there to turn people into communists and non-Muslims. The mullahs kept preaching against education for women and girls. They preached that girls were being sent to school to be turned into prostitutes, the boys to be made into communist soldiers.

The people believed the mullahs and turned against schools. They bribed the polooss to keep their children out of school. I know of a family in the village who handed all their wheat-yield for the year to the polooss to keep their son out of school. We were afraid. I buried a Quran in the fields because the government was taking away people found with Quran. In some areas the villagers burned down their schools and killed the teachers. In other areas, they declared jihad against the government. People said they would rather die than send their girls to school. And in some places they did that – they died but did not send their girls to school. Instead, many sent their girls and boys to the mullahs. Some of the mullahs then mistreated, assaulted and raped their girl students. Interestingly, those few who were too poor and weak to take their children out of school were lucky. Their children became teachers, pilots, engineers and soldiers.

What was the result of all of that! The result was that many generations of our people, all of us remained illiterate and uneducated. We did that to ourselves. We had no access to schools for a generation and more. We burned down the schools, we killed and chased away the teachers, and brought in the mullahs. Our world was confined to the valleys of the mountains. We turned our backs to change and to the rest of the world. Our people became stupid. We suffered for those mistakes. We are paying for those mistakes.

 

*Polooss = Police

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 39

Zara’s life was a tragedy. She began life with all the joys in the world, but lived it in agony, and died in misery and solitude.

Zara was your father’s paternal aunt. She was married off to Hotqol. Her husband had two adolescent children from a previous marriage – a boy and a girl. They had lived with their grandfather in another village after the passing of their mother. They returned home after Zara had her children.

 26When we visited her a few summers after her marriage, she seemed happy. She had two beautiful daughters. They were healthy and good looking. I also met her youthful step-children. The girl was lovely and beautiful. The boy was strong, and already helping out his father. They were nice, and welcoming. Zara had a beautiful and happy family.

And then it all changed. A year or two later it all vanished, like the night devours all sunlight. Zara’s happy days were devoured by a nightfall of misery. First her step-children fell ill, and died, one after the other. A few weeks later, or perhaps months later, her own daughters fell ill and died. She gave birth to a son. The new-born too, died. In a short time, their five children died, in front of their eyes.

Zara’s step children had contracted Tuberculosis while living with their grandfather. When they returned to their father, they fell ill, suffered and both died. The Tuberculosis then killed Zara’s two daughters and her new-born son.

Zara and her husband were left all alone. It pains me to even think about what she went through, and how she endured all of that. She became a recluse, and a social outcast. She was unrecognizable

She came to visit us once. She had aged so much in such few years. She looked old, and was ill, and bloated. There were no doctors or hospitals back then. There was no treatment. People tried herbs, and prayers and talisman. None of it worked for her. The condition destroyed her organs. She could not have children anymore.

Years went by. Zara and her husband were old, weak, ill and all alone. She asked my husband, her brother, to send one of our kids over every now and then. I sent over Rubaba. She stayed with them one winter and then returned. Next I sent Hafeeza. She was clever and stubborn. She stayed for a night, and returned the next day. My other children were too young to send over.
Then, one day, Zara’s husband fell ill, and died in Hotqol. A day later Zara fell ill, and had to be taken to Kabul to see a doctor. She died a week later. She was buried in Kabul, a long distance away from her husband in Hotqol. They died a week apart.

Hadi jan, a home is good with people, with children. Otherwise, it’s just an empty life-less building.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 13

The Kuchis came to the hills every year. They spent the entire summer in the area. They ate from our orchards, claimed their right on the crops, ate our food and at times, stayed at our homes. Their cattle and camels grazed all over our land, while they grazed all over our homes and livelihood.

One hot summer day, the girls were getting mulberries from the tree when they dropped a full container.

“Ay khag da sar e Awgho!” (Damn the awgho!), I exclaimed.

Bakhtawar Awgho, who I did not know was up the next mulberry tree, heard me.

He yelled:

Khag bar sar e Hazara! Khagbar sar e Hazara! Khag bar sar e Hazara!” (Damn the Hazara!)

I was taken aback. I panicked and dropped all the mulberries. I huddled my girls together, and rushed back home.

Bakhtawar Awgho, Sher Jan and Sahib Jan came from Rasna. They were not nice people. They did all they wanted in the summer. They barged into our homes when they wanted. They demanded food, took our belongings, and beat up anyone who resisted. They had the support of the government. We despised them, but were too afraid and too weak to ever say anything.

In the Autumn the Kuchis returned home, only to return the following summer. Then came the war, and mehrbani khuda, they stopped coming. May be that was the one good thing about the war.

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*Kuchi = Afghan Pashtun nomads
*Awgho = A variant of the word Afghan; a term Hazaras use to refer to Pashtuns
*Mehrbani Khuda = By the grace of God.

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 – 7

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When people speak of the good old days, they speak of delusions. If you were rich, the old days were good. If you were poor and helpless like we were, the old days were the days of despair. Food was scarce, and a lot of work and hard labor yielded little fruit.

 

Your baabaye and I farmed the land in the gorge along the river. We had no tools and supplies, and had to lease them from Aatay Chaman in exchange for the promise of a share of the yield. We worked hard and long in harsh conditions. Upon harvest, Aatay Chaman came over to reap his reward. He claimed one pile for leasing to us his bulls, another one for providing us with the seeds, another one for the tools we had used, and the last one for something else, right in front of our bewildered eyes. He claimed every last bit of grain we had harvested, and left us with nothing. We had nothing to go on. He could not care less. He went into the village to hire laborers to help him carry the grain to his home.

His wife was different. She was kind. She called me over. She picked up many hands full of grain and poured them into my scarf. She said, “take this, run, and hide it somewhere. Don’t tell anyone I gave you this. This will let you feed your children.” And that was all we got for months of laboring.

Those, my child, were the “good old days”.

*Baabaye = Hazaragi for grandfather; old man.
*Aata = Hazaragi for father, i.e. Aatay Chaman: Chaman’s father