Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 71

Akhund Rizwani of Jaala had finished his Islamic studies in Iran. He had returned to Watan
and remained the mullah for many villages. Eventually he had been hired as the village mullah for our village. People paid him money, food, and a share of their harvest every year. Every family in the village took a turn to have him over for dinner, and this turn rotated around the village. In return, he led the prayers at the village mosque, at funerals, and performed the Islamic rituals during the holy months of Ramazan and Muharram. In the winter, when the schools were closed by the cold and the heavy snowfall, he gathered the village children at the mosque, and taught them how to read the Quran, their prayers, and how to perform other religious obligations. Most villagers sent their sons and daughters to his classes. They liked him because he was friendly, dressed neat, and was younger than most other clergymen.

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One day, when we lived in Quetta, we heard that Rizwani had suddenly disappeared. In the weeks after his disappearance, five, not one, not two, not three, not four, but five, perhaps even more girls from the village had fallen pregnant. All these girls were mere teenagers. All these girls had been students of Rizwani, and had attended his Quran classes. In his classes he had undressed the girls and told them that he would teach them “the Islamic way to bathe”. He had raped them, and repeated his deed with the next girl. This had happened over many weeks.

Before the families of these girls could find out, he had fled the village, traveled to Kabul and then to Iran.

Many years later we heard that the mullah had returned to Jaghori and had been appointed as the office-keeper for the commander. He probably walks free now, and is perhaps a mullah in another village.

 

*Watan = Homeland
*Akhund/Mullah = Clergyman

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 70

The whole village, old and young, called him Babai – the grandfather; Karblayi Babai – the grandfather who had been to Karbala. He was old. He would sit under the mulberry tree all day in the spring and summer, and he would spend most of the days reading the Koran. He had evenly spread some soft sand from the spring under the tree, and transformed the place into his own little part of the village. The whole village and everyone who passed through the village knew his little spot under the mulberry tree.

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He was a man of God. A long long time ago, in his younger days, long before I was old enough to remember anything, he had walked to Karbala. He had joined other men and walked into the hills all the way to Karbala and back. This was before there were cars and vehicles, before people knew there were other countries. He not only went to Karbala but unlike many others, he returned home alive. He must have walked days and nights and weeks and months.

Those were different days but the roads were as dangerous as they are today. Beyond the Hazara lands there were people who made their shoes from the skin of the Hazara pilgrims and wore it as trophy. They waited in the hills, ambushed travelers, robbed them of their belongings, and made shoes from pieces of skin of us infidels. Babai had made it out of those hills and returned back.

I was a teenager, and would go to the spring next to the mulberry tree to fetch water. I would carriy a pot on my shoulders, and go the spring with my face covered so that I could do the pardah from Babai.  He ignored it when I did that the first few times, but one day he asked me to stop; then scolded me:

Until a few days ago I would see you run around with the other children, and you would sing and walk here and there behind your flock of sheep. Today I see you covering your face like a grown woman. Don’t you act like a grown up. You are like my child. Also, you will tumble and break the pot and your father will beat you up.

I stopped doing that.

Karblayi Babai lived to be many years over 100 years old. No one knew how old he was but he was everyone’s babai. May he rest in peace.

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*Pardah = Veil
*Babai = Grandfather/Old man
*Karblayi = A person who has been to Karbala for pilgrimage

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 69

Life in the village was cruel, it was more cruel for girls and women than it was for the boys and men.

I was a young girl when my elder sister was married off and taken to her husband’s home. My mother went over with her to stay with her new family for a few days. I was left behind as the only girl at home, and I was expected to look after the home, the family, the cattle and farms. Before that day, I had only ever helped my mother with a few chores, and suddenly I was expected to cook and bake and do everything mother did.

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I had to bake bread. I prepared the dough, and heated the oven. I had made the dough so bad I could only make bread as wide as my palm. My father came over, had a good look at it, and laughed:

My daughter has made a tikki.

The following evening, I tried to do it differently. I baked bread, but the dough was still bad. The bread came out only a little larger. My father ate it and laughed again:

My daughter has made pathirmal.

On the third day and the third attempt, I got it all right. Father ate it and said:

Aaha, now this is right!

With my sister and mother gone, I had to learn things fast and I did. The men did not help. They just came and looked at the end result.

My sister used to teach me how to sew clothes for the family. I was a slow learner. My sister would poke the back of my hand with needles when I got it wrong. It was painful but it forced me to learn.

I remember that one day I got my mother to help me out with the sewing. I finished and walked over to my sister to show her my work. She prepared to poke my hand with the needle, but she could not believe what she saw. She looked up at me and smiled:

Good girl. You have learned and you have done it.

*Tikki = Hazaragi bread similar to Asian Baba bread
*Pathirmal = Thick crusted Asian bread the size of frying pan

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 – 67

The people of my generation were simple, perhaps even stupid. The women were simple, the men were stupid. The women did not know there was a world beyond the mountains, the men did not want to know there was a world beyond the mountains.

The village paid a slice of what little food they had to a mullah to teach the children to read the Quran. Only the boys got to learn to read, the girls did not. This was acceptable, but proper schools were hated. People were stupid, I can not even tell you how stupid they were. An outspoken girl was looked down upon; such a girl was considered to be a bringer of shame to her family and to the village.

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Khalifa’s daughter Feroza went to the government school in Tameer along with her brothers. Abdul Karim liked her. He wanted his parents to ask for her hand in marriage for him. He loved her, and came to your grandfather to ask him to put out a good word for him.

My brother Aatay Khadim Hussain heard about Abdul Karim’s intention. He scolded him for his choice:

Who in their right mind would marry an educated girl! She goes to school. She could not be a good girl. You will not be able to show your face to the people.

He kept talking about it, and scolded him until he changed his mind.

The government at the time tried to force the villagers to educate their children. The government sent police to the village to force people to send their kids to school. The land owners paid them off and prevented their children from going to school. The poor villagers had to send their kids to school.

Today, in this day and age, the children of those poor families have good lives and good education. The children of the land owners have little to nothing. I told you that people were stupid. They made life bad for themselves.

*Mullah = Religious teacher

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 66

We used different names for different seasons.

The first month of a winter is Siyabar. It is very cold. Before that came Baamo, the last month of autumn. Baamo was cold, but not nearly as cold as Siyabar. After Siyabar came Najir. In this month, the air was less cold, but with less cold came dangerous avalanches. The village was at the foot of the Jaaba mountain. The collapsing snow brought down huge slabs of rock down with it, and made a terrifying “GorrrrrR” sound. The valley was steep enough to contain it but anything and everything that came in its way was wiped out.

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After Najir it was Ooral with flowing springs, blooming flowers and the change in the air  the month of Nowroz. Then it was the month of Ed, the first proper month of spring. Then Barredd, and it became warmer. Then it was Aakhir Maahe Baar. Then Awal Maahe Thaayesto – the mulberry season, and when the birds flocked to pick the trees clean. It made us all very busy. We had to wait for the right time to pick the trees before the birds. Then it was Ghol-e-Thaayesto – the apricot season. Then Thirmaa brought a cool and ugly change in the air. It was followed by Aakhire Thirma and we prepared for the snow.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 65

Jaghori used to get many refugees from Uruzgan. I do not recall whether they were fleeing Pashtuns or the civil war or both, but they used to arrive in groups of many families.

I used to speak to the ones who passed through the village. They had stories to tell. Many said they had land and livelihoods, and they had all been taken over by Kochis. Others had fled because of the wars among the mullahs. Some had even left behind their daughters or young children, unable to carry them over the mountains. They had fled on donkeys and horsebacks, walking through the mountains for days before arriving in Sang-e-Masha.

When the refugees from Uruzgan first arrived in Jaghori, donkeys and their clothes were all they had. They were in tatters. Some people of Jaghori mocked them for having nothing but donkeys.

They were not impressed:

We have arrived with donkeys, but at least we have them. When your turn comes, you won’t even have donkeys to flee on.

Ten years later it happened. When the war came and the people of Jaghori had to flee, many did not even have their own donkeys to flee on. They had nothing but the clothes on their bodies, just like the people of Uruzgan.

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Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 64

In my days, the women in the village sang songs and celebrated happy times more than men did. These days, women can not sing or even laugh because their men will scold them or worse.

When there was a wedding or a son was born to a family in the village, the women stayed up late and had three night long village party. On the day of the wedding, the groom and bride went to their future home on horseback. The family followed them with songs of joy, dance, and drumbeat. Sometimes they brought a professional drummer and ghazal-goy. You could hear them from far and wide.

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When they crossed another village, the women and girls there stopped them in their path to look at the bride’s face. The men kept walking, and the women stopped along with the bride until the girls had had an eye full.It was an innocent tradition. People of all ages sang, the young were not good at it, the older people were better – they remembered good poems, and good songs. The drummer would hang the drum from their necks and beat both sides of it in melody. The caravan walked with the beat of the drum. When the drum stopped, the people stopped. The restart of the drumbeat was the sign to move.

Hassan of Chuna was a popular ghazal-goy. He was popular at weddings and shaw-shini. Mama, Maamad were other singers from the village. They would not just attend any wedding or party. They had to be convinced, and promised rewards. The elders and the influential villagers had to go to them, and promise them good food or clothes to get them to sing. The parties began with grilled beef or lamb, sweet tea and dry fruits followed, and then came songs, stories and jokes. It continued right until sunrise.

If anyone fell asleep, the others played practical jokes on them. They placed their shoes under their noses, or tickled them in their feet, tickled their ears with a piece of string, or took items out of their pockets as a joke.

I think people knew so little about the world, their expectations were so low that they did not have much to ask for and anything worry about. People observed their religion, they did, but there was a time and place for it. People also laughed and lived.

ghazal-goy = traditional singer
shaw-shini = birth party

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 63

“Khowar! I hear your daughter and daughter-in-law listen to a radio. It is time you stopped them. It is a sin to listen to the radio.”

Moallem had purchased a pocket radio from Kabul. He gave it to us as a gift. It ran on big and ugly looking batteries. The batteries were scarce. Your aunt and mother would switch it on and listen to music once or twice a day as they sipped tea in the winter sun. I would sit by the window to look out for any approaching relatives or villagers. I feared if they found us listening to music, they would say bad and horrible things about us, and call us names. I thought no one knew.

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Your great aunt from Hotqol visited us that winter. One day, while staying with us, when it was all quiet, she pulled me aside to speak to me:

“Khowar! I hear your daughter and daughter-in-law listen to a radio. It is time you stopped them. It is a sin to listen to the radio.”

I was startled. I mumbled:

Aghay, that may not be true. Who told you that?

She did not even pause:

The village is talking about it. They fear you might become kufri.

It was that bad. The mullahs, some of them my own nephews including Basir, Hashimi, Mahdawi, Rizwani, Hakimi and others made the decisions for everyone. They were like Taliban. They were disgusting people themselves, but they wanted to make the decisions for others. Most of the village followed them. We did not.

 

 

*khowar/aghay = sister
* kufri = infidel like

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