Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 83

We have an old Hazaragi saying that az bekaar shishto kada dokhtar zaydo khooba – it is worthier/better to give birth to a girl than remain idle. That is how the old ones saw it, just above nothing at all.

The birth of your youngest aunty Aabay Wahida it did not make your grandfather very happy. She was his seventh daughter when he only had the one son, your father. She was born at our home but ultimately belonged to someone else, the family she would be married into. When my youngest, the second son, was born after her, it earned her a new place and a better status in the eyes of the family. She had brought after her a son. She had been a good omen, a bringer of better fortunes because a son had followed her.

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This did not matter because it was only short-lived. It was very soon after that your grandfather walked out of the village and never returned to see either of them grow up.

 

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 82

 

Many moons ago there was a severe hail-storm over the village. It came at the worst possible time of the year, just after spring, and hailstones the size of my fist fell out of the sky. It devastated the crops, the farms, the trees, the animals, and also the farmers. It hit any living thing that was not under a roof. The hailstone heaped up to a hand-span’s height over our roof. Hailstones so big, the ones in the shadows lay there for a whole day before disappearing.

The village shepherd had just made it past the pass before being caught in the storm. He had hid under a tree, and had to abandon his flock out in the open. Moments later four or five of the animals lay dead. Others limped and ran around like they had gone mad.

The fields lay flat, and the village streams flowed full with unripe apricots, apples, leaves and branches. The wheat crop for the year was destroyed, Alfalfa fields were flattened, saplings and weaker tree were brought down, and with them the hard work of all the families in the village. Crops devastated, orchards destroyed, and lives changed, all within a few moments of a long spring afternoon. We had almost nothing left, and it was only the spring. The whole year lay ahead of us.

In that year or perhaps the next one, may be even the one after that, we moved to live in Kabul. We moved to live with your maternal grandfather in Wazirabad. Musa’s father, yet to marry your aunty, was the only breadwinner for the families there. We lived in groups of five and more per room. Three families in the house. There was only a little food available to feed us all. Your grandfather had to return to Jaghori to bring to Kabul some harvest and farm produce. His cousin the Qareedar had come to him crying, telling him how isolated he had become in our absence. He had pleaded with him to return to the village.

That plea convinced him to return back to what we had escaped from in the first place. Our life in the mountains. Your mother’s family followed us soon after. We all returned to the village.

It’s true that man is tougher than a rock, and softer than a flower.

Qareedar = village chief

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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 – 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 – 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 – 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.

Stores My Grandmother Told Me – 45

Music was forbidden, singers were frowned upon, and the act of singing was deemed equal to bringing dishonor to the family. Even the open minded families who brought singers from far away places for their weddings and child-birth celebrations, fed and placed those singers separately, and treated them as less deserving than other guests.

As a teenager, I used to sing songs all day long when I was the family shepherd, running up and down the mountains. As did my brother, the late Aatay Khadim Hussain. Sometimes we sat together by a large rock, and sang loud songs in the mountains. And then we grew up in age, but we didn’t grow out of wanting to sing together when we could.

 

IMG_2910My firstborn was still a young baby when I visited my parents. The following day, as I cared for my baby in the goolkho, my brother walked in, closed the door, and pleaded with me:

Come on aaghai, let’s sing a ghazal before I take hookah and charcoal for father’s guests.

We were in a long corridor, and it was all quiet. We sat there for those brief moments, and broke out in songs, like the old days, like we sang in the mountains.

On another day, years earlier, we were carrying meal up the Akhta valley for my father and other men from the village who were there to collect firewood for the coming winter. We delivered the meal and then set off on our descent. We stopped to rest by a few large rocks. He sang, and then I sang, and then we sang together as our voices echoed in the valley below.

We sang loud, without a care in the world. As we sang, I noticed that some men resting on the rocks on the other side of the valley. The sat next to their stack of firewood, and were staring at us, listening to our songs. I alerted my brother. We were shy and we stopped singing. We picked our bag, and continued our return trip to the village.

My late brother was the child after me. We were best friends. We understood each other. May God bless his soul.

 

*goolkho = kitchen
*aaghai = sister
*ghazal = traditional hazaragi song

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 42

Khadim’s father, Hussain’s father and Bachay Atay Jan Ali of SarMazar were the last people to see him alive. They had journeyed together, and then they returned home to their families. He didn’t.

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We lost him. We had no one to send to look for him. My oldest boy was 13, my youngest boy was a baby, and in that God-forsaken country, girls cannot travel by themselves. We sat by as months and years passed by. We kept hearing stories:

We walked for many days and nights. The days were extremely hot and the nights were extremely cold. And then it began raining such that the Sun and heat disappeared. It kept raining, and it got really cold. The desert was vast, open and had nowhere for us to hide. We were stranded without adequate food and shelter. Khalifa’s son had set off with only the clothes he had on. He had no other clothes to keep him warm. He felt weak, laid under a small tent we made for him using our jackets, scarfs and coats. He shivered, and died of cold in the middle of nowhere.

While the rest of us stopped and talked about returning, he was determined to keep going. He left us there, and walked into the rain and mist. We saw him walk away and disappear in the rain and mist of the desert.

For a long time that was all we knew, and nothing more. Then one day few years later, from the front window of the house, I saw a stranger walk into the village. He paused just past the pass, looked around, and headed straight to our house. He sat outside and said nothing. I felt nervous and sent for your father.

Your father greeted the man:

Salam. You haven’t introduced yourself. What brings you to our home?

He went straight to the point:

I have a letter from your father. I have been sitting here for a long time, and I haven’t even been offered tea.

I and your father just stood there, staring at this man, in utter silence.

Why didn’t you say something?

He looked around. He sounded nervous.

Let’s not talk about it here. Let’s go in and we can talk about it.

We went inside. I made him tea. There was hope after all.

Your father told me the name of your village. He told me to look for a large mulberry tree, and go to the house right next to it. I spotted the tree and your house from the pass. I knew it was the right house.

He asked for a hookah. I sent Zia Gul to my brother’s house to get a hookah. The poor girl was so jubilant, she ran up and told every one about the man. She returned with a hookah, and followed by Hussain’s father.

The man was startled:

Who is he? Why is he here?

I was surprised to see the man that nervous and startled. I tried to calm him down:

He is my brother. He is our own.

Hussain’s father greeted the man. They had tea. He described the journey.

It was cold and rainy in the desert. We were set upon by local bandits. We ran for our lives, and soon became lost. There was more rain, and it became unbearably cold. My brother-in-law wore a shawl. We huddled together and he covered us with his shawl. He lit a cigarette, and took a long puff. He passed it around. It did nothing. There were no more cigarettes left. Khalifa’s son was fragile. He could barely walk. My brother-in-law said we better leave or we would all die. The dying kid didn’t want us to leave. He pleaded with us, and said we would all die anyways. Let’s die together here rather than one at a time. My brother-in-law left the shawl cover, he fastened his belt and shoes, and began walking into the mist. We sat there, huddled together, staring at him walk into the mist.

The stranger raised his hand.

I believe you. He does not know that you all live.

He took a folded paper out of his pocket, stared at it and then put it back.

This isn’t the letter from your father. This is for a family in Kosha.

He searched his other pockets.

I may have left the letter with the other person in Angori.

He instructed your dad to visit Angori, and get the letter from him.

At this moment, my older brother Shaikh walked in.

The man was so started, he almost got up to leave.

Who invited all these people!? Why are you bringing in all these people!?

I tried to calm him again.

He is my brother. He sent you the hookah.

The man did not calm down. He was visibly startled. He slammed the tea container on the ground, got up and headed for the door. My brother followed him. We pleaded with him to tell us more. I begged him to take a letter with him. The man did not wait. He put on his shoes, and headed for the pass.

He took a few steps, and then turned to me.

What kind of brothers are they! Tell them to man up, and go to Iran to find your husband. Your brothers don’t believe me. They ask asking me for the color of his clothes. I take hundreds of people to Iran. How can I remember every person’s clothes and face. Your husband is in Iran. He is fine and healthy.

With those words, he headed for the pass. In the same way that he had walked in, he walked out of the village. He was a people smuggler. He was fearful the villagers would report him to the government. In those days, people smugglers were luring people, and taking their money to take them to Iran. There were rumors that some villages had reported and handed over people-smugglers to the government.

Your father visited the address in Angori. The man there denied any knowledge of the other person, or of your grandfather. He denied he was a people smuggler.

That was that. We never heard from that person again. We looked for him, but no one knew him, or his whereabouts. He disappeared, and so did all our hopes.

Many years later I realized that your grandfather may really have reached Iran. He may have been alive. He was a clan elder and man of honor. He probably thought that he had left behind his brothers in law and friends. He thought they were dead. He probably thought there was no honor in returning to the village without them. To make it worse, the smuggler never returned to return to take a reply letter from us to your grandfather. Perhaps, perhaps that made him think that we didn’t want him back. He probably thought we had given up on him.

It doesn’t matter thought. What difference does it make now. We never heard from him again. We had no way of finding out about him or looking for him. Just like that, he was gone. We still don’t know what happened to him.