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 – 81

We did not have your colourful iron and plastic containers at that time. We had mashk – water bag – and it was made out of animal skin, usually a goat or a calf’s. Sheep skin is a little too soft and does not make good mashk. In it we carried water from the spring and stored it. In it we stored doogh – yoghurt beverage. And it also gave us butter. We filled it with yoghurt and water, and shook it for two hours, may be more, and only then the butter separated from the water. It was easier in the cold weather and qiyamat – apocalypse – in the summer. It was also good exercise. haha.

The goat or the calf was skinned such that there are tears on the legs and on the neck only. All the organs and bones are pulled out of the neck cut. That skin is cleaned and then kept buried under ash until the hair can be seen falling off. Once the hair begins to fall, the skin is the shaved under running water. It was very important for the skin to be cleared and cleaned without damaging it.  Then it was ready for the next step. The skin was white at this stage. Freshly cut roots of an apricot tree was then crushed, and the powder used to prepare a paste of red dye, which is used to dye the skin natural red. The cuts in the legs and around the neck are then sewn shut such that the stitch is neat and plain. The legs are respectively tied up to hang the mashk from a theerband – wooden hanging bar. It was ready.

Yoghurt was poured through the cut in the neck area. It was tied shut, and then shaken back and forth repeatedly for about two hours or three hours or more until the butter could be seen floating. If I did not see any chunks of butter, I poured a little warm water, not hot water, into the mashk, and then kept shaking it again. And that sound of liquid being shaken back and forth went on and on.

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You were a baby and you sat there until the butter was ready and out. I left two or three pieces of butter on a plate for you to devour in a moment. Once full, you then crawled down to your aunty Zia Gul’s house, and ate even more butter there.

There were days when there was no butter, and that made you cry: Patheermaal qad aaw mookhroom – I want traditional bread and water.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 80

Our lives were difficult, our grieves were plenty and misery had a habit of finding its way to us, especially in the years after your grandfather disappeared.

We lived in Taina Aghil – the lower section of the village, and the all the streams flowed in from the foothills – Balna Aghil. There was a bad drought for a few years, and we were left without sufficient water for irrigating the land. The little water that streamed down the mountains was all used up in Balna Aghil, and the streams running through our farm dried up completely. In desperation, your father, still a teenager, approached the families of Balna Aghil to ask them to let some flow down the valley. Almost all agreed to do so, except Mamaye – the commander’s right hand man. Mamaye said that he would rather let the water flow to nowhere than let it flow to our farm. That was it. Most of the farm dried up that year, and most of the crop was wasted.
Days later your father sent your uncle to Serqol to ask Moallem, close relative and cousin, to lend us his bulls to help plough a patch of the farm. Moallem did not say no but he said everything else that meant no. He said he had already been approached by many people and that some had even offered to pay money. I understood what this meant – we were unable to pay and hence we could not borrow the bulls. Your uncle returned empty handed.

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Your uncle was a child at the time, a young child. Contrary to the advice of most of the villagers, your father enrolled him into a school. He walked to Sangemasha. He walked for hours through the hills to get there, and hours on his way back. The summer heat was crushing and the terrain was difficult. Every few days a week he returned home bloodied-nose, exhausted by of the heat. I advised him to stay at his sister’s home at noon and to then walk home when it was cooler in the afternoon. He did that for a few days, and then returned home early one day. I scolded him for walking in the heat again, and asked what had happened. He was upset:

Sister had guests over. When I got there, she was taking a plate of fruits to the guests. She saw me, she called me over and she kissed me on the cheek. She gave me a piece of fruit and she called me her life. She then told me not to return anymore. Her in-laws did not like my visits.

Stories My Grandmother Told Me – 78

This is from when I was young and strong, and I could work like many men can not. Your father was only a kid, and your aunties were younger. We had had to lease out the family land to repay your grandfather’s debts, and he had a lot of it. Your grandfather fell very ill that year, and had to remain home-bound.

Khalifa offered us some work on his land in the gorge during the summer months. We had to cut the tall grass, prepare the land, and cultivate grain. It was hard work. We worked there as a family, starting at dawn and finishing when darkness made it impossible to see what we were doing. We went hungry every other day and had no spare food.

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One day, in the midst of work and the summer, I collapse at work. When I opened my eyes Qareedar’s son, Yaqoob, stood there with some bread in hand. He offered me a piece of it with some milk. I sat upright, ate it as fast as I could, and felt instantly better. I ate some more, and I could get up and return to work again.

We worked there for many weeks, and finally harvested Khalifa’s wheat crop. When it was all thrashed and ready to be loaded on the back on the back of donkeys, he arrived there to weight it. He first claimed his half, and left the other half on one side. We thought that was our share. He then took our half and divided it into smaller portions, claiming those in exchange for what he had provided us with: a portion for the seeds, another for the bull and the thrasher loaned to us for a few days, and another for allowing us to use his farm equipment. He took everything, all of it, not one portion left for us. God curse me if I lie. Nothing for us. He took it all. Allaywar arrived there later in the day, loaded the harvest on the back of a few donkeys to take the wheat to the crusher.

The children stood by me and watched, as I wept in despair. Khalifa’s wife saw this. She was scared of her husband, and could not say anything. She walked over, and discreetly poured a handful of grain into a corner of my skirt and chador. She told me to take it and walk away as fast I could. I did.

I felt as if she had poured the world into my chador. That wheat only fed us for two days and two nights. A summer of hard work, and it was all over in two days.

Curse poverty. When you are poor, people treat you like cattle. Those are the kind of days we had to live through. When you have money, your friends remain friends, your relatives remain close. When you have no money, your own eyes will disown you. Khalifa was a close relative of your grandfather. He had been like family. He did not spare our starving family a plate of the harvest we had worked on.

That is what the world has taught me.

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 – 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 – 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 – 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