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12 July 2001


This is a short yet interesting personal account by an older woman, who explains that “from my parents to my great grandson, I have seen five generations…”. She provides insights into aspects of life in the past and some of her thoughts and feelings about the changes that have taken place during her life.

She used to go to Pamir (Shimshal’s mountain pastures) during the summer. In addition to looking after their own livestock and producing dairy products, they had to take care of the Mir’s (rulers of Hunza state up to 1974) livestock. However, since the 1970s, “all free labour for the Mir finished and since [then] it is totally our time and whatever we do, we do it for ourselves.”

Her own family is evidently very important to her and she comments on some of the general changes in the family set-up. Gul Khatoon, who was married when she was only nine, says in the past girls were not consulted about their marriage. Today, she explains, “You people should be thankful to God, because now boys and girls can see each other and they themselves sometimes decide before the parents come to know, while we used to hide ourselves whenever we saw someone from the groom’s family, now things have changed quite a lot.” She mourns the decline in the joint family system which she believes is a result of changes in attitude and behaviour. At several points in the interview she also describes the sometimes difficult relationship between mother- and daughter-in-law.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Interviewer’s introduction. Gul Khatoon mentions various aspects of life in Shimshal in the past: clothing, food and farming tasks. Used to provide food for those who came to assist with taking the dung from the animal sheds to the fields.
Section 2-3  Time spent in the pasture: “We used to bear the harsh weather and less food and wait for the harvest to come. Our sons and brothers used to bring sacks of freshly ground flour for us from the village to Pamir at the time of Chaneer (harvest festival).” Also used to take care of the Mir’s livestock and prepare wool products for him; freely – this unpaid labour came to an end in the 70s. Gul Khatoon was married when she was nine. She poignantly describes running back to her parents’ house after her marriage. Description of marriage ceremonies in the past: the food prepared (including a dish called beth (local dish; wheat flour mixed with butter, water and salt served with mutton) and shared among other villagers. “We used to freeze that beth and store it for consumption in the coming days. Those were hard times so we had to carefully manage everything. The frozen beth was utilised for many days. We did that because of poverty.” In the past the girl was kept out of discussions about her marriage.
Section 3  Describes an accident in Pamir in which four shepherds died. Compares the quantity of butter she used to prepare in the past with that her daughter-in-law prepares now. She explains the reduction: “…[in the past] there were fewer animals; now there are more animals and there is less grazing land.” In the past, women from every household went to Pamir and the men stayed in the village to do agriculture.
Section 3-4  Relationships with China in the past and now. Shimshalis were taken as prisoners several times, but now relations have improved. People respect their elders less today. Also people are no longer living in joint families: “In those days we used to live four or five families together, and we were very happily living together. Now if a person is married he wants to divide and live separately, because they cannot live together, they cannot accept one another.” She believes people are less willing to compromise today. Describes how they developed barren land into their new home, farm, and an orchard: “We got permission from the community to develop the land. Initially some people opposed it but when we started working on it many people joined in and now it is a beautiful village as you can see. Developing new land is very difficult. I used to plough the rough surface. It was very hard… I used to work like a man.” She worries when her son (Rajab Shah) is out mountain climbing, but when he returns: “That is the happiest moment for me. I feel a new spirit when I see them after four or five months.”
Section 5  Sadness of the death of her eldest grandson. She says “Except for this incident I am very happy and all my family members are the apple of my eye. Now my eyesight is weak and I have passed my age. Now I have no interest in [this] world and am waiting to go into the next world.” Her thoughts about today’s generation: “Now you people have luxuries of life around and everything has been made easy for you and straightened up. You even have a road to travel on. [But I am afraid that] now people have became unthankful in such a way that everyone wants to live alone - unity among families is weakening.” Difficulty of managing the relationship with one’s daughter-in-law. In a joint family system everyone can share the work.
Section 5-6  Her son’s experience of seeing a ghost. She herself has never seen a ghost: “Although our house was at a remote corner of the village - and I used to go early in the morning and at night for prayer in Jamat khana (religious community centre of Ismaili Muslims) that was situated on the other corner of village - I was not afraid of anything though I often heard others talking about ghosts and spirits.”