Gojal area of the Karakorum mountains
Pakistan glossary











12 July 2001



Section 1
Today December 7, 2001, I am sitting in Rajab Shah janabís (Mr, sir) house and interviewing moom (grandmother) Gul Khatoon about her views, information and events in her life. I want to ask her about all of that. These interviews are taken for the oral testimony project of PANOS and SNT. We are gathering these interviews, transcribing them and will print them in a booklet.
It is about this purpose that I am here in Rajab Shah janabís house to take an interview from grandmother. I hope that grandmother would inform me of her precious opinions, and experiences she has gone through during her lifetime.

So my grandmother could you tell me that how old are you right now?
Age! I donít exactly know; much [time has] passed. I am unable to figure out that how much has passed, how much has not. Daulat Amin is not here. His father and I were of the same age.

Grandfather Shaheen you mean?
Yes, yes. Now he (Shaheen) died, now he (Daulat Amin) can make sense of it. I donít know. [Sounds of cooking pots in the background].

That is right, sweet grandmother.
During our time it was a world with so many difficulties my child, that we sometimes had to wear our woollen socks wrapped with pieces of woollen cloth and go to the mountains for fetching fire woods.
For food we ate doon (fried wheat). Thereafter God gradually changed our condition gradually. We used to make chapatti (unleavened bread) for darth kheshn (taking natural fertiliser/dung from the animal sheds to the fields). We used to consume that hard chapatti with us for foodÖ [these are] words of our condition. After that God opened the door of his blessings and gradually we became rohat (comfortable) bit by bit.
When we were a little better off (economically). A very difficult time! We started serving soup made of dried apricot mixed with ground fried wheat to serve people who came to help us take fertilisers to the field. For our kuryar (communal labour) we served dried apricot soup for the family as well as those who helped the family out in these works. For lunch we used to eat bread made of green peas - in the low-income families. Women spent most of their free hours at home making threads out of sheepís wool for clothing. We used to do tikmai (hand carding wool) and our children used charkh (spinning wheel) to spin the wool.
The zamona (time/age) changed and so came your age and you are witnessing it. Shukri kam (we are less thankful to God) we should be thanking God for all these blessings.
In our times when we used to go to the pasture it used to be very difficult for us to survive during bad weather conditions. 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 (Shimshalís mountain pastures) at the time of Chaneer (harvest festival).
We also used to take care of the animals of the Mir (rulers of Hunza state up to 1974) people of the village used to work for the Mir without payment, they used to prepare the wool by spinning and weave woollen cloths, carpets and ropes etc for him.
But in the seventies, all free labour for the Mir finished and since [then] it is totally our time and whatever we do, we do it for ourselves.
My dear daughter! I donít really talk about all things but I have seen many difficult moments and hard times in my whole life.
Section 2
Any memories of difficulties or hard times that you want to mention, or any incident that happened to you?
Well we passed through difficult times and it was much more different before that time, like that time of my mother and grandmother.

Okay grandmother how were you in your childhood, how did you spend it or before your marriage how was life?
Well about my childhood. When I was about the age of my granddaughter (9 years) I was married. On the day after my marriage I was so young that, I ran back to my parentsí house. When my mother heard that I was running to their house. She came out with few apricots in her hand and then she picked me up and held me in her arms [and then] she brought me back to my father-in-lawís home.
A year later I went to Pamir with my mother-in-law. I was so young that I could not work and my mother-in-law used to scold me when I was not able to do any work. Nowadays if you are going to scold your daughter-in-law she may kill you [said jokingly].
After twelve years of my marriage I gave birth to my first child. The first year of my visit to Pamir was very hard. When my mother-in-law and I came back she told me to make qurut (local dried cheese) and visit my parents and also my thath (father). The same year my mother died and that was a great shock to me and I felt it too much. But then my father helped me a lot.

Sweet grandmother how was the marriage ceremony celebrated in those days?
We used to prepare food for the ceremony for four days. The food used to be bat (local dish; wheat flour mixed with butter, water and salt served with mutton), molida (local dish; bread mixed with qurut and butter) and meat. The entire village gathered in the bridegroomís house to share the food. People danced and visited the brideís house. The next day they returned to the bridegroomís house taking the bride. All the villagers gathered to share those dishes.
The bat, which was prepared by the marriage house, they used to distribute that to every household. In those days there were (comparatively) fewer households in the village. We used to freeze that bat and store it for consumption in the coming days. Those were hard times so we had to carefully manage everything. The frozen bat was utilised for many days. We did that because of poverty.
Section 3
Ok, grandmother, at the time of marriage, was the bride asked about her willingness about the marriage?
Well, in the olden times during the engagement ceremony the girl was kept out of the discussion and was only asked to declare her willingness during the nikah (Islamic matrimonial agreement) ceremony. Sometimes if the girl kept quiet, this was taken as her willingness.

Sweet grandmother what do you think about the changes? What are your feelings?
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 groomís family, now things have changed quite a lot.

Sweet grandmother! You used to go with your sheep and goat to the pasture. So if you can tell us anything about any interesting thing that happened to you.
Once I was in Pamir and a few [female] shepherds were in Ghujerab (another pasture). The shepherds from Ghujerab were going to graze the animals. There were four of them. They had to pass through a river gorge before reaching the next grazing place. One day when they were crossing the gorge they were hit by rock slides rolling down the mountain. All four of them died. One of them had a small baby who survived because the baby was in the hut at the time of the accident. One of the women from the pasture had to walk to the village to inform the villagers of the accident.

What was your age at that time?
Well I was quite young but was good at everything. I owned almost an equal number of yaks that the Mir had. It was a good time; we used to make many sacks of butter (one sack weighed 30/40 kgs of fresh butter) in one season. From the milk of just two yaks and a few sheep and goats I used to make seven sacks of butter, every year. Now my daughter-in-law from 14 yaks and a great number of goats and sheep makes [only] two or three sacks a year. It is because [in the past] there were fewer animals; now there are more animals and there is less grazing land.

Was it different the way people go to pasture? If yes how?
Yes it was [different] almost all the people especially all the women used to go to the pasture and one or two women in each household used to stay back in the village. Mostly men worked for agriculture in the village. Once in a household only one old woman was staying in the village; she used to stay at home all the time. Men were all at work, the old woman was provided with food rotationally from each household.

Grandmother would you tell us about the relationship in the old days with the Chinese [of] Turkistan?
It happened twice with us, once the Chinese robbers took our animals and they also took my brother and uncle and released them after few months. My uncle was totally out of his mind. He was fed something or mistreated and he lost his mind. Next time some village men were taken prisoners and they returned after four or five years. Now relations are very good. Sometimes if our animals go there (cross the border over to China) they are returned via the Khunjarab Pass (Khunjarab is the border check post between Pakistan and China), by the Chinese themselves. It is very good nowadays.
Section 4
Grandmother we have come to know that the pasture area was divided into several parts and grazed step by step. Do they do the same [today]? If not, why?
The truth is that people listen to the elders [only a] little. They all have become stubborn and they all want to do any thing they want. It is also because of the ease of time that they care less about such things.

How was the relation between people with each other?
O! O! Donít ask me about that; we used to respect our elders a lot. We used to obey whatever they guided us. But now even if I tell something to my granddaughter, she ignores it. 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.

Why it is so that now families cannot live as they used to live before, what do you say?
Itís because one has to control his feeling, respect each otherís ideas and listen to elders. There are some things that you donít want to accept. It is necessary for the sake of others if you want to live with them. Sometimes you have to sacrifice for others then you will be able to be accepted by others. But now a woman does not have such qualities and thatís why they want to have an independent life and her own separate house.

What are your contributions to the village, as you were a responsible woman?
I have worked for about 13 years for my villageís Jamat khana (religious and community centre of Ismaili Muslims) But now I am too old even to go there for prayer. I have faced many difficulties especially in farming when we started to develop this barren land [she and her husband developed a new village now called Rezginaben]. 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. When I was working in the field one of my infant children would lay aside in a hut near the land. I used to work like a man. Now you can see that I have converted this barren land into an agricultural farm. I have two orchards and quite a vast cultivated area.

Sweet grandmother as your children have a vast area of land and one of your sons is a great mountaineer [Rajab Shah is an internationally renown climber], so how do you feel about this all?
Whenever they go for climbing I get worried. It is a very difficult time for me until they come back safe and sound. I donít know what difficulties they face during climbing. You people must know more about it

What are your feelings when they come [back] from their expeditions or climbing?
That is the happiest moment for me. I feel a new spirit when I see them after four or five months.
Section 5
Sweet grandmother you have mentioned about your earlier life experiences, the way you have faced difficulties, Now what do you feel about the change in life?
As I have mentioned that at the time of the breaking up of my family members, I felt bad and uncomfortable. But at present, I am spending good days with my family. I have used the livelihood as earned by my husband, sons and grandsons as well. When my elder grandson started earning I thought that now I will not have a difficult time. But God did not accept that and took my elder grandson away from me [her grandson died in an accident]. 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.

Sweet grandmother, what massage would you like to give to the next generation? How should they work for the prosperity of village?
I canít give any message but only pray for their progress. They may have a comfortable life to live. To convey a message one needs acumen - that I think I have lost with the passage of time. What I can do is to pray for them that I often do. 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. About your family life, you can advise or scold only to your own child but canít do so to you daughter-in-law. It is very difficult to deal with daughters-in-law. Sometimes you canít tell her anything because of your son. Perhaps he will not like this for his wife. And to be with your son and suppress your daughter-in-law is not fair and not the sign of a good moral. Keep this in mind that always be good with your daughter-in-law and train your own daughter properly (because some day she has to go to some oneís house). Nowadays I am very much surprised to see the sudden separation of family sometimes by their father and brother-to-brother. That is not a good sign.

Grandmother it seems that you donít like the separation of family members, why?
No I just do not like that.

What are the benefits of a joint family system?
Yes thatís good, you can see that in a joint family system you can divide work amongst family members so everyone has to do a little work. When my younger brother-in-law separated from my children, that moment I will not forget. For my own children when I separated from them, each of them was earning well and able to support his family. I am telling you because I have experienced all this when I felt alone with my husband. As both my parents-in-law died and we were left alone to face everything.

Grandmother how many generations you have seen up to now?
From my parents to my great grandson, I have seen five generations up to now.

Grandmother†from olden times people have been frightening their children from spirits. Have you ever experienced such an incident in your own life?
Yes, once it so happened that my nephew was returning from Karachi. My son with his cousin went forward to receive him at a pass that was near another village of our relatives. After receiving him, they went to stay at the shepherds hut situated at the top of mountain, before entering the hut they saw a mysterious looking old women standing near the door of hut.
My nephew who had come from Karachi decided to sleep inside the hut with his aunt while the other two prepared to sleep outside the house, nearby where the family used to keep their animals. During the night my son thought about the mysterious looking women and got worried about the safety of my nephew sleeping inside the hut. He got up and went towards the hut. He tried to open the door but all in vain. At last, he broke the door as he lit a lantern to see in the darkness he was shocked to see that the very woman was sitting at the feet of my nephew. He held a stick and tried to beat her but the old woman disappeared at once leaving him horrified. That was a mysterious experience that my son passed on.
As far as I am concerned I have never seen any ghost or spirit throughout my life. 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 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.
Section 6
Sweet grandmother thank you very much for your precious time and conversation. Despite your age and health condition the conversation was lively and very interesting thank you once again.
I donít know if it is useful for you or not but anyhow I have told you the experiences of my life honestly.