Editor’s Note: The Soviet-influenced Afghan government of the period took the writer’s father from her home when she was 11 years old, and she never saw him again. This is Part II of what she knows of his childhood.
Shah began living in the mosque with the mullah. He continued to study the Qu’ran and eventually learned it by heart. He also studied other books. The mullah was always there by his side. Shah’s love of learning caused the mullah to establish a small library. The mullah taught Shah, and Shah taught others.
Shah spent his nights studying. His desk was the floor. The mullah did not have a proper carpet, so Shah would lie on a reed mat using a small lamp he had made. Quite often, after hours of reading, the skin of his elbows would become stuck on the rough mat.
As time went on, Mullah Sahib grew old and weak. One day, he woke up and called to Shah, “Shah, my son, where are you? Can you hear me?”
Shah came to him. “Yes, baba jan (grandpa), what do you want?”
Mullah Sahib gave him money and asked him to buy some patasa, a special candy that is not too expensive. Shah brought him some candy, and the mullah read from the Qu’ran and then asked Shah to give the candy to the poor people.
When Shah came back, Mullah Sahib asked him to listen carefully: “I dreamt you will be a very famous, powerful, and well-known man. Try to learn more and more—never stop learning. You have to leave me and the mosque; you have to go to Kabul. This is not the right place for you.”
Mullah Sahib gave him names and addresses of people in Kabul. “These people are going to help you with your studies. But you have to earn your own money.”
Shah said, “I’m sorry, baba jan, for being rude, but how can I leave you? You need someone near you—you can’t walk properly. You are like a father to me, how can I leave my father in this state?”
“Don’t be a fool, don’t think like a child, you are a grown man. Think about your future.”
“But baba jan—”
“Don’t say anything. You have to go by tomorrow morning.”
“OK, baba jan, as you wish.”
“Listen, boy, I am sending you to Kabul not to have fun, but to get an education. Forget about your youth. Just think about your future.”
The next morning, Shah woke up early as usual and helped Mullah Sahib with his prayers. At the end of the prayers, Mullah Sahib said, “Let’s pray for the young man who will be leaving us for good. Unfortunately, I will not meet him again. But I am sure he will make us proud.”
Shah went to him and kissed his hands. Mullah Sahib kissed Shah’s head and said, “May Allah bless you and Allah always be with you. Go, and do not come back until you finish your education. Do not even come to my funeral.”
Shah’s voice wavered. “Baba jan, I am going to miss you.”
“Don’t be weak. As you said on your first day, it is Allah’s decision. I hate weak people.” And then he made a sign with his hand: go.
Shah took his books and left the mosque. He didn’t know what the next step would be. Two teardrops came from Mullah Sahib’s eyes; the people of Charikar said they had never seen Mullah Sahib crying—even when he lost his family.
Shah found Kabul completely different than Charikar. The city was big and crowded, with many more shops. He liked the kababies, restaurants that serve barbecue. They played Indian music so loudly you could hear it from far away. Shah walked around, looking at Indian film posters. He had never seen a photo of a beautiful girl without a headscarf. With his mouth half open, he stared at everything around him.
Eventually, Shah went to the person recommended by Mullah Sahib, an old man who was a mullah and teacher at a madrassa. He asked Shah, “Do you have a place to live?”
“No,” Shah said.
“We will admit you to the madrassa, but we can’t offer you money or housing—you have to work and find a place to live.”
Shah was more nervous about the future than when he had run away so many years ago. At that time, he was too young to consider problems. This time he knew the consequences. Time ran fast. After a few days, he spent his last cent. He spent the nights in a mosque and he went to the madrassa during the day. Still he couldn’t find a job.
Shah made friends with a few other young men who came from different provinces. They were bonded by adversity; none had money, jobs or accommodations. One day while they were walking from the madrassa to the mosque, the aroma of sweet yellow melons beckoned to them. It was summer, yellow melon season. They were all very hungry.
“Oh, I feel like eating melon,” one of Shah’s group said.
“We don’t have money to buy any, so stop dreaming of eating melon, it is impossible,” Shah’s other friend replied.
“Yes, I know you are right, but I can’t stop thinking about it,” Shah’s friend responded.
As they walked to the mosque trying to ignore the grumbling from their stomachs, they spied the outer layer of a melon on the street. Someone had left it lying near the garbage.
The friend eager to eat melon said “look!” He walked over and grabbed it. “It is not dirty. Let’s eat it.” Without waiting for replies, he sank his teeth into the sweet melon. After the initial bite, Shah’s young friend broke off two pieces and offered it to Shah and his other friend.
Shah watched them eat. “No thanks, I don’t feel like. I don’t like yellow melons,” he said. “You have it.”
Deep in his heart Shah knew he loved melons. The smell of melon increased his appetite. But of course, he didn’t want to eat from the garbage.
The boys continued on their way to the mosque with the hope of having dinner. Quite often people would bring food to the mosque for those who had nothing to eat.
In Islam, if you give food to passengers or people who don’t have a house, Allah will forgive your sin.
There were days when Shah and his friends had nothing to eat. On those days, Shah would read even more. Shah found that when he read books, he forgot about his hunger. Shah missed his family. He missed the peace of mind that comes from having a mother to cook his lunch or dinner. He missed his siblings and the security of having his father provide for him. But Shah preferred to study. This was his passion.
Shah was to discover that there are times when a small issue or accident can change an entire life and alter a destiny. There was such a moment in Shah’s life that brought him success, fame, and wealth.
To be continued…