A scene from Da'ie Jan Napoleon
(My Uncle Napoleon) TV series
She wanted to cut it off..
From Iraj Pezeshkzad's classic "My Uncle Napoleon" (1996 Mage Publishers Washington, DC, $29.95) translated from the Persian by Dick Davis. (Reviews)
(Chapter 4, pages 81-87)
In the men's part of the gathering there were only four or five very close relatives of ours left and the event was drawing to an end. The women came over and joined the men.
People had more or less forgotten the reason why they'd gathered together and they were busy drinking tea and soft drinks, eating little cakes, chatting and laughing. Just at the moment when Farrokh Laqa was asking why Aziz al-Saltaneh and her husband and daughter hadn't come, and it was clear that she wanted to make something out of this, suddenly, from the direction of the flat roof overlooking the garden, a man's voice was heard calling out for help, "Someone help me . . . come quickly . . . come and save me . . . help!"
We all automatically turned to where the sound was coming from. We saw the outline of a man in a shirt and white longjohns running wildly from one side of the roof to the other.
In the midst of everyone's consternation and amazement uncle colonel said, "It sounds like Dustali Khan's voice . . . yes, it's him." The strong light of the incandescent lamps prevented our seeing the owner of the voice clearly. Everyone present more or less ran in his direction.
It was Dustali Khan, Aziz al-Saltaneh's husband. His house had a common wall with the garden. Horror and extreme fear were apparent in his voice. He shouted continually, "Help me . . . save me!"
Dear Uncle Napoleon shouted, "What's happened, Dustali Khan?"
Dustali Khan answered, "Please, for God's sake . . . bring a ladder . . . help me!"
"Why don't you go down by the stairs?"
"I can't . . . help me . . . a ladder . . . then I'll explain!"
There was such pleading and wailing apparent in his voice that no one asked any more questions. Dear Uncle shouted out, "Qasem, a ladder!"
Mash Qasem had picked the ladder up from its place before Dear Uncle's order was given. Those present didn't for a moment take their eyes off the form of Dustali Khan, which was shaking on the roof like a nocturnal phantom. Mash Qasem leaned the ladder against the wall, and went up it a few rungs to help Dustali Khan come down.
A few moments later Dustali Khan put his feet on the ground and fainted in Mash Qasem's arms. They more or less dragged him over to the carpets and laid him down. Everyone started discussing what had happened and offering opinions as to what it meant.
Dear Uncle Napoleon kept lightly slapping him on the face with the palm of his hand and asking, "Dustali Khan, what is it? What happened?"
But Dustali Khan, with his dishevelled hair, in his shirt and white, mud-stained longjohns, lay there motionless, with only his lips trembling. We were all gathered in a circle around him.
Mash Qasem, who was massaging Dustali Khan's feet, said, "It's like a snake's bit him some place."
Dear Uncle threw an angry look at him, "You're talking rubbish again!"
"Well sir, why should I lie? There was a man in our town who . . ."
"The hell with you and the man in your town. Will you let me see what's happened?" And then once again he gently slapped Dustali across the face.
Dustali Khan opened his eyes. Suddenly he seemed to come back to himself and looked from one side to the other. With a nervous movement he clasped both hands to his groin and shouted, "Cut . . . it's been cut . . ."
"Who's cut? What's been cut?"
Dustali Khan didn't answer Dear Uncle's question but in the same terrified voice repeated, "Cut . . . she wanted to cut it . . . with a knife . . . with a kitchen knife . . . she was going to cut . . ."
"Who cut? Who wanted to cut?"
"Aziz . . . that rotten bitch Aziz . . . my wife . . . that witch of a woman . . . that unnatural bitch of a murderer . . ."
Asadollah Mirza, who had pricked up his ears, came forward, holding back his laughter with some difficulty. "Moment . . . moment . . . wait . . . wait, let me see . . . God forbid, Mrs. Aziz al-Saltaneh didn't want to cut off your . . ."
"Yes, yes . . . that witch, if I'd jumped a moment later she'd have cut it off."
Asadollah Mirza burst out with a loud guffaw of laughter and said, "Right from the bottom?"
As everyone laughed Dear Uncle Napoleon suddenly remembered that there were women and children present. He stood up and, stretching out his arms wide on each side and so making a curtain with his cloak between Dustali Khan and the children, he shouted, "Women and children over there!"
The women and children went back a little. At this moment Puri, uncle colonel's son, with a stupid expression on his face asked, "What did Mrs. Aziz al-Saltaneh want to cut off?"
Uncle colonel glanced at him angrily and said, "What kind of a question is that to ask, you donkey?"
Mash Qasem calmly answered his question, "M'dear, she wanted to cut his privates off."
Asadollah Mirza laughed and said, "Well, he's brought this on himself . . .
'Someone was chopping the branch off a tree
The lord looked in the garden and happened to see . . .'"
Dear Uncle Napoleon bawled, "Sir, that's enough!"
Then, with a very serious face, and still holding out his cloak as a curtain between Dustali Khan and the women, he said, "Speak properly, Dustali! How is it she wanted to cut it off? Why are you talking such nonsense?"
Dustali Khan, who was still clutching his groin with both hands, wailed, "I saw it myself . . . she'd brought a kitchen knife into the bed . . . she'd got hold of it to cut it . . . I felt the chill of the knife!"
"But why? Had she gone crazy? Had she . . . ?"
"She'd been nagging me all evening . . . she didn't come to your mourning ceremony . . . she said that she'd heard from one of her relatives that I was going with some young woman . . . God damn all such relatives . . . they're all murderers . . . God, if I'd jumped a moment later she'd have cut the whole lot off."
In a choked voice Dear Uncle Napoleon said, "Aha! I understand!"
We all became aware of him. He ground his teeth in fury. In a voice shaking with anger he added, "I know which filthy wretch has done this . . . that fellow who wants to destroy the honor of our family . . . who's made a plot against the honor of our family."
It was very clear that by "that fellow" he meant my father.
Asadollah Mirza, who was trying to be serious, said in an apparently concerned voice, "Well, was any of it cut off?"
Dear Uncle Napoleon ignored everyone's laughter and said through gritted teeth, "I'll destroy him . . . the honor of our family is no joke."
At this moment Shamsali Mirza assumed the extremely serious face of a judge, raised his hands, and said, "Do not rush to judgment . . . first the investigation, then the verdict. Mr. Dustali Khan, please answer my questions carefully and honestly."
The presumed victim of the attack was still lying helplessly on the floor with his hands clutched against his groin. Shamsali Mirza pulled a chair forward and sat down to begin his cross-examination, but uncle colonel interrupted, "Your honor, leave it for tomorrow, this poor devil's been so terrified he hasn't the strength to speak."
Shamsali Mirza glanced at him angrily and answered, "The optimum time for cross-examination and investigation is the moment immediately after the crime has been committed. By tomorrow the factors on which a certain judgment can be based will all have been dispersed."
Mash Qasem, who had been staring at the scene with interest, confirmed his statement, "Oh yes, indeed, sir, by tomorrow who knows who'll be dead and who'll be still alive? There was a man in our town who . . ."
Shamsali Mirza cut him off with a fierce look and once again turned to Dustali Khan, "As I said, answer my questions very carefully and with complete honesty."
Dear Uncle Napoleon, who was staring distractedly into space, said, "There's no doubt it's the work of that filthy fellow . . . he's using Napoleon's own strategy-which he heard from me-against me . . . Napoleon said that in wars you have to attack the enemy at his weakest point . . . this man has realized that my weak point is Dustali Khan. He knows that I've brought Dustali up, that he's like my own son. He's one of my family, his wife's one of my family . . ."
Dear Uncle talked for a while about the special ties which bound Dustali Khan to him. Mind you, he had talked many times about how he had brought Dustali Khan up, and despite the fact that Dustali Khan was over fifty years old, he considered him as his child. Finally he turned toward Dustali Khan and said, "Now, to show your thanks for how I've always looked after you and cared for you, I want you to answer Shamsali Mirza's questions carefully, because we've got to discover the truth tonight, it must be made as clear to everyone as it is to me just who has said all this to Aziz al-Saltaneh. This is a subject of the greatest importance and we are at a most delicate juncture in our family's life . . . we are standing on the edge of ruin . . . in particular we have to make plain to my sister what kind of person she is living with and then she can choose between him and her family."
Dustali Khan's eyes were shut tight and he seemed not to be listening to Dear Uncle's speech but to be in his own fearful, terrifying world, because he suddenly opened his eyes in a very weird way. Pressing his hand against his groin, he cried out in a terrified voice, "Agghhh, she's cut it off . . . help me, she's cut it off with the kitchen knife . . . diamond-sharp it was . . ."
Dear Uncle Napoleon threw a contemptuous look at Dustali Khan. "What times these are . . . here's me who's looked rifles, lances, swords, and shrapnel in the face a thousand times and not for one moment have fear or cowardice ever found a way into my heart, and here's him terrified like this of a kitchen knife."
Mash Qasem took up the theme, "God save him, the Master's got the heart of a lion . . . can you remember how that Jan M'amad Baqameh jumped at you at the Battle of Kahkiloyeh . . . it's like it was yesterday . . . God save you, with one stroke of your sword you sliced him in two from his head to his bellybutton . . . and then this feller's just seen a little vegetable knife and he's ready to give up the ghost . . . and no one's even cut anythin' . . . if they'd cut somethin' then what would he have done . . . ?"
Asadollah Mirza, who out of consideration for Dear Uncle and Shamsali Mirza had suppressed his urge to laugh, said, "Well, have a look, perhaps it really has been cut off!"
Shamsali Mirza glanced at him angrily, "Brother!"
Meanwhile Mash Qasem, at a sign from Dear Uncle, brought a glass of mint cordial to Dustali Khan's lips and made him drink a few drops. Shamsali Mirza wanted to start his cross-examination but Dear Uncle Napoleon raised his hand, "With your permission, your excellency . . . ladies and children, back to the house, just my sister will stay here."
Dear Uncle took my mother's arm and pulled her aside. He wanted her and no one else to be present at the cross-examination. Without making any objection the women went off toward their homes. My longing look followed Layli, who seemed to me to be a thousand times more beautiful beneath her black lace veil. I, too, set off for our house but the confused noise that suddenly blew up excited my curiosity and I quietly and stealthily got myself behind the sweetbrier arbor and sat hidden there. The noise was from Mrs. Farrokh Laqa, who was not going to do as Dear Uncle told her under any circumstances. Harshly Dear Uncle Napoleon said, "My dear lady, this is no place for you, it's time you went!"
"How come it's a place for that woman and not for me?"
"In this matter my sister is an interested party."
It seemed that Dear Uncle had forgotten Mrs. Farrokh Laqa's bad mouth. "Oh, it's like that, is it? Aziz al-Saltaneh wanted to cut off a bit of Dustali Khan's body and your sister's an interested party?"
Asadollah Mirza couldn't contain himself. Under his breath he said, "All the women are interested parties! It's a dangerous matter for the whole female community."
Dear Uncle threw him a fierce look and went ahead as if Farrokh Laqa were not there, "Your excellency, please begin."
Shamsali Mirza began just like a cross-examining magistrate in a court of law, "Are you Dustali Khan, resident . . . excuse me, I mean, explain the details of your case."
With his eyes half closed, Dustali Khan moaned, "What details? She was going to cut it off . . . she was going to cut it off!"
"Now tell us exactly when this happened."
"How should I know, it was tonight, wasn't it? Good God, what questions they're asking!"
"Mr. Dustali Khan, my meaning is, exactly at what time did this occur?"
"Leave me alone, get your hands off me!"
"Mr. Dustali Khan, I will repeat my question. Exactly at what time did this occur?"
"How should I know? I didn't make a note of the time, did I? I just saw she was going to cut it off . . ."
"You don't remember the approximate time?"
Dustali Khan yelled, "How should I know? She was going to cut it off!"
Shamsali Mirza was also getting angry, "My dear sir . . . an attempt has been made against you . . . the crime of deprivation of a member . . . the accused intended to cut off a noble member from your body and you don't know what time this happened?"
Dustali Khan burst out in rage, "For God's sake, I wasn't wearing a watch on the noble member!"
Iraj Pezeshkzad was born in Tehran in 1928, and educated in Iran and France where he received his degree in Law. He served as a judge in the Iranian Judiciary for five years prior to joining the Iranian Foreign Service. He began writing in the early 1950s by translating the works of Voltaire and Molière into Persian and by writing short stories for magazines. His novels include Haji Mam-ja'far in Paris, and Mashalah Khan in the Court of Haroun al-Rashid. He has also written several plays and various articles on the Iranian Constitutional Revolution of 1905, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution. He is currently living in Paris where he works as a journalist.
Dick Davis was born in Portsmouth, England, in 1945, and educated at King's College, Cambridge and at the University of Manchester (PhD. in Medieval Persian Literature). He has taught at the universities of Tehran, Durham, Newcastle, and California (Santa Barbara) and is currently associate professor of Persian at Ohio State University. He lived for 8 years (1970-1978) in Iran, as well as for periods in Greece and Italy. He has published numerous books of poetry, translations of Medieval Persian poetry (including, with his wife Afkham Darbandi, Attar's Conference of the Birds, and Ferdowsi's The Legend of Seyavash, both with Penguin Classics), as well as scholarly works and editions.