This essay is not just a heartfelt letter from a father to his son on how to overcome social decay, but a shining example of Persian writing in the mid-20th century.
The highly-recommended Persian original, published in "Sokhan" literary magazine in December 1944 (Day, 1323), was written by Dr. Parveez Khanlari.
Dr. Khanlari's only son, to whom this letter was addressed, died as a teenager. But the message remains for all of us to read and learn.
Translated by Mahmoud Shahbodaghi
My dear child:
It was just a few moments ago when you fell asleep in my arms, and I gently laid you in your crib and quietly left your bedside. Now, I'm writing to you. One may wonder, since letters are for when two people are apart and you and I are right here next to each other.
But what compels me to write tonight is not a distance in space but a distance in time. You are now far too young for me to tell you what I want to tell you. Many years have to pass before you can understand its meaning. I may not be here then. I hope my letter will reach you across this expanse; that one day you will take it to a private corner and read it; that it makes you think.
I can now see that day vaguely from beyond the clouds of time. Many years have gone by. I'm not sure if the world I see is a better place or not. As I write this letter, the world is anxiously waiting for some events to unfold. Maybe the world will turn upside down, or maybe it will stay the same for a while longer.
I too, like any other father, pray that you enjoy your youth. But my youth has not been pleasant and I'm not too optimistic that yours will be either. Our time is a time of shame and decay, and there is no indication that the future will be any different. You can predict a year's harvest from its spring. Mine has been an account of heartbreaks and of toeing the line, and I'm afraid your life might turn out to be the same.
You might wonder why I never gave up on the motherland and why I did not take you somewhere else where you could be more at peace? Maybe you will accuse me of being an idler? The truth is that the thought has crossed my mind many times. But you and I are not the kind of trees who could uproot ourselves from this soil and grow in any other climate.
As far as I know, your forefathers had all been men of the pen. They were the class responsible for passing the fruits of wisdom and refinement to future generations. Their lives and spirits are attached to their land and to the people of their land with a thousand ties and knots. It is not easy to break away from all these attachments.
But perhaps my staying here had another reason as well. My enemy, who is the "Demon of Decay," is here. I have fought against him for a long time. The best years of my life were spent in this battle. Many a time has he come to me in conciliation; smiling, telling me, "Come! Come! Partake of this feast!"
I could not wash my heart clean of his loathing. How could I have accepted his invitation? What I wanted most was for him to depart from this land.
I did not take you to another land because I have hopes for you. I am hoping that you will seek vengeance against my enemy. My vengeance, the vengeance of all my peers and countrymen, is Iran's vengeance. I did not consider it honorable to flee from battle and run from the enemy. Maybe you will be stronger than I and will have better luck in this battle.
Now that we have decided to stay here and decided our fate, we must plan for our present and our future. You know that our country was once a great superpower. Today, there is no sign of that power. We are a tiny nation spread out over a great land.
There are great countries these days with whom we can not compete in wealth or power. These days, every country's wealth is the result of her progress in industry. Even military power, aside from population levels, is a function of industrial strength. What we have, and what we can muster, are not enough to attain power these days. However much we recall our brave ancestors and embolden ourselves, we are no match for these great powers.
I am not saying this out of hopelessness for I have never lost hope. To measure one's capabilities objectively, and to know one's strengths and weaknesses, is not a sign of despondency.
Today's world is full of powerful adversaries who are locked in battle. We do not belong in this battle. There would be nothing better if we could stand aside and watch but I don't think this is possible. When these adversaries charge after one another, they will lob every trick and trinket at each other and they won't bother to ask whether we like it or not.
Under these circumstances, maybe it would've been better if we had some power; enough to protect ourselves and not be pawns in other peoples' games. But to gain such power we require a respite and I'm not sure this is possible in these tumultuous times.
Therefore, if we do not want to be suddenly ravaged, we must try and gain some respect in ways other than through material power. Maybe this way they will show us some respect and leave us alone. And if events lead us to ruin, at least, they won't say we deserved what we got.
This respect, we cannot gain except through education and culture. Any nation on the way to destruction, will first become indifferent to culture and literature. Perhaps that is why one has to show people proof these days before they know the value of such virtues. But long ago our forefathers knew the importance of this. You should know that if Iran is still here and still enjoys a degree of respect, it is because of no other reason than the excellence of its literary and artistic contributions.
Wars and victories come and go. Every victory is only fruitful until the next defeat. But a cultural victory can compensate for any military defeat and then some.
Our own history is full of examples that support this. There are also examples in histories of other peoples. France, after Napoleon III lost the War of 1870, had lost it's place as a first class power. What enabled them to regain an important place among nations after this defeat was no longer the power of its leaders, but the art of its writers and painters.
We too have to strive for such a power today. Our ancestors worked so hard that they have indeed left us with a great legacy. Our survival up to now is owed to their accomplishments.
Today, we have lost our link to our forefathers. What they valued, we ridicule. The "Demon of Decay" whispers in our ears. Those who run our country have no aims but to fill their own pockets. Others follow their example and so it goes. If things remain this way, there is really no need for a great calamity to destroy us. We are headed hastily to our own ruin.
If there is any hope today, it's that our youth have not all surrendered to decay. Still, sparks of hope glimmer in their eyes; hope to endure and to be proud. For as long as there is such passion in the hearts, difficulties don't matter. The future belongs to them and I hope that you will join them one day and be counted among those who have discovered their own worth; those who know that if Iran has no esteem, they will have no esteem. They know that to cultivate this esteem, we must work and strive.
It is my wish that you honorably lend a hand to this effort and struggle. Fight the inner enemy which is corruption. If you triumph in this struggle, the outside enemy will get nowhere. Even if they attack us and we perish, let them not say that we were a bunch of base and sordid people who did not deserve to endure.
Are we afraid to shake a leg or wave a fist Before death tethers our limbs?
(Zaan peesh ke dast o' paa foro bandad marg) (Aakhar kam az aanke' dast o' paayee bezaneem?)
The author is the system operator at souroush.com; an Iranian on-line service.