Forgotten where we came from

PART 5 (Final): From Misery Alley to Missouri Valley


Forgotten where we came from
by varjavand

To the readers, I am again grateful to you for spending time to read this and hopefully the earlier episodes. I hope they have been at par with your expectations and worth the value of your time. Even though one’s past life memories are his/hers alone, sharing them with others will be immensely revealing. They can help to foster appreciation of our life and inform others about who we are and how we got to where we are now. Reading the memories of others will also help to bring to our focus many important issues that may otherwise remain unnoticed.

Having six other children, my parents must have been in their late 50’s when I was born. Regrettably, I lost both of them a long time ago when I was in my late 20’s. My father died 32 years ago. A few years later, my mother passed away. Because I lived in the United States most of my adult life, I missed the opportunity to spend a great deal time with them. As result, visiting their graves, when I am in Iran, is the only way I can still show my love for them, and my appreciation for the sacrifices they made for me. I believe, paying tribute to your parents, and to significant others, even after their death, is one of the sensible moral and religious traditions that we should all cherish. However, geographical immobility is a binding constraint in Iran. I mean, given the chaotic traffic condition, even crossing the streets is a dangerous thing for me to do, let alone driving. Thus, I am, as many of you are, at the mercy of a friend or a relative to take me to the places I care to visit. I had always this nostalgic desire to find those kind people who helped me altruistically while I was living in Iran; the tradesmen who offered me a summer job simply because they wanted to assist me financially, that generous bazaari merchant who paid my first year tuition, 850 Tooman, after I was accepted to Tehran university and didn’t have money to enroll and they refused to offer me any kind of financial assistance, or those school teachers who devoted their undivided attention to me and to other students and spent hours and hours working with us to make sure that we get good education.

On my last visit to Iran, I asked my nephew to take me to several places especially to the burial ground where my parents are buried. He was nice enough to help out despite his hectic work schedule. Visiting the graveyard can be a reflective experience. However, it was not, a pleasant one for me. I couldn’t resist the temptation of bursting into rage after I found out that they flattened the surface of the burial ground, where my mother was buried, and removed all the tombstones. I thought that was an outmost disrespect to those buried there who could, obviously, raise no objection because they were dead and deep in the ground. I wondered what kind of unsympathetic mindset could rationalize such a pointless action. The only few graves still remained intact were those belonged to the VIPs, I was told. I couldn’t comprehend what led those people, who decided to level a burial ground, to believe that my mother and other innocent people who were buried there, were any less of a being than the few whose graves were preserved and protected.

Gravestones are the property of individuals. In additions, they have sentimental value to the relatives of the as well as the historical value. In most cases they might be the only evidence of the existence of a deceased. Thus, state should make laws to protect them against vandalism and illegal removal. In addition, state must establish regulations concerning the removal of the gravestones and unambiguously specifies the circumstances under which they can be removed. In any case I believe it should be done with the knowledge of government officials and more importantly the consensus, or at least proper notification, of the relatives of the deceased. Arbitrary removal will create distrust of government that is supposedly the protector and the guarantor of the private properties. Even if the circumstances warrant the removal, the state must assume the responsibility for the safe removal and the preservation of the stones.

I was even more heartbroken after I realized that they build a gazebo-like room on the spot where my father and a few others were buried. The room was occupied by a couple of plain clothes guards who were supposedly in charge of maintaining order and holding the items that visitors were not allowed to carry inside with them. The desk they used for official business was exactly placed at the top of my father’s grave. I could see the tombstone under this dingy metal desk with his named caved at the top of it. It was barely readable because it was covered with dust and cigarette filters. I asked the guards if they can move their desk to the side so I can reach the gravestone to clean it and touch it while praying for my father by reciting the opening Surah of Koran, Fatehtol Ketab. A Koranic prayer, Fateha, is one of the Shia rituals allowing Muslims to pray for the soul of a deceased person. Washing and sweeping the dust off the tombstone is also a customary way to pay tribute to the dead. They said there is no need to move their desk and I can just pray standing up. I was tempted to remove the desk forcefully. But, I reminded myself, hey, who the hell are you, an obscure lecture reviser, to mess around with the public officials? Plus, why you should be so fanatic about revering dead people in a society in which even those who are alive do not get much respect. Even though, the situation was so dire, I did not allow my emotions to overpower my wisdom and was able to restrain my yearning for more argument that I thought was like carrying water in a strainer. I finally decided to pray for my father from outside the room.

It is unbelievable to see how things have changed in Iran and are so different now compared to the time where I was there. Iranian cities have sprawled both quantitatively and qualitatively during the last two decades. Your old friends are all either dead, disappeared somehow, or too flimsy to get out their house. After so many years of living broad, you feel like a stranger in your own home country. Much to my chagrin, everyone in Iran assumes that you are a Haji Agha. When I lived in Iran being a Haji was such a rare and esteemed male-specific distinction. You could hardly find more than one Haji in one family. Today, almost everyone, regardless of gender and age, is Haji. There is no longer any status or prestige attached to being a Haji. Hajis are like oversupplied commodities, they are everywhere. Anytime I went to a store, I heard the phrases like Haji dast nazan, Haji sava nakon, Haji ghbel nadare, many times over.

While shopping, I was really careful not to give out any clues indicative of my living aboard. Otherwise, I could simply be overcharged by the sellers, taxi drivers, flower shops, etc. However, there are certain words such as; dollar, post office, airport, passport that we keep repeating habitually, or referring to the streets by their pre-revolution names. Consequently, we disclose the secret that we don’t want the sellers to know. I remember once, I ask a salesman; can you give me some discount? Do you bargain for lower prices in America too, he replied. I had no idea how did he find out that I live in the United States. I pledged to myself that the next time I am in store, I will be really more cautious not to say anything dumb and not to drop any more bunch of flower to water! Nevertheless, the next day I was at a clothing store looking for pants for myself, the salesman asked me what is the size of your waist. I said 52 inches!


I remember, those days life had its own built-in music. When we woke up in the morning there was the shouting of adasi salesman, what an aromatic essence and yummy taste. After that, the calling of others street vendors appearing one after another, vegetable seller, ice cream man, laboo (cooked beets) sellers, ab housi, knife and scissor sharpeners, china repair man (chini band zan). Even the squeaking noises of the horse-driven carts, Gaary, had their own soothing rhythmic sounds. At night, there were the irksome sounds of frogs, roaches, crickets, and other insects that, like the ministers of the Shah’s regime, could always be heard but never be seen.

In his famous poem, Molana Rumi describes the pain of the past memories and the suffering of the divisive separations best through the tale of a reed that has been cut from its root and is transformed into a lifeless musical instrument. Anytime someone blows into the reed, it breathes again, remembers its beginning, its home Naystan (reedbed), and its memories. Tired of loneliness and homesickness, the reed starts groaning and telling stories about Nayastan, the only place it calls home, the place in which it was born and raised. It talks about its sweet and bitter memories, it remembers them with joy and regret, and it describes the pain of separations through its musical sounds.

We too, one day we were a complete being with a life full of hope, keen compassion, eagerness, anxiousness, and enthusiasm. Now, we are detached from our source and perhaps many of us have forgotten who we were and where we came from. The music we here from the reed is a reminiscence of our own life and a reminder of our own past.

Now, as I am sitting here in this house and writing these words, I can’t help but to think of those days in which the story of my life began. The early years of my life started and ended as I have described, and I have no doubt that the events that happened in my childhood era guided me toward the path that ended up at this part of the world.


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AmirAshkan Pishroo

Catching hold of the past in the making of the selfhood

by AmirAshkan Pishroo on

Freud made the same point by sugessting that only if we catch hold of some crucial idiosyncratic events in our past shall we be able to make something worthwhile out of ourselves in the future.

Great article.


Relating the Past, present and future

by Ali Parsa (not verified) on

Excellent writing especially relating the fast disappearance of connecting the past to present for building a better future. Your drawing our attention to Rumi's famous poem on Nayestan and its relevance to the age-old diaspora crowd is admirable in making us think who we are and what we share with our ancestors and what we can do to make our world a little better than we found it. Not only our Persian cultural values, but also the American Ideals as well as those of other cultures are fighting for survival against the pop culture that so far has failed to save us from underestimating the sense of meaningful life that guarantees our long term survival as humans.