A few years ago, I came across an interesting book by Robert Fulghum, titled All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten. In this enlightening nonfiction, the author describes how the a nursery rhyme, “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, inspired him never to give up and helped him in overcoming his problems. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on some of my own childhood rhymes and, though my experience does not take me anywhere close to this kind preacher’s positive outlook, its wicked connection to life may be noteworthy.
Iranians in general are strong believers of the Conspiracy Theory. We thrive on political skepticism and for many years I had blamed that on the intellectuals, who pondered over taboo issues, read forbidden books and stirred suspicion. Much like the main character in My Uncle Napoleon, most of us blamed the British for our country’s problems and believed any misfortune befalling us was caused by outside powers. As I reflect on some old Persian nursery rhymes, hidden messages begins to surface, voices that have been there all along, except no one ever bothered to listen hard enough to hear them. Unlike the spider in Reverent Fulghum’s book, our rhymes fail to teach perseverance and one in particular seems to be aimed at taking away what little autonomy was left us.
Yeh toop daram Khal-khali-yeh
In a world overflowing with toys, not to mention enough plastic junk to destroy the planet, the Iranian kid is happy to own a ball. It isn’t even a proper volleyball, soccer ball, or basketball, No, this is just a tiny polka-dot thing the child is pleased to receive. However, a rhyme that begins quite innocently follows with a shocking revelation because this ball Sorkh-o-sefeed-o-abieh! Not blue, white and red, not white and blue. It might interest Daiijan Napoleon that the object of Iranian kid’s affection is in fact “Red-white-and-blue,” in that exact order. Hardly a coincidence, wouldn’t he agree?
Mizanee zamin, hava mireh, chonkeh mianesh khalieh!
And there you have it, an insult worse than the injury. The child is taught to sing praise to an object that is full of hot air, void, and worthless. This is not your average bouncing ball for it will only work after the humiliation of being hit hard and where? No, not a gentle pass, not soaring into the air, but this is a useless object that must be slammed hard against the ground in order to perform. This, my friends, is what your country imports in return for exporting a wealth of oil, caviar, and turquoise! And why? “Chonkeh mianesh khalieh.”
Toopak-e-aziz, koja miri?
Now, if this isn’t the pinnacle of humiliation, I don’t know what is. “Darling little ball, where are you going?” After a fleeting moment of joy, now the ball is going and the kid has no clue as to where it might be headed. This ball is neither pitched, nor aimed at a goal. It didn’t come with a lesson, a manual, or set of instructions and, even if it had, it would have been in a foreign language, unfamiliar to the kid. The child never knew a team, there would never be a real match and no trophy could be won. The entire charade was nothing but aimless, clueless motions in praise of a worthless import.
And then comes the grand finale:
Harja miri manam meyum.
Wherever you go, I will go, too.
The follower, a nation incapable of making decisions is pulled onto an obscure path, a road with no return and voila! The secret to our mass migration is finally exposed because after all, aren’t we forever in search of the hollowness that hit the ground a little too hard?
To this day, more and more Iranians pack what’s left of a glorious past and look around the world for a semblance of their lost happiness. Their destinations can be the USA, England, France, Australia, and anywhere else that flags that infamous red-white and blue. Uncle Napoleon knew of only one such country and I’m not even convinced his generation memorized their nursery rhymes as diligently as we did.
Yes, all we need to know could be in what they hammered into our heads in kindergarten, except one will need a distorted vision, a vivid imagination and perhaps a touch of humor to decipher the codes. Oh, but maybe we shouldn’t be discussing this because in another lesson we were all taught that,
Gar harf-e bad bacheh-yeh khoob zaboon biareh
Kalagheh beh koodakestanesh khabar miareh
If the good kid utters bad words, the crow will report it to her kindergarten. Hmm . . . I wonder if that could be the reason secret agents universally dress in black. Oh, but that’s another rhyme for an entirely different discussion.
-- Zohreh Ghahremani
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