Friday, March 07, 2008

Pomegranates and Iranian Identity

Having a memoir, a novel and a collection of short stories and poems by young Iranian writes, all sharing pomegranate in their title, on my desk, I’m thinking, is there anything else we Iranian in the Diaspora could identify with? What is in this semi-exotic fruit which makes it so appealing to Iranians to uphold it as their national symbol? Is it just because its point of origin, Heaven, that we Iranian should be its sole owner? Is it its birthplace on earth, Babylon, though we were there as simple occupiers? Is it its red ruby color which is the color associated with light, the most prominent attribute of Ahuramazda? Or is it just being new in this part of the world which makes the pomegranate welcome wherever novelty is welcome? But pomegranate is not such a novelty and is not so unique to our Iranian culture; and using it as such an icon seems odd to me.

The fruit is indeed very new in the United States. I was here when it arrived some thirty years ago and I witnessed its growth to a full fledged fruit just less than five years ago. Now it is one of the most popular fruits used on Rosh Hashana, when eating something new is recommended. Yet, just few years ago my good friend, Deborah brought a few soup spoons to the table with a few pomegranates and looked at us wondering what to do with them. I suggested it should be eaten without a spoon.

Well, it is good to reclaim whatever that belongs to us, by naming it, registering it or placing our flag over it, where ownership is such a big deal. When President Bush delivered his famous speech calling Iran, Iraq, and North Korea the Axis of Evil, I was very offended. Not so much to be called such names, but over turf. The fact that someone whose religion does not even acknowledge Evil, officially, comes forth and call us Evil really bothered me. Does he know Evil? Does he know how it looks like or what it does? Where its abode is? No, he does not know Evil, but he has heard there is something by that name. He usurped and took over something which was left without a proper ownership. And worse of all, he called us Evil. He did not even know that we discovered it. We ourselves know the fellow, inside and out. First, he is hideous like George Bush, second he is deceitful like George Bush and third he destroys like George Bush. If we would have moved first and had written an encyclopedia of Evil, instead of all those nonsense leftist and rightist pamphlets, he would know that that evil fellow is our own discovery and should know that “the Mosque is not a proper place for...” as Iranian would say.

This is one good thing about moving fast and claiming whatever is at hand. In fact, after the Evil business I got very worried about Heaven and Hell. Actually, more worried about Heaven than about Hell. If we Iranian do not move quickly and stick our flag or national anthem there, one of these conservative evangelists in a quick coup might claim it for American. Then we will all need an entry visa and affidavits of support and so on and so forth; and, then it would be very difficult to get there no matter how good we are, no matter how weighty our bag of good thoughts, goods words and good deeds.

Really, why not Heaven, i.e., Behesht I mean? Why don’t we identify with that majestic place that we were its architect? There is a painting in the Zoroastrian Fire Temple Darbe Mehr in Pamona, New Jersey, titled City of Lights, by someone named Shapiro. The painting is something between surreal and naïve, and the design of Heaven is magnificent. There are circles of lights here and there, and Faravashies are landing in the grass landscapes like weird helicopters (looking a bit like Las Vegas, though.) What does she know about our Heaven? Still I’m so grateful that there is no foreign element there. But what should we do if she would have placed a blue and red striped flag with fifty one stars there? Not even one like the United Nations! Any how, as Iranians say, could we secure our belongings and not make a thief of our neighbor. I just said that for the record.

And the other thing which is rightfully ours is “truth,” in any form and any shade and any color. It is very fashionable these days to attribute lying to Iranians, the chief witness being our “taarof.” There was even one lengthy article in Irandokht’s blog titled “Why we Iranians lie so much.” The writer considered our taarof and even our expressions of affection as some sort of lie, expressions such as ghorban-e-to (“May I be your sacrifice.”) or “ghadamat roye cheshmam” (“Walk over my eyes.”) were considered examples of this, as if we are the only nation using these words and expressions. Never mind “you look great,” “how wonderful,” “I love you,” and “amazing,” which are scattered all over like leaves.

Anyhow, I mean that truth is ours. We were the first ones who decided that the creation is based on truth and the first culture that cast out falsehood, among whom righteousness is the first word of Iranian’s holy book. Truth, with all it’s ramifications, is not such a bad identity, though it may not have the glamour and attraction of pomegranates.

I do admit that truth or its consequences may not seem appealing as a title, particularly with its mathematical and logical associations. However we can always come with some poetic amalgamation such as “the birds of truth.”

Tangible objects or places come easier. Let’s see if we can find any other icon for our identity. What about the harp? It was used by King David, true, but it is the oldest instrument we know in Iran. It appears in Iranian miniatures and we have artists associated with, I’m not sure which one, Barbad or Nakisa. The instrument is very good looking and fancy, with all its curves and strings look really elegant. It is uniquely women's instrument and I do not know exactly why. It might be just the position that it should be played, like a mother hugging a child or combing her hair, or kissing a lover.

The tar is another instrument which is becoming very fashionable and is popular among the women. It looks good and has a very warm and roundish pleasant shape which could be very sensual. (Just do not think about Khamanehi! I don’t know who placed it in the same category as tar. If I had the authority I would have de-tar this instrument. Any how it seems the Chinese had that instrument long before us.)

The daf, also, is very Iranian, but I think it is hard to be used as a symbol of identity. It does not stand up and does not have such a strong invigorating character, and by itself is not such an instrument. It does not posses enough independence which is such a necessity for today’s life, literary or else. So let's forget about it.

Among the fruits, watermelon is more Iranian and more symbolic than pomegranate. It was the Manichian fruit, for its self-containment, its red color inside, its being so juicy, and its seeds. The Prophet Mani himself liked it very much and it is still a symbol for alertness and awakening. Years ago, Jackie Kennedy suggested a photograph of three inexpensive Indian silver plate tumblers—three rupees each, filled up with watermelon juice, to be used for the cover page of the Tiffany’s catalog. The tumblers were sold in an auction in Christie’s for eighteen thousand dollars when she died. I think the watermelon juice had something to do with it!

Quince is also a very Iranian fruit, though here they call it Chinese apple. Its change of color is more striking than that of apples, and if it is cooked properly, it can turn into a beautiful rich burgundy color, and its perfume is heavenly.

Talking of the burgundy color, grapes in its variety was one of the most famous fruits of Iran. Their story is lost in the mists of prehistory. The first historical reference to them goes back to the King Cyrus time, and indeed the vine itself is so majestic and the best device to make a harbor or to be used in porticos.

Wine, the magical product of grapes, is certainly an Iranian product. It was used both for its nutritious and medicinal value, as well as a sacrament. What makes it so divine is its process of fermentation, and its gradual change of its bitterness to sweetness.

Figs are ours. I assume Iranians had so much of it that when they designed Heaven, they planted it there. Adam and Eve used the leaf as there first to cover their privates. The fruit has quite a magical texture inside.

And finally, nothing is more Iranian than persimmons, with that undefinable color.

A whole range of flowers could supply us with the beautiful titles. Lilacs, roses, pansies, jasmines, violets, wisteria , and also trees, such as willows and olive trees.

Among the animals, there are few beauties which are wonderful identity symbols. One is the goat. They were in west part of Iran and in almost every museum in the world there is at least one goat head of gold, silver or bronze from Iran particularly from Luristan.

My most favorite is the deer, with their beautiful eyes, elegant bodies and their dance like movements that could enchant anyone. I cannot imagine a map of Iran without some deer running through it. (I cannot resist mentioning that when my father married my mother, a tribal women from Luristan, and brought her to Tehran, he bought her a deer, so she would not be homesick.)

Horses are my favorite. They are beautiful and elegant. If we believe Herodotus, the horse is one of the three specialities of Iranians. (The other one is the bow and arrow. They are a bit dangerous but could be used rightly and elegantly--not by Dick Chaney--they could be beautiful symbols too.)

Apparently the Prophet Mani was the first painter who painted on the canvas or leather. He was the first one to use paint panel, which is such a pleasant, good-looking object.

And finally, the best of all are the literary similes, metaphors, and allusions which very easily could be adopted from our beloved poets. I recommend Saadi, since nobody's language has ever been as rich as his. And of course, among the moderns, Sohrab Sepehri who was such a magician when it came to similes.

At the risk of being called biased and prejudiced and even chauvinist, I cannot resist quoting Najib Mahfouz on something else which is very Iranian:

“Adam tiptoed warily into the room… He followed the left hand wall… Soon he found the table, he passed … He opened the door, and there he was slipping into the secret place that no one but his father had ever been entered… To the right was an ornate table and on it rested the thick volume, fastened to the wall with an iron chain… He crossed to the table and gazed at the cover of the book with its gold lettering, then stretched out his hand and opened it. He composed his thoughts and overcame his confusion with difficulty, then read in the Persian script: ‘In the Name of God.'”

I do not know if anyone can use it as a title, but those who have read Mahfouz's Children of Gebelaawi, know the book referred to is the God’s will. It is safe to assume that by Persian script he means the Avestan script. Well, on top of everything, we posses that honor as well. True, God has chosen the Jews, but He wrote His will in a language that only we Iranians could read. We have the legitimate power of attorney of God, we are heir to his will and with that goes all those words derived from it, heritage, heritance, legacy and the ninety nine names of God all belong to us! Hay!

So please buy a paint panel, use any two or three of all these and their variations and derivations and mix them together and borrow a few conjunctions and disjunctions and splash some nice color or perfume over it and come up with a nice title for your next masterpiece, and leave pomegranate, saffron, and Shiraz to those who used them first. Let your work come with an Iranian flavor and taste rather than just a name.


Literanista said...

I'm interested in sending you a book to review. Please contact me.

Noushin Assadi Kiai said...

Dear Mina,

Thank you for such interesting article.

Today is one year since my dear aunt Jaleh, migration from this planet!
My heart is still crying out with her loss, but her poetry is young, strong and ever lasting!

I just wanted to share with you my favorite poem from my dear late aunt Jaleh Esfahani, who passed away last Nov. in London

Noushin Assadi Kiai
New York, NY

شاد بودن هنر است
شاد کردن هنری والاتر.
ليک هرگز نپسنديم به خويش،
که چو يک شکلک بی جان، شب و روز ،
بی خبر از همه ، خندان باشيم.
بی غمی عيب بزرگی ست،
که دور از ما باد !
شاد بودن هنر است،
گر به شادی تو ، دلهای دگر باشد شاد.
زندگی صحنۀ يکتای هنرمندی ماست.
هر کسی نغمۀ خود خواند و از صحنه رود.
صحنه پيوسته به جاست.
خرّم آن نغمه که مردم بسپارند به ياد.
Migrating Birds
پرندگان مهاجر
ژاله اصفهانی
Translated by: Rouhi Shafii
Shiraz Pres, London

گزيده ای از شعرهای ژاله اصفهانی با عنوان « پرندگان مهاجر» ، به صورت دوزبانه، در لندن منتشر شده است
: روحی شفيعی شعرها را به زبانی ساده و ، تا آنجا که می شده است، نزديک به ترکيب کلامی متن ترجمه کرده

ژاله شعر خود را می گويد، و سبک و شيوۀ کلام او در هر شعر درخور مضمون اوست. با اينکه در حدود شش دهه، همواره سرودن شعر را دنبال کرده است، هنوز هم وقتی که شعر تازه ای از او می خوانيم، در آن رنگی و آهنگی از خستگی انديشه ای و احساسی نمی بينيم. انگار که روح ژاله همچنان در شعرش جوان و بيدار و تازه نفس مانده است.
شعر او را، بدون اينکه بخواهيم برای شاعر تعهد خاصی قائل باشيم، به راستی می توانيم « شعر متعهد » بخوانيم. در اين تعهد، ژاله زندگی را صحنۀ هنرمندی خود می داند، و با آگاهی از اينکه هرکسی نغمۀ خود را می خواند و از اين صحنه خارج می شود، نغمه هايی را می پسندد که مردم به ياد می سپارند، و بديهی است که مردم برای زندگی روحی و معنوی خود چيزی می خواهند که طبيعی باشد، انسانی باشد، زيبا باشد، گيرا باشد، و دريافتنی باشد، و بيشتر شاعران امروز، مخصوصاٌ آنها که جوان ترند، از آنجا که فريب اداهايی با عنوانهای پسامدرنيسم و ساختارشکنی و آشنايی زدايی و معنی زدايی را خورده اند، نه تنها زبان فارسی و فرهنگ انسانی را به مسخرگی گرفته اند، بلکه چيزی برای گفتن ندارند و آنچه می گويند، ارزش يک بار شنيدن هم ندارد. شايد ژاله با نظر به همين واقعيت باشد که در بند پايانی شعر « شاد بودن هنر است»

يکشنبه 06 اوت 2006 - 15 مرداد 1385 گرينويچ 12:13

اين صفحه را برای دوستان خود بفرستيد

پرندگان مهاجر، گزيده ای از شعرهای ژاله اصفهانی
مترجم ، خانم روحی شفيعی، نويسندۀ کتابهای «عطر زعفران» ( Scent of Saffron) و « قلبهای انار» Pomegranate Hearts) ، از مجموعه های اشعار ژاله اصفهانی شعرهايی را برای ترجمه گزيده است که بتواند در مضمون نشان دهندۀ افقهای گوناگون انديشه و احساس اين شاعر باشد.
ژالۀ اصفهانی را بسياری از صاحبنظران با عنوان « شاعر اميد» معرفی کرده اند، و اين در ميان عنوانهای ديگری که می تواند مبين جنبه های مختلف شعر او باشد، عنوان بسيار مناسبی است، زيرا که او حتی در شعرهايی که از دردمنديهای انسان روزگار خود سخن می گويد، همدردی می کند، اما از درد نمی نالد، و می کوشد که برای گلهای به ستم پژمردۀ باغ بشريت، آفتاب و باران باشد، و رنگ و بوی اميد را در آنها زنده کند

For your recording, I would introduce a work of my friend, a well known writer and translator, Rouhi Shafii, who has translated some of her poetry in English. For further info please see, or simply google her name, Jaleh Esfahani to get more of her poetry with her own voice on line.ژالۀ اصفهانی را بسياری از صاحبنظران با عنوان « شاعر اميد» معرفی کرده اند، و اين در ميان عنوانهای ديگری که می تواند مبين جنبه های مختلف شعر او باشد، عنوان بسيار مناسبی است، زيرا که او حتی در شعرهايی که از دردمنديهای انسان روزگار خود سخن می گويد، همدردی می کند، اما از درد نمی نالد، و می کوشد که برای گلهای به ستم پژمردۀ باغ بشريت، آفتاب و باران باشد

Snowy-Lover said...

hi there

I am doing a project on one of Jaleh Esfahani's poems-- "Where are you from" and I was wondering if you knew whether she was writing New Poetry or another kind of Iranian poetry. In addition, because "Where are you from" is a translation, the English words are not her actual words. Do you know if Jaleh Esfahani had assisted in the translation herself or had left it all to Rouhii Shafii?