Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Woman by Her Own Rights

I recall a fading photograph of my mother in a 1930s fashion dress with a little pretty hat along with some thirty other women dressed more or less in the same fashion with heads high and eyes bright, proud as if looking forward to a splendid promised land ahead.
That photograph, attached to the front page of our family album, with so many women whom we did not know, seemed totally out of place. We never asked my mother about the relevance of that photo in the family album, not when we were little kids and not when we finished our college and university education in which each of us had accumulated a dozen such photographs each year, none of which ever found its way into the family album.
The women were posed in the same order as we did in our school photographs, in three rows, the front row being sitting on chairs and the two rows standing behind them, the tallest standing in the back row. My mother looked younger than the rest by some fifteen years. The white chiffon collar several of them wore gave me the impression that it was taken at some educational occasion.
There was a small box which my mother collected all her other photos in. It was like a treasure chest to me. There was a photo of her first classroom in an open-air school with some dozen students of all ages and classes sitting on some wooden benches in rows along two sides of a long table with their textbooks and notebooks, a tambourine and a violin lying in front of my half brother and half sister next to their note books. Apparently her classes were held quite casually. During the long breaks when my mother would attend to the kitchen across from the garden, my siblings would keep the students busy by their performances.
There were plenty of pictures of my mother with her students at the same open-air school and later on at a formal school she built with my father’s and some friends’ help. Then there were pictures of her visiting classes as a head mistress of the school and some more at the annual graduations, giving awards to the best students. There were plenty of pictures of my mother attending politicians’ funerals or marches celebrating some national holidays, or taken with some celebrities here and there whom I‘m sure she has just met them and more likely they did not know her from Eve.
There were also plenty of photos of my mother with a fawn, varieties of chickens, a few with goats, sheep, geese, and turkeys. Except the fawn which my father had bought for her when he married her and brought her home from her tribe, she had bred the rest of them. She always talked very proudly about each of them, how and when she matched various colors and breeds to produce the desired result. She always talked about them as if they were her children; sometimes she even remembered their birth. I’m not sure whether what I recall now is the photographs or the stories related about them, recounted again and again and are now imprinted in my memory.
Some of these photos were really remarkable. One showed my mother with a long snake. (She claimed it was about 18 feet long, a claim much evidence confirmed.) It showed her pulling the snake out of a room on the ground floor with a wooden pike. In that photo only part of the snake showed. It had formed a big V as she dragged it away from the door. This one was not one of my mother’s master hybrids. It was among the creatures left behind in a horrifying flood in the camp that had found its way to one of our grand floor rooms. My mother was courageous enough to catch it and kill it and bury the body.
One of the pictures was of a one legged frog. Of course in the photograph one could see something in my mother’s hand, but we had heard the story so many times that we would see it as real. Once, while strolling in her cherry orchard, she heard a noise as if something had fallen into water. She saw an snake has crept into the steam to grab a large frog there. My mother, very heavy in her last days of pregnancy, without thinking, bent and grabbed the frog, but the snake wouldn’t let go of one of the frog’s legs. In a forceful match between my mother and the snake, my mother won, but the poor frog lost a leg. Apparently, she took care of the frog and kept it like a pet somewhere in the back yard so she could watch after it until it died of old age. The story had become one of humorous legends among her circle of friends.
Her cherry orchard, which still yields the largest and the most delicious sour cherries and was dedicated to the coal miners working in the nearby coal mine when we left the camp, was a point of pride for her. Hundreds of photographs in all seasons, almost with every visitor in the camp, were taken in every part of it. She would talk about it with the same passion the Rothchilds do of their vineyards.
Yes, she had photos of her grape yards as well, and of her herb gardens. Apparently she was a great talent in gardening and agriculture; but this talent came to her so naturally and effortlessly that we all took it for granted and did not notice how knowledgeable she was. As a result, not only was she left unacknowledged but we never felt how painful it must have been for her to leave them all behind and move to Tehran, to a totally different city life. So no one was even surprised at how quickly she adjusted to it all.
She never had a formal education. She was an orphan from a tribe in Luristan married to my father, who had traveled there on a disarmament mission, primarily to be sent away from her tribe, so the line of leadership of the tribe would not be transfered from her uncle, who, as her custodian, was the chief of the tribe, to her fiancé, who was her cousin. It seems my father had arrived just in time. No wonder her tribe was the only tribe that he could disarm them without a fight! He returned home with plenty of guns and a pretty young bride only two years older than his daughter from his first marriage.
In Parchin, the military camp we lived in, she noticed that she has entered a fantasy land, somewhere unknown to her, people whose language she did not even speak. With my father’s personal tutoring and another hired tutor, she was qualified to take the exam to become teacher within two years. And again with my father‘s help, she made the first school in the open air there. Later on, she established a full-fledged school up to nine grades, with a dozen teachers hired from neighboring areas. She taught there until we moved to Tehran, where she had five children of her own to take care of.
A healthy, cheerful, energetic, women; a wonderful capable mother; a devoted loving wife and an amazing friend and partner to my very difficult father; a great compassionate step mother, she was truly loved by all of us including my half brothers and sisters who considered her as their own biological mother. But for me,the greatest of all her talent was her exceptional wisdom in treating us; she taught us something, that still we have a hard time understanding how she did it. She taught us to live a life free of guilt and free of regret, to be free and yet voluntarily set restrictions on ourselves. She never forbade us from doing something she thought inappropriate and never forced us to do something that we did not want to do. However, I do not recall ever doing anything the she would not approve of or making any effort to do something against my will to please her. Heaven knows that her wisdom is still my guide.
Even her sudden untimely death was like nothing on earth. She died one afternoon, in the home of my older brother (whom she loved the best, of course with no apology) while performing her evening prayer. She finished her prayers and, when she performed her final prostrating (sojood), she died. When my brother, alarmed by her delay, approached her, saying, “How long does a sojood take, Mom?” and touched her, she rolled on his arm, as if she was gone already to Heaven, from the prayer mat to my brothers bosom, the places she loved the most.
All is gone now, my mother, the house we lived in, the school she built, the gardens and chickens and goats and ducks and all. What are left are only some pictures and some anecdotes, all printed and reprinted in the darkroom of my memory. The only souvenirs I have from her are her prayer mat, the clay disk she died prostrating herself on, and an antique copy of a poetry book of her favorite poet, Vahshi Bafghi. But here is something else from her in my mind that remains forever vivid, that fading picture of hers, among the strangers, in our family album. I think finally this year in the turmoil we all went through, in the beating of our hearts for our friends in prisons, those beaten up, those who lost their lives as a witness to this dark part of out history, and then suddenly March 8th reminded us that we exist and that we should celebrate our existence, I realized what that picture meant to her after all. Yes, on International Woman’s Day, that posture, that figure, that raised chin, that glamor, and that pride under that yellow dust all emerged as meaningful.
I think that photo (the date of that which must be shortly after 17, 10, 1314 [January 8, 1936]) was my mother’s birth certificate, a license to life and a permission to bring up the best in her. That was a key to her hidden treasures, the key to open up something that would have remained alien were it not for the removal of that shroud from her being. She found an identity on that night when she walked arm in arm with her husband, beautiful, majestic and radiant in public and enjoyed being seen and admired by everyone, also, when she looked at others with admiration and awe. She did not need to say how she felt free, that night, like a bird, like a tribal girl, free of all rules and artificial codes of piety and modesty; everything was there in that single photo. That was the day of her life, of my life and our lives; for that alone I can say God bless the great dictator, may he rest in peace and may God reward him in Heaven.


ann-doctor said...

Dear Mina,
It is practically impossible to read this article without tears. With this writing, you gave your mother the second birth. Each person, who will read this writing about her and her big family, will try to be look like her – best mother, partner, friend and wife. She was as a mountain spring - clean and transparent.
I would like to thank you for this excellent work as a human being, daughter and woman. You showed me the right way how to live to be respected and beloved.

Tara said...

Love it! xoxox

Anonymous said...

Khaleh Jan,
You know how I understand these words. It is a nice article just like before;
thanks for your mom to give me a Khaleh like this!
cheer me up

Anonymous said...

Loved this article. I think its my favourte.
Such blessing to have beautiful memories to share with the world.
Keep up the good work!
xoxo Parissa