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Private talk without shame
Conversation with author of "Dardedel"

February 26, 2003
The Iranian

Manoucher Parvin is an accomplished academician turned novelist. His first novel,
Cry For My Revolution, Iran, was published in 1987 and his second one, Avicenna and I: The Journey of Spirits, in 1996. Parvin has taught economics at several universities, including Fordham, Columbia, and Akron. Currently, he is teaching at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Dardedel; Rumi, Hafez, and Love in New York (Sag Harbor, NY: The Permanent Press, 2003. See introduction See first chapter) is his latest novel which is entirely in verse. The following is a conversation with him regarding the publication of this new work.

Dr. Parvin, how do you feel seeing your third novel?

How could I not be happy for sharing Rumi, Hafez, and Mitra, as persons that I've got to know myself deeply, with the readers! How could I not rejoice seeing Rumi and Hafez alive, in person- in New York the city I know well? How can I not be ecstatic sharing results of years of research, thinking, imagining, and writing with other thinkers, friends, readers, and ultimately with history! And the fact that The Permanent Press has won many honors should help the promotion of the novel. At times I feel this work is my new birth. My Dardedel, our Dardedel, with each other, with all of the humanity, even those unborn!

Why have you chosen "Dardedel", a Persian word, for the title? Dardedel is more of exchange of sorrowful feelings. Your novel, though about estrangement, it tries to over come it by love and knowledge.

True, the word Dardedel may refer to sorrowful feelings but also it may relate to joyful feelings. It is a frank talk, which is much more than frank, and more than talk. Dardedel is a private talk without shame, fear of judgment, or betrayal. By sharing a thought, a feeling, a secret, happiness, Dardedel unchain us from burden of isolation and from loneliness. All arts are mostly Dardedel! Also the novel is Professor Pirooz' Dardedel with Rumi, Hafez, Mitra, and history. It is the Dardedel of mankind with his own possibilities, and impossibilities! Yes love, and truth, does help us to overcome our displacement, or estrangement as this novel helped me and I hope will help the readers.

You have brought Rumi and Hafez into real life in New York--it is exciting to see them alive and interacting with modern society--but why reincarnation, and why them as characters? What was your basis for characterizing them in fiction since they were actually real persons?

Rumi and Hafez are brought into life for several reasons: For connecting past to present and, East to West. By discussing the nature of modernity with the ancient poets, Professor Pirooz brings the reader into the same discourse. In the first part of the novel, the characters Hafez and Rumi are the ancient characters derived from their poems and what we know of their lives. But after they become New Yorkers then I had to speculate how these two geniuses would react to modern life. This was not easy but it was rewarding and fun. Remember Dardedel is a fiction, although it required more research, thinking, and imagining than any of my scientific work!

What would you say to those who see your use of these characters, especially Hafez as a taxi driver falling in love with a 14 years old in New York, as a form of denigration of their historical status?

By the way Akbar my dear professor Mahdi there no disrespect of Hafez is intended! Many great artists in America have had a humble job at one time. I personally know PhDs who were cabbies. Also both in the introduction and elsewhere Hafez and Rumi are treated with great love and admiration. Hafez falls in love with Mitra, a precocious 14-year-old girl, because Hafez loved that age and because of whom the amazing Mitra--the person-- is! But also this unbelievable love, between the living and the resurrected, Iranian and American, poor and rich, brilliant teenager and the great poet, creates a fantastic love story perhaps surpassing all the classical love stories, in East and West, in complexity and drama.

You have a love poem--in the book's introduction-- about presumably more perfect people of very distant future--that you will never see. Do you really love these non-exiting creatures! Is this a dream for the future of humanity? Some thing you wish to be yourself now but cannot be!

Yes I'm optimistic! I really love the women and men of long distance future who are not burdened by our shortcomings! Perhaps secretly I wish I could be closer to them. But, alas may be if I had an extra hundred more years to examine my consciousness, my subconsciousness, and knew how to retrain my consciousness then I could get somewhere! Yes, I'm in love with a perfected friend, lover, father, mother, interviewer Etc! Yes I've dreamed, since I was a child, about a society, which was much better than the one I found myself in it! Don't we all? And an idealist--perhaps a fool--I have tried to make myself worthy of that society and help in small ways to bring it about.

It is very hard to read your novels and not think of Professor Pirooz as yourself. Much of this novel, for those who know you, passes through your life trails. Also, Pirooz appears in your previous novels. As you know, some friends now lovingly call you Pirooz. How would you respond to this resemblance? Why Pirooz again? Shall we read this as an autobiografiction?

To some degree there is a self-portrait in all of my novels as if I was a painter. I'm also honest and direct about it. The novels are my impressions of reality and my expression of it--in addition to what is imagined, or wished. I want to help, even infinitesimally, to create that perfect Man and Woman we just talked about. There is a point in the Novel that Pirooz calls a poet named Manoucher an imp! Pirooz complains, because not only Manoucher resembles him, but because also Pirooz is blamed for some of the Manoucher's antics, while, Manoucher is credited with some of Pirooz' good work! Here, there is me against I!

Along previous line of question, it seems that Pirooz is a frustrated professor whose scientific and academic endeavors have not fulfilled his curiosity and life ambitions. Now, he is searching in poetry and mysticism for answers to his concerns.

Pirooz is not frustrated but naturally unfulfilled. Show me a genuine intellectual - the true truth seeker- who is genuinely fulfilled? I'm sure Akbar Jaan despite all your hard work and accomplishments you still wished to have done more!

But we also notice that as you move from your first novel to the third one, you become more abstract, subjective, and idealistic. The idealism of Ali in your first novel is a lot more concrete than the idealism of Pirooz in this new novel.

You are absolutely right, heading the nail on the head so to speak. Ali, who I must admit was also partly I, was more idealistic in concrete terms. But he was killed. However, Professor Pirooz of Cry For My Revolution, Iran is similar to Pirooz of the Dardedel except that I hope the older Pirooz is a bit wiser! What do you think professor Mahdi I must grow too!
Incidentally Professor Pirooz, our Pirooz, enters two other novels both by Rob Levandosky my dear friend and novelist. One called Serendipity Green, the other which is a candidate for Pulitzer Prize, is called Fresh Eggs.

Rumi and Hafez save Pirooz' life in the desert; what is the symbolic significance of this? Is this related to the enriching of the spiritual emptiness of Americans who also read Rumi? Is it because Rumi and Hafez are our best friends in exile?

Yes. Many of us in Diaspora read the great poets because they were in a sense in Diaspora too. Rumi lived far away from his birthplace, and, of course, the spiritual home of his dreams. And Hafez wanted to be some place else too but did not have the courage to journey far away from Shiraz. So he took amazing journeys in his mind. Thus the too poets are our friends in exile and their poems in exile--in translation--become home to Americans too!

Can the second generation Iranians relate to Rumi and Hafez in the same way that Professor Pirooz, as the first generation does?

No. Second generation Iranians react differently to Rumi and Hafez, especially if we assume that they read the poems in English. This does not mean that they are less affected, but differently affected. The Persian words in poems carry historically specific emotions! The English translations cannot exactly evoke the same feelings, or even thoughts. Even we, Iranian-Americans, are not exactly Iranian-Iranian! So Hafez and Rumi each are multiple poets more so and more dramatically between languages than within the Persian. They are not always interpreted the same by the Persian writers or readers.

Why did you choose free verse for this writing? Why this novelistic approach? Surely, this has given you the chance to become poetic but it also interferes with the readers' expectation from a novel.

I have been writing poems and publishing some. When I recited my poem "Papa in Persia", an invited poem composed for Hemingway's 100-year birthday anniversary celebration, I received such a thundering standing ovation by hundreds of people that I became convinced that I'm a poet! So the possibility of, and confidence for, an epic poem already existed. Thus I wrote Dardedel in poem to honor Rumi and Hafez-two deserving poets! Also, am I not influenced by them, by Attar who wrote the epic poem "Conference, (or Parliament) of the Birds"? It is also fun to contrast their ancient lives, ideas, and poems with the modern ones not just for me, but for the readers too. I think modern Iranian thinkers and poets are capable of, or hopefully are capable of, producing long lasting masterpieces related to modern life.

You seem to enjoy using Persian words, phrases, idioms and even injecting
facts about Iranian history and culture (inventor of backgammon, Caspian winds, Jaan, Rend, etc.)? Why such an insistence when the novel is in English? Do you not worry that this might slow English readers, especially without a handy glossary at the back of the book?

The Persian words are used to give a Persian flavor to the text, or accentuate the accented text. Also, I want to introduce these words, concepts, feelings, or emotions into English language and American culture. I consider myself among other things a cultural catalyst, or inter-actor. All the important words like Dardedel, Vasal, Jaan, Faal, and Sufism, are defined in the introduction and/or in the text. Others are either defined or are self- explanatory. I have been very careful with that! My American readers should not only find them as a hindrance but a source of delight, and learning of the ethos of another culture.

At times your plot interferes with discussion of very interesting scientific and philosophical ideas, and at other times those ideas disrupts the flow of events. Don't you think that this might disturb your readers?

Only if the reader tries to read the Dardedel in one gulp! Imagine how you would feel if you were to read Divane Hafez in one setting. If one reads Dardedel not in a rush to find out what happens in the story then the ideas and the plot not only will not impede each other but also would dovetail like flower and honey bee-one enriching the other!

The novel deals with the nature and the degree of consciousness, the impact of science and technology on identity of humankind, and its survival prospects, etc. Is novel and poetry the best medium for discourse on such questions and problems?

Why not! They certainly were in the classical works of the past. If such questions and problems are discussed between intellectuals in real life situations--say while enjoying an espresso--then it can also happen in a novel in similar settings. (See The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann or our own poet Manuchehri, for example.) There is an advantage and disadvantage. The advantage is that the formality and academic jargons is avoided. The disadvantage is that the rigor of analysis may be somehow diminished. Beside various benefits, this is an alternative way of discourse and learning.

You have a bird as a character in the novel called Poem of Poems representing all the poems written in all languages. Why should a bird tell the story of the origin of poetry, its crystallization to, or imprisonment in the cage of rules of classical poetry (Aruz in Persian) and then its liberation into the limitless skies of free verse?

Because of drama. Because I needed another voice other than Professor Pirooz' to explain or describe the modern poetry to Rumi and Hafez. And because symbolically poetry takes flight in human imagination--as do the birds in fact in three-dimensional space. Who else but a mythical bird would know the history of poetry and all the poems in all the languages? When the idea came to me I had an explosive moment of happiness! A solo dance!

Why Hafez falls in love with a 14 year-old girl, Mitra, who claims she is more adult than many adults? Why a Persian name for her and why she is so young?

Mitra is a special brilliant 14-year old girl. She is half Persian and half American representing many of our kids here in America and the mixture of the two cultures. She is the right age for the Hafez of Divan to fall in love with, even if not the right age for our times. This point is thoroughly explored in the novel, by very exciting court appearances and dramatics!

The novel in effect has God and New York as minor characters. Any hidden reasons?

Well, God is in peoples' mind, at least as a word. However, He or She is more strongly rooted in the minds of Rumi and Hafez. God had to be a character because of the interaction of the modern man Pirooz and ancient men Rumi and Hafez. Most of the story happens in New York and New York acts upon the story as if it was a character. For those who have lived in this complex and dynamic city this comment is easily understood. For those who believe in God, New York is a secondary creation of God. Created by His creation--mankind!

Professor Pirooz is very alienated in American society and repeats much of New Left criticisms of this society. Do you think that his criticisms of American society sometimes are based on his abstract idealism rather than his scientific mind? How can he not separate the organizational constraints of his work from ideological constraints on freedom in capitalism? Or from some other un-named system?

New leftist, or Old leftist, Up-winger, or Side-winger, or whatever labels Pirooz is given; he is a social scientist and considers his main duty to be to diagnose what ills the society just as the physician's duty is to diagnose what ills his or her patient.
Of course American society is afflicted with many ills. Do you wish me to count them for you--a very knowledgeable sociologist!

People who have read your works in economics know you as initially quantitative economist and later as a political economist. How does a political economist, with so much emphasis on concrete and material, end up advocating abstract mystical love?

Economics too is somehow mystical to me! To be more serious, identity of a person is defined by many factors: physical attributes, nationality, religion, ideology, politics, intelligence, possessions--in or out of the mind--profession, Etc. Hopefully, identity is also liquid--not frozen. So my profession is, has been, only one aspect, or dimension of my identity. I'm also a chess addict! I discovered when I was a kid that I could play chess blindfolded with several people simultaneously. Should I be known by this attribute alone? Mind you some people who know this fact about me do just that! (Oh, you are that Parvin who plays chess blindfolded!)
Attar, one of the greatest Iranian Sufi poets, made his living by being a pharmacist and physician. There are many examples in our history.

I won some literary prizes from my teacher Dr Hamidi the famous poet, while in the Alborz high school. But, I was encouraged to study science and engineering by Dr Mojtahedi, our head master because of my mathematical abilities, and because he convinced me that our country needed scientist. I began turning to my old love, novel and poetry, when I felt secure in the academic world. Every change seemed to be a natural change for me -- but not for others watching me.

For example, I began doing graduate work in economics without a single undergraduate course in economic! Then I was told I'm wasting my time! I've never studied literature formally either. I'm fortunate to be able to study a new field and get to the essence of things quickly. This has been an aspect of my life -- doing what I was not trained to do formally! Also I have a very low IQ for repairing anything despite my engineering degree! My computer skill is not that much better than that of a Stone Age man!

What connects your first, second, and third novels? Any enduring theme or concern, as you yourself see it?

How individuals get to know, or believe what they do know and what they believe in. We had Jewish and Christians neighbors at home and I began wondering at the age of five why we were all different. Later on I learned about other competing, religions, ideologies, histories, even sciences. How our consciousness are formed and manipulated has been a source of wonderment for me!

How did I become me, and acquired my identity? How can we examine our consciousness, use mental flossing to clean our brains, and retrain our unconsciousness! How to self-realize and ascend! Avicenna and I: The Journey of Spirits is basically a literary discourse in self-understanding and self-realization. Cry For My Revolution, Iran, is about where political and ideological beliefs come from and how they motivate political action. For example, why I became interested in human rights before I even knew the term!

Any new work since finishing the novel?

I've a book called Fear of Truth, which I must get published. My newest work is a collection of poems that I tentatively call "Cosmological Accent" I hope to submit it for publication this fall.

Do you wish to tell us something about the publisher -- The permanent press?

I'm fortunate that The Permanent Press decided to take "Dardedel: Rumi, Hafez, and Love in New York." During the last ten years they have won twice what is called the Oscar prize for publishers--big or small. They have also published for a Noble Prize winner.
See introduction to "Dardedel" See first chapter

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Books of the day

Rumi, Hafez, and Love in New York
by Manoucher Parvin

Avicenna and I
The Journey of Spirits
by Manoucher Parvin

Cry For My Revolution, Iran
by Manoucher Parvin

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