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A night on the Silk Road
To you, that barefoot beauty from Persia

August 30, 2002
The Iranian

Somewhere along the Silk Route in the midst of your peregrination you let the caravan stop before the sunset, to rest and set up camp for the night. Standing on the dusty road, you reach with both hands pushing your hairs to the back of your head gazing through the grassland all the way to a bending line of horizon stretching to a point where earth and sky can no longer be separated.

There in the horizon you witness the copper-colored sun disappearing like a melting sphere of gold into the eternity. From far away you hear a shepherd playing his fife, a melody familiar to your ears but fading in the evening breeze. The sun sets in your beautiful green eyes.

As the darkness begins in this cool summer night, you gaze at the lapis-blue dome of the sky and watch the stars shining through their diaphanous membranes. Shooting stars entertain you and the sheer beauty of the prairie night mixed with scent of the grassland cannot be compared to any other experiences you had before. In the distance you hear the bells of camels from other caravans traveling through the night to unknown destinations, and the harmonious chorus of the crickets satisfies your senses.

You ponder about the thousands of men and women who rode horses and camels on this dusty route from China to the Black Sea and beyond, carrying their merchandise and life belongings. They carried soft and colorful silk robes from China to adorn the marble bodies of the European aesthete icons. And along the way they traded exotic spices of India promising aphrodisiac miracles when properly mixed with perfumes made in Constantinople.

Upon their return they brought back silver and gold artifacts from Macedonia and traded them with wines of Persia aged in the most beautiful ceramic urns that when poured into the turquoise cups created a melody of its own. Melodies like the ones composed by Farabee at the dawn of civilization; the kind that caresses your spine like a touch of beloved spirit.

What music can be more soothing than the sound of pouring water from a Persian urn into a cup? When you were a thirsty child in the middle of the warm summer nights sleeping in your bed on the roof of your house, your mother poured that cool water into the cup. That melody was the harbinger that your thirst would soon be quenched. Safe in the circle of her arms, you gazed up at the stars... What music can ever be composed better than that?

What wine will bring man to reason in his insensate? How to bear the atrocities of the mankind, and not to take advantage of one merchant or another, one neighbor or another? Where is that god whose mercifulness all these nations talk about yet in his name they destroy one another? How many nations will have to be ruined and how many cultures exploited until mankind is satisfied? And then I ask you: why do the ones who constantly try to remind us of god's mercifulness, turn to be our executioners?

Thousands of bodies walked along this Silk Route before you tasted their dust and tonight you watch the same star that was witnessed by Darius, Genghis, the Tatars and many others before them. Tonight, you, the Persian beauty, take that Chinese silk cloth and dust off those stars with a soft touch... please take care not to misplace their beauties as there will be millions of people after you who will dream of having the same night as you are having tonight... and they will dream indeed. On that spot where you are standing will grow wild flowers nourished by our crushed bones.

Yet, your predecessors hoped in vain that in their reincarnation they would elevate to return and be born as a dog for a better life in the West. But alas they returned as vengeful dogs in Muslim lands, and were declared untouchable. Pray for coming back as a cat! Or ask to be an owl to live around mount Zagros, practicing the virtues of apostasy or composing poetry about Persian sangfroid.

And then you raise the question why the universe has to be so large, so vast. Only to be reminded of all those souls who were freed before you, and all the private space they needed in the afterlife to keep away from each other. And that is why it takes a universe so vast. So that we may rest in peace when we finish going through being a dog, a cat, a rat or a gnat.

In your loneliness you shed tears while hiding in your carapace, thinking how your home is being plundered by men who are no better than Genghis. They rape your sisters and are brutal to your sons, and in your silence you feel helpless. And if you speak up you are scorned as being blasphemous. Where is that spiritual afflatus -- that god -- to stand up in your defense? In this chaotic age of absence of reason, we have created many tools to insure that our villains remain protected and their interest is guarded, while we lament and mourn our heroes.

And now your only hope is that you will go to Heaven, now that you have seen the Hell. Will there be a wet eye in the crowd if our ablutions are carried with kerosene so long as we keep the fire burning? Will anyone raise a toast while watching our fireworks?

At times you ponder how long you should keep in your shoebox the pictures of new-born-siblings of friends that you have received and accumulated for the past quarter of a century. Should you make a bonfire and burn them, or send them back to their parents? But you can't tell which kids belong to whom, just as you can't tell who owns each of those stars. But you still have the shoebox hidden somewhere safe while the enemy is plundering your gold and your pearl necklace.

And who is going to watch those stars for you? What shoebox will you save them in? Where are those shoes to protect your tender feet?

You kept the picture of the friends who were in the same classroom with you in the first grade, not realizing that the disease of forgetfulness would disable you to a point of not even recognizing yourself, let alone the childhood friends who have been long gone.

What good are all these possessions? What mysteries are up there on those planets and stars? Some of the lights from those stars are said to be so old, no mind can ever come close to count backward for millions of years.

But you are the child of the Silk Route. The dust that you walk on is made from the bones of those who plundered your land and raped your women, and made you to believe in kismet. But let your enemy know that what keeps you ahead of your foe is that you have seen and experienced the other side of Nirvana!

And you correctly prefer to even drink a bad wine with the followers of Khayyam rather than to go to paradise with these guardians of heaven and their camarilla. As if Heaven is to be shared with these hyenas thus making Hell the most desirable of all places. Luckily you and I have been there and the road is well paved. And the paved paths created by our shepherds are visible even in the darkest nights beyond the Silk Route and through the grassland.

So tonight, you, the Persian beauty: cherish this night on the Silk Route and tomorrow Persia will witness a beautiful sunrise in your eyes. And then your caravan will travel to another place witnessing a different sunset.

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Farrokh A. AShtiani


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