What is in this magical word Shiraz that makes everyone
sit up and take notice?
July 18, 2005
When Darius Kadivar - whom I knew through his work, but had never
met before - walked towards me as I passed through the gates of
the cemetery and according
to the Iranian custom gave me a kiss on both cheeks greeting me
by my name, I was sure the taxi had driven me to the right place.
He introduced me to his mother Jeannette, his sister Sylvie-Roya,
a friend of the family having just arrived from Shiraz and a group
of Iranians who knew his late father from their student days in
Paris in the 1950s. A few minutes later following others, I took
my turn standing by the edge of an open grave, throwing freshly
picked rose petals onto the coffin of a Shirazi surgeon Dr. Kayomars
Rouhollah Kadivar who died in exile in France on 4 July at the
age of 75.
On that beautiful sunny 11 July day, abounding with flowers,
the discreet number of mourners had assembled in Le Chesnay cemetery
near Versailles to pay their respects to a beloved husband, an
affectionate father, and a dear friend. And I who had never met
Dr. Kadivar during his life had travelled from Paris to just be
there beside his son, my dear friend Cyrus. I had come to offer
him my emotional support at a time of a painful loss unmindful
of the verity that when you come with all the sincere intentions
to give, you leave with your cup running over with the fullness
of what you have received. In this case, the content of my cup
had the distinct aroma and flavour of that quintessential Iranian
city, the world capital of poetry.
Eulogies were recited during the ceremony before the burial.
Each time the name of Shiraz or Hafiz was mentioned, my attention
was drawn to the fresh tears welling up in the eyes of the French
born Mrs. Kadivar. These two magic names it seemed reminded her
of two objects of devotion that were sacred to her late husband.
And I too as an Iranian standing there in that gathering amongst
French, English and Canadians felt a great sense of pride with
every reference to Hafiz’s beloved birthplace.
What after all is in this magical word Shiraz that makes everyone
sit up and take notice? Is it the poetry, the wine or the fabulous
gardens? Is it Shiraz’s proximity to the ruins of Persepolis
or Cyrus’s tomb in Pasargad awakening in us a reverence
for the roots of our civilized humanity? What is in Shiraz’s
land and water that makes it different from any other place? It
has a soil not in any way unique. The oxygen one breathes there
is like any other oxygen. The trees and vegetation are not that
different from those found in a land of similar climate. And still
we know that Shiraz evokes in us feelings and sensations that
no other place is able to.
Saul Bellow in his famous work ‘To Jerusalem and Back’ writes:
“We step into the street and my friend David Shahar,
whose chest is large, takes a deep breath and advises me to do
the same. The air, the very air, is thought-nourishing in Jerusalem,
the Sages themselves said so. I am prepared to believe it.”
Sa’di felt the same way about Shiraz saying that the air
of Shiraz can set our being on fire and Hafiz described this city
as the fount of beauty and virtue. In one way I believe Shiraz
excels even Jerusalem. It invites us to a salvation through a
highway constructed by human sensibility without restricting our
path to the dogmas of this or that particular creed. The Iranian
mind can never dwell for long either on Mecca or Jerusalem without
retuning to Shiraz to find the center of its broad vision and
emotional stability. Iranians cannot stray long towards xenophobia
and ethnocentrism, without being pulled back by the words of their
Shirazi poet (Sa’di) inscribed in the entrance of the United
Nations headquarters in New York:
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
So while one member suffers aches and grief,
The other members cannot win relief.
If we have any understanding of our moral heritage in Shiraz
we cannot walk far into the snare of self-centeredness and materialism
before we are reminded of Hafiz’s wise words on what ultimately
matters in life:
On the emeraldine heavens it has been inscribed with gold letters:
Nothing at the end endures save loving-kindness.
And it is not by accident that Shiraz has been the site of such
a poetic testimony. A city that has witnessed magnificent palaces
of Kings of Kings reduced to rubble overnight, and in Hafiz’s
own life changed hands several times between blood thirsty rulers,
knows quite well about time’s cruel vicissitude.
All that remains is loving-kindness. This is Shiraz’s
testimony. Nothing has any staying power save tenderness and humanity.
Absolutely nothing. Even Shiraz itself can become an inaccessible
dream, as it became at the end for Dr. Kadivar and is bound to
become for many of us here in exile.