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Not bad for a mortal
A novel in verse

February 26, 2003
The Iranian

Introduction to Manoucher Parvin's
Dardedel; Rumi, Hafez, and Love in New York (Sag Harbor, NY: The Permanent Press, 2003) See first chapter See interview

Do you know this Persian word, dardedel?

In English we would call it a heart-to-heart talk, yet a dardedel is so much more than heart to heart, and so much more than talk.

Darde means ache. Del means heart. But put together they mean one and another sharing the most private, sincere and important things. Dardedel unchains us from the burdens of our isolation and loneliness. By uniting our soul with another soul, our deepest thoughts and feelings are set free, without the shame of judgment or the fear of betrayal. It is this absolute trust that makes dardedel so special and so sacred.

This book called Dardedel is my dardedel with you.

So may I tell you a little about me? Before you join Professor Pirooz on his magical American adventure?

I was about to enter elementary school, in Iran, in the tumultuous 1940s, when I first began watching and listening to my father and his friends drinking wine, feasting on nuts and fruit, smoking opium, and talking about everything -- a collective dardedel in the sanctuary of our big house.

His guests were philosophers and poets, writers and musicians, businessmen and scientists, politicians and Sufi Dervishes. They had one thing in common: their hearts reaching for other hearts, fusing into one big heart; and their minds ready to learn from other minds, fusing into one big mind.

I remember it so well, all these years and miles away. They laughed and even cried together. It was the first time I saw grown men weeping with no death in the family. From them I learned that it was possible to talk with friends with no reservation or inhibition at all. I would go on to attend many schools and earn many degrees, but this school in my father's house was the first and most important -- and I have yet to graduate from it!

So I inhaled the science talk, the Sufi poems and songs, the mysterious chit-chat about love and sex. I watched the Dervishes twirl and inhaled the drifting smoke, and felt high as I grew and understood more and more. I exhaled my innocence, my boyish notions of how the world is, or should be.

Do not think I was an unnoticed Persian fly on the wall. My father was quite conscious of my presence. Like the King of Serendip sending his sons into the world to complete their educations, my father was bringing me into his world, to begin mine.

As for the opium smoking, please remember the time and the place. It was quite fashionable and the world had yet to learn the dangers of second-hand smoke!


Before fully appreciating these fantastic gatherings of learned men, I found myself on a propeller plane flying to America, to learn modern science. I had set aside my own ambitions in literature to do what my country needed me to do. I was so young and idealistic then.

In America I studied hard and, still in my twenties, wrote a book on electronics. But I soon retired from the formal pursuit of the hard sciences. The answers to human problems were not to be found there.

Meanwhile, I joined those toiling for human rights, for democracy in Iran, and for civil rights in the United States. With youthful exuberance we were in a big hurry to make the world a better place. Ha-ha! How wonderfully optimistic we were!

Soon I was at Columbia University, in New York City, a graduate student in economics. Within two years I was teaching economics there! As the years passed, I would write in many social science fields, although interdisciplinary study was not yet appreciated as it is today. I had learned from my father and his friends not to be inhibited or restricted by those horse blinders called specialization. I was thirsty for answers. I would plunge into any subject my heart desired, irrespective of professional disapproval. I felt an obligation to feed my hungriest urges and curiosities.

As time passed, I realized that the answers provided by the social sciences were not enough for me. It was time for me to return to my original love, the study of the human soul. I began writing novels to investigate my soul, the souls of others, and the soul of history. And I began to write poems. Persians feel at home in poems.

As I climbed the academic ladder I felt emptier at each rung. Emptiness, like a cancer of the soul, invaded me, established roots in me, and grew in me. I know now that the multitudes of Americans seeking refuge in Hafez and Rumi, and the other mystic poets of Iran, also suffer from this same spiritual emptiness. And, of course, Hafez and Rumi had arrived in New York to rescue lost souls long before I resurrected them in this book!

All told, this work has been a healing effort -- a dardedel free of all literary restriction, personal fears and pretensions, where science and spirituality clash, where modernity and history clash, where the soul of man is mended, if only on paper temporarily.


Perhaps you have never heard of the old Persian poets Hafez and Rumi.

Jalalad-Din Rumi's life spanned most of the thirteenth century, 1207 to 1273. He was a poet, philosopher and mystic, often referred to as Mowlana, which means our master. For many years he followed in his father's footsteps as a conservative theologian, teaching at a religious school in the city of Konya. Then a Sufi mystic from Tabriz named Shamsal-Din (Sun of the Faith) wandered into his life.

Rumi recalled his encounter with Shams thus:

I was dead, I was resurrected
I was tears, I was turned into laughter
The majesty, the love, came upon me
And crowned me with immortality.

So, Rumi spent almost all of his time with Shams, neglecting his family and his work. It is said that Rumi's jealous students secretly murdered Shams. More likely, Shams left so Rumi could find his own path in life. Regardless, Sham's influence changed the grieving Rumi's life.
The tragedy of Rumi became a wonderful gift for man. Collected into two books, The Divan-e Shams and the Masnavi, Rumi's poem are mystical and moral discourses with his community.

They have illuminated the soul of humankind for centuries. In December 1999, Time magazine named Rumi "Mystic of the Century." His works continue to sell in astonishing numbers and are recorded by celebrities, including the Material Girl, Madonna! His ideas also have attracted many psychoanalytic therapists in America.

One more thing about the Mowlana: He is credited with founding the Sufi sect called the Mevlevis, which gave the world those fantastic, spiraling prayer-dancers Westerners know as Whirling Dervishes.

Now, about Hafez: He was born in 1320, some fifty years after Rumi's death. His real name was Shamsal-Din Muhammad. Hafez means one who remembers. It is said he knew the Koran by heart.

Little is known about his life, except that he most likely received a classical Islamic education and practiced Sufism. Unlike so many writers of his time, whose deaths preceded their fame, Hafez's poems caught fire almost as soon as he wrote them. By the time he did die in 1390, he was loved by many and despised by a few. Today he is famous throughout the world. Some of the greatest Western writers, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe among them, have considered themselves among his students. He is called Prince of Poets or Poet of Poets by some American literary critics.

Hafez explored various poetic forms. Divan-e Hafez is a dazzling collection of poems on love, liberty, drunkenness, nature, spiritual devotion and ascendance, injustice and hypocrisy. Unlike the wise and relatively proper Rumi, Hafez was something of a literary and anticlerical rascal. You will catch the differences as you read my dardedel. And you will see that I am worse than a rascal!
Anyway, Hafez spent almost all of his life in the city of Shiraz. He is buried in a mausoleum there.


A few quick words about Sufism: The roots of this mystical movement are older than Islam. Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and the Judeo-Christian mysticisms are all tributaries of Sufism. It came into full flower, however, as Islam spread across the Persian empire. Sufism derives from the word for wool -- suf -- and refers to the woolen gowns worn by early Muslim ascetics.

By the 11th century there were Sufi schools or gathering places, Khâneghâh, all over Iran. Khâne means "home" and ghâh means "the moment." Together they could mean living the moment, being fully conscious of the moment/reality. Sufis believe that self-knowledge and deep intuition are vital means for knowing, for spiritual ascendance and self-realization. Even the lowliest person can experience the ultimate reality or God directly in his or her heart. An objective self-evaluation of abilities and intentions, which sufism promotes, enhances a sufi's chances of survival in any situation.

Beyond its spiritual dimension and consciousness examining, retraining and revitalizing, Sufism has played an important, even decisive, role in Persian literature, music, and art. Today it is even the foundation of a major approach to psychotherapy in the United States.

I like the permission Sufism gives me to figure out the world for myself and reach for vasal. Vasal is a Persian word meaning fruition and unity -- the unity of lovers, the unity of the faithful with God, unity with a most cherished dream by realizing that dream.

Dardedel is written entirely in verse, in honor of Hafez and Rumi and the other epic poets of my homeland. To translate them, I drink their poems until I am intoxicated, then I assume my American identity and write down what I'm experiencing. Hafez and Rumi would have composed in free verse today.

Consider my book a Persian dish cooked in America:

There is a pinch of Eastern culture and mysticism,
A dash of tenderness resurrected from industrial ashes,
A touch of science and technology related to the fate of man,
Drops of liquid soul from Hafez and Rumi,
Blended with the love story of all love stories,
Into a poem of poems, and,
I pray, a dardedel of self-realization between you and me.

I realize that I am an accented noise in America. I speak with an accent. I think with an accent. I feel, love, dream, and write with an accent. I am an accent. And I will die an accent. I've accepted this condition about myself. Dear reader, please do the same.
I have started our dardedel with a love poem -- expressing my love for the ascended men and women of the distant future. I dedicate it to you.

My Love Song Of Love Songs

I kiss the blossoms of spring -- it is you.
I kiss the magic of autumn -- it is you.
I splash in the womb of summer -- it is you.
I swim across the ice of winter.
To find you,
To hug you,
To love you.
All things lovable are you.

I love the song of Hafez -- it is you.
I understand the wisdom of Rumi -- it is you.
I practice the Zen of Buddha -- it is you.
I admire the science of Einstein -- it is you.
I dance to the music of Mozart -- it is you.
I breathe in the blue of Picasso,
When remembering you, when missing you,
You, lovable you.

You are the perfect mother and the perfect father.
You are the perfect lover, the perfect ascended soul,
The supreme good humankind should be,
That men and women, once perfected, will be.
I long for you, keep vigil for you,
Forever, until I am no longer.

June 27, 2002
See first chapter See interview

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