Tip of a pencil
The travelers, Part III
By Laleh Haghighi
April 28, 2003
My maternal grandmother Bozorg was brought from Hamedan
to Tehran as a child. Neglected by a drug-addicted father and an
uncaring stepmother, she was raised in her older brother‚s
home in Tehran. Upon her arranged marriage with my grandfather Pedar,
they both hoped they could provide something better for their own
Bozorg and Pedar had seven children. They were luckier
than others in that all of them survived the many childhood diseases
that made it common for an Iranian household back then to lose a
few kids at birth or in their early infancy. However, none of them
were immune to the prevalent societal diseases such as abysmal poverty.
Pedar and Bozorg did the best they could but the
early years of marriage were hard and tense. Pedar was seldom home,
leaving at the crack of dawn for the Tehran Bazaar only to return
after the children had already gone to sleep. Poor Bozorg was left
alone to contend with noisy, boisterous and demanding children with
endless pits in lieu of stomachs.
More often than not, there was not enough food for
the table, not enough heat, not enough blankets, not enough clothes.
"Not enough... Not enough...," the walls seemed to be
whispering softly in Bozorg‚s ear from the minute she woke
up to the second she closed her eyes. It was never enough, no matter
how hard Bozorg stretched the money Pedar brought home for their
So when my mother was born, the 4th child, Bozorg
grew desperate. How could they possibly afford to feed this extra
mouth? Would Bozorg be forced to watch her cherished, beloved newborn
baby starve to death before her very eyes? Crazed by this prospect,
Bozorg took a step that was both criminal and passionate. She left
her baby in a room with all the windows open, hoping that the bitter
winter cold would come and take away her infant from further suffering.
It was the act of a desperate, loving mother who would
rather lose her child in one quick blow than watch her die slowly
and with a lot of pain. Fortunately for Bozorg, at that moment,
an angel must have come down from heaven to wrap the little baby
in its warm embrace. When Pedar came home that night, the newborn
was still as lively and noisy as ever and Bozorg was tenderly caring
for her. This was the only moment in her life that Bozorg lost her
fighting spirit and determination. She would never waver again.
The years went by and Pedar's rug business in the
Bazaar prospered, permitting him to move his family to the northern
suburbs. The change from the downtown slums could not have been
more welcomed. Bozorg's first child, Ali, had been forced to quit
school at an early age to go help his father in the Bazaar. Bozorg
vowed that a similar fate would not befall the rest of her children
and that they would all get an education.
It was a rough battle to fight. Pedar, with all his
love for his five daughters, was reluctant to let them get an education
at first. Naturally, the harshest combat took place in regard to
the elder daughter and second child, Atiyeh.
Many tears were shed, doors slammed, and voices raised
before they could all come to a compromise. Atiyeh was allowed to
go to school if: 1) She covered herself with a chador (veil) at
all times; 2) Bozorg would accompany her on the bus to school every
morning, and bring her back the second the school bell rang every
Atiyeh at that point would have been content to cluck
like a chicken and walk on her hands the rest of her life if that
meant she would be allowed to go to school. As much as her brother
Ali was playful and outdoorsy, she was quiet and liked to spend
all her time in, sprawled out on the living room rug, the tip of
a pencil usually in her mouth as she devoured book after book.
So it was with a light
heart that Atiyeh endured the teasing of her schoolmates, whose
liberal parents allowed them to wear what they liked and certainly
did not impose the outdated religious veil on them. Atiyeh did not
mind. She felt like she had already climbed mountains to come to
where she was and this was enough victory for her.
The trip from home to school was no ordinary trip
for her. Each leap was getting her closer to an intangible dream:
She was the first female in our family to achieve her education.
As such, she had already traveled farther than both her own mother
and her grandmother.
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