May 9, 2007
What unites the living is the memory of the dead. - Dostoyovski
When someone you know from your childhood dies, how do you deal with the grief? How do you console your friend and her loved ones? It is hard.
I knew the Pirnazar family from Iran. Maryam is my childhood friend, my best friend who has always been there for me in good and bad times. The whole family is like my own. I remember when as teenagers we would get together at their house in Youssef Abad. Mr. Pirnazar, or Houshang Khan as we called him, was a literary man who was an accomplished translator. Among the works he rendered into Persian were the plays of Bertolt Brecht, including the Three Penny Opera. He also translated works by Maxim Gorki, Mark Twaine, Will Durant, and Machiavelli.
Like many of his age he was a Tudeh sympathizer. He studied at Tehran University and later attended Columbia University. Upon his return to Iran, he became an effective and high ranking administrator at the Sazman-eh Barnameh (the Planning Organization under the Shah) and later became Deputy Head of the Sazman-e Omur-e Edari va Estekhdami-ye Keshvar (Government Office of Administration and Employment) where he performed his duties with utmost professionalism.
Houshang Pirnazar was a happy soul. He was into sports, he liked the outdoors. Even as he grew older, he didn’t look his age. He liked classical music. He was an avid reader and writer.
I remember the times when we used to go to Shomal, Noshahr, to spend days at their house. I was raised in a traditional family where alcohol was forbidden so we used to go to their house and beer was always there, the warmth was there; we had good times. One day, I remember walking on the shore of the Caspian Sea where we saw Amir Abbas Hoveyda, the Shah’s Prime Minister who lived not too far from the Pirnazars’. We were young; we didn’t know who and how important he was. We were in a different world. We were in our own world.
Then the revolution happened and like many families, the Pirnazars left Iran. They settled in a modest house in Santa Cruz. Houshang Khan never lost his touch or his flair. I remember whenever I visited them, he would say “it’s happy hour time now.” Noshahr would be repeated in Santa Cruz. And then Khaleh Mineh, as we called her, in her gracious manner would bring us mazzeh and we would sit for hours talking about old times, reminiscing about our past. He had a fulfilling life. He was a good writer, a good conversationalist and a good human being. I have fond memories of the times we spent in Tehran, in Shomal and then in Santa Cruz
Somehow that past is gone forever and it makes me terribly sad. I wish that he had stayed with us longer, I am sure that is how his family would have wanted it. I came to know him better as I grew older and I started to appreciate things more. He wrote me a kind letter. He spoke to me like an adult. The last time I spent with them in Santa Cruz, he told me an interesting story. Knowing how much I respected and cherished Mossadegh, he told me a story. He was sure it would intrigue me.
As the story goes, when he was a student at Columbia University in the 1950’s, one late evening, he was stopped by a policeman. He had a car with Oklahoma license plates, lived in New Jersey and went to school in New York. The policeman asked him why three different locations? Since he was a foreigner, this was illegal. Houshang Khan didn’t have a good answer. He sort of shrugged. Then the burly officer asked him where he was from and he said he was from Iran. The police officer then told him, I will let you go. “Do you know why? Because you come from a country whose Prime Minister stood up to the mighty British. I know all about him. I have great respect for that man.” The policeman was Irish!
There were many stories at the Pirnazar house, all of them filled with humor and good spirit. The wonderful Mrs. Pirnazar, Samineh Baghcheban , the director of the Baghcheban School for the Deaf and Mute in Tehran would make us tasty and scrumptious meals. I will never forget those days, the special atmosphere of the evenings at their house. I miss those days just like the ones in Noshahr. Oh, how those memories have remained with me to this day.
Houshang Khan never lost his touch. He struggled with that horrible disease, cancer, and valiantly fought against it, but the pain was too much to bear so he slowly withered away and died a peaceful death in his house in Tanner Heights among his family. Maybe that’s the best way to go. But I will surely miss him. Santa Cruz and the happy hours will never be the same without him.
Yesterday, I was frantically looking for his book, the last one he wrote, Har che kashtim dero kardim. In this book, he wrote the story of his professional life and that of those who worked hard in Iran, before the Revolution. They were accomplished men who had high hopes for their country. It is the story of those days, told from a critical perspective; it is the story of those who led and lived good lives. With Mr. Pirnazar’s passing, I feel like I have lost part of my youth.
Houshang Khan, may your soul rest in peace. We will cherish you memory. Comment