For getting without forgetting
Letting go, leaving behind, but retaining the memory
By Niloofar Kalaam
February 1, 2000
I've been thinking of two poems on The Iranian, and the different
attitudes they express towards living in diaspora. The first poem, "Sipping
Lattes in Diaspora", expresses the feelings of displacement, loneliness
and loss that most of us feel, at least on occasion. The second poem, "Sipping
chai in Starbucks", argues against the melancholy of the first
poem, reminds us instead of the freedom, the possibilities, inherent in
I stress in both cases, that the feelings and ideas expressed are experienced
by most of us, at least on occasion. In fact the argument seems to be a
recurring theme among many of us who live in diaspora. Loss vs. Possibility,
Nostalgia vs. Newness, looking to the Past vs. looking to the Future, etc.
The two sides take on many names, but the arguments remain the same. I
will refer to the two sides as Loss and Possibility.
Loss and Possibility are both intrinsic to every uprooting. I also believe
that as individuals and collectively, we can gain much more by admitting
their co- existence, by working the tension of their co-existence, than
we do by declaring ourselves on the side of one or the other.
But let me speak by personal example. And let me, for a moment at least,
step outside of the notion of displacement and uprooting as exclusively
It is 1979 and the world as I knew it has ended. It's after the end
of the world (as I knew it) - an afterworld. Almost all my friends and
classmates have left the country. My father no longer has a job. My mother
still has her job, but has sold her fancy clothes, and no longer buys antiques.
My parents' circle of friends, with whom we spent all our weekends and
holidays, has split apart, due largely to religious and political disagreements.
I am twelve years old and I feel no Loss. More precisely, I admit no
Loss. I have embraced Possibility. And there is so much of it to go around!
A New world, a New society for us to build. A Future free of tyrants, a
Free Future, a Just Future, an Independent Future. It is a time of building
My friends write to me from abroad. They send me presents. They write
of their displacement, their homesickness, their loneliness in foreign
lands. I lock up their presents and their letters in a special drawer and
try to lock my friends out of consciousness. They are just bourgeois, taghooti,
I tell myself, they cannot know the meaning of suffering. They have taken
off with the riches of this country, how could their suffering be real?
The only suffering that is real, in that particular moment in (my personal)
history, is the suffering of poverty, of the masses.
Almost all my friends have left the country, but my bestest friend,
my bosom friend is still there. She will leave in a few months, but we
don't know that yet. One day I visit her. We don't see each other that
often. We go to different schools now. Our old school has been shut down.
I feel a pang when I enter, when I see the indoor rock pool, the fascinating
black fish with their bulging eyes. But what is a pang in comparison to
the fate of a nation?
We play in the back yard. It is fall and the old trees are shedding
leaves, the pool is empty. The khormaloo trees are full of fruit. We climb
them, eat, throw the over-ripe ones at each other. We approach the Possibility
of pretending we are still in the Past. That nothing has changed.
No such luck inside. The inevitable happens. "Am I still your bosom
friend?" she asks.
"Of course you are," I reply, avoiding her eyes. And then
I go on; I tell her about my New school, my New friends, the Possibilities
we have dreamed up for the Future.
She picks up a stick we have brought in from the back yard. We are sitting
side by side on a sofa, our backs to the pool and the black fish with bulging
"We used to be here," she says, and puts her index fingers
next to each other in the middle of the stick. "Now you are here,"
she moves her finger to one end of the stick, "and I am here."
She moves her other finger to the other end of the stick.
It is a difficult moment and I cannot remember what I felt or thought
then. The emotions of that moment are still locked away from me, inaccessible.
This ridiculous idea pops into my mind, as I write these lines, that I
should have checked that she had me on the Left and herself on the Right.
E-motion is energy in motion. And so what happens in that moment, that
very moment when we embrace Possibility without admitting Loss, in that
moment that locks, that we lock, by turning off e-motion, can be seen as
a form of death.
Twenty years later, in 1999, I am still grappling with that moment.
........................... present at the
................we could not see him
...................for our eyes were wide
........................but the moment
.........like a jockey on a falling horse
...........................shoot the animal
..................know it or not
.........when the moment locks
.....................the beast is as good
.........((From a longer poem dated October
The shooting came a couple of years later. Literally. The new Possibilities
we had embraced murdered, imprisoned, sent to war, in the bodies of my
once New, now Old friends.
Another end of the world, afterworld, and this time the only visible
face is that of Loss. How in the world can one see Possibility in the slaughter
of one's friends, one's dreams?
It's a tough one. But we have learned that life marches on, and Possibilities
do arise. Gradually, painfully. In the words of a friend who spent many
years as a political prisoner, "You may lose the magic, but the magic
will find you."
And what, if not the memory of that experience, has sustained me all
these years in the bleakest moments of dislocation?
... a tragedy that is displaced, removed from its origin, alienated.
In this movement the tragedy changes both shape and dimension. Perspective
is skewed. It is like looking at something stoned, so that the sober Harmony
of its being is disturbed. A disturbed tragedy moves into silence and yet
out. The silence is that of alienation, of never- being-reflected-the tragedy
cannot assume regularity, ordinariness, everydayness...
The silent, alienated, displaced tragedy gains a strength of its own.
A silent strength, a domain within an individual psyche where it changes
shape and rules. Slowly, it bids its time and moves from the margins, the
dark corners allocated to it. It erases the erasure of shock and denial
and moves to the center of the psyche, where it acts, paradoxically, as
a nugget of strength, as a fixed point within an estranged self, otherwise
And so the defeated revolution launches its own revolution and wins.
(From my Notebooks, October 1998)
To depart, never to arrive, is how the writer Helene Cixous describes
her own departure from Algeria. We too have left never to arrive. There
are worlds of possibility in that space of non-arrival. Adventure, innovation,
experiments with more fluid forms of being. Also loss, and nostalgia, and
tears not shed in the moment. Pain. And glory. Glorious pain, painful glory.
And ultimately, one would hope laughter without forgetting. Letting go,
leaving behind, but retaining-the memory, the experience, the emotions.
For getting without forgetting.