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For grandpa
The man I never got a chance to know

By Linda Ghassemi
October 9, 2002
The Irani

I was reading your article on Bahais [Heechee kam nadaaran], and couldn't help but dropping tears. Babism or Bahaism, whatever, has never been anything but a dark family secret for us. Most recently when my American cousin was asking about "grandpa's special religion", I told her out loud please not to mention it in front of other Iranians because they would look differently at us, if they found out.

Well my paternal grandfather was a Babi, or Babist! He was one of the most intellectual men of his time, a consistent freedom fighter, publisher, journalist and a prominent banker. And guess what? I am not going to mention his very dear name because my father and his siblings don't want to let anybody know of this dark secret.

I was born and raised in a totally atheist family, but am somehow a Muslim, of course by my own standards. It was a hard struggle, but I learnt that I should love my atheist parents and siblings for who they are and respect their ideas.

My father once talked about the Babi struggle, and their heroine Ghoratol Ain. My grandfather had even published a limited edition of Ghoratol Ain's biography, and was a very progressive man in terms of women's right and respectful to the educated woman. I owe it to him, I guess, for my father always pushed his girls and my mom hard to be independent.

My grandmother was a traditional Muslim and was never happy of her husband. I guess this pushed my father and his siblings to atheism. But to cut the story short, my father never had a great relationship with his father, and I never got to know him that well before his death.

Only when I came to the U.S, when my father and his brothers were talking, between the lines, I figured out that my grandpa was one of them -- a "madoom".

When I asked my father why he never told me about grandpa, he said "I never asked. Plus it wouldn't do any good to me or any of us in that situation in Iran. My father was a very good man, He was a kind of mystic. Babism was more of a movement of intellectuals, the men and women who believed in a better life and better society."

Right after the 1952 coup, my grandfather went to jail for publishing newsletters in favor of Dr. Mossadegh. Of course, the Pahlavi regime eventually let him go back to work as a high ranking banking official. But right after 1978, he was stripped of his right to work, travel, or do business.

Once one of my friends told me she was looking for a biography of Ghoratol Ain, and I brought a very old copy which was published by my grandfather. She was astonished how there are so few sources about the life of such a brave woman.

I remember her asking me if my grandfather was into Babism? And I remember, for a moment, I choked, and sighted angrily, "No!" He was attracted to Babism as a movement, not as a religion that much. At that time I didn't know anything about his religious beliefs. (He had already died)

But even the thought of having a Babi grandfather was scary. Why? Now that I think about it, didn't my grandfather have a right to choose? When I first found out, it was like the worst nightmare. I didn't even want to imagine having such a grandfather.

Now living in the U.S, I have became a receptive, open-minded gal. I haven't got no choice, should survive I guess. And I look back, at that day when I was horrified by my friend's suggestion that my grandfather may have been a Babi.

I look back at my father who tried to keep away from his father, partly to protect us. I look back and see my father, a man who did not talk much to us kids about grandpa, and a young boy who always had a secret that could have been fatal for his father.

I can't stop but shed a tear, and wonder, what if the world was a better place and we were more tolerant? Maybe I could have had more of a grandfather; my father had more of his father.

I look at my father's relatives and see a dysfunctional family. Three generations of us, struggling. My grandparents' fights, my confused and depressed father and his siblings, and the confusion and depression that exists among us grandchildren, all this shit for what? Nothing.

Three generations have suffered, just because grandfather wanted the people of his country to have a better life. Three generations of us suffered just because grandfather wanted women to be equal to men. None of my Iranian friends know about my grandfather. They will not like it if they hear it. Even my mom didn't say anything to her family, her mom would not let the son of kaafar step into her house.

But thanks for bringing it up, I will try to be more open about it, more understanding. I have to do it at least for the sake of myself. I owe it to my grandfather, the man I never got a chance to know.

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