The obsession with a mouse
The world seems to know plenty about the Persian cat, but what about the Persian mouse?
May 25, 2006
Ask any mouse and he may tell you he would willingly give his right ear -- or both -- to be an American citizen.
America is indeed the land of opportunity, look how fast it spotted the entrepreneur in the little creature we dismissed as a worthless rodent. An inferior species to the rest of the world, no sooner had he obtained his green card than did he begin to earn enough fame and fortune to create jobs for millions of people. Before the ink on his naturalization documents had dried, he abbreviated his name to Mickey, thus making it easy to remember, found a wife -- making sure she went no further than her “first lady” position -- and proceeded to build his own kingdom. Castles were built, parades were organized to glorify His Rodentship and soon, people from around the world came for their holy pilgrimage. Preposterous? Tell that to the average guy who pays good money to wear those ridiculous ears on his head just to prove that he’s been there.
Now let us take a look at what becomes of the same mouse that may be stuck in, let’s say, Iran. The world seems to know plenty about the Persian cat, but what about the Persian mouse? Let’s assume that the mouse has managed to survive the many cats in the neighborhood and has bypassed the traps set by people as well; are we giving the little fellow the respect he deserves? Of course we are, but like everything else, we do this the Persian way, which means he shall survive, but would never amount to much. But here is the ironic truth, regardless of all the abuse, and despite the fact that he is not considered worthy of any rights, he remains extremely proud of his heritage.
For a nation that for twenty-five centuries has boasted about an empire of cats, a fascination with a renowned “cat food” would seem uncharacteristic. When it comes to mice -- and indeed on most issues -- Persians tend to divide into opposite groups, though neither group is willing to give the little crushable thing any “mighty” power. Bear in mind that to a Persian such terms as middle ground, gray zone, or even halfway are meaningless. We are a nation of extremes: we either hate or love, support or oppose and all the colors of the rainbow ultimately fall into either black or white. While some of us may see the mouse as a symbol of destruction and sabotage, there are those who consider it rather cute if not adorable.
Our acquaintance with this tiny character, both its grandeur and abjectness, begins in childhood when an aunt gives our cheek a pinch and says, “May the mouse eat you!” Only a Persian would know there is no malice intended and that it is rather a term of endearment. And, so it is that Khaleh-joon can plant the seed of a new fear -- of pinching -- in one child while her silly comment to imply cuteness may boost another’s ego, thus breaking the ground for division.
Next comes the story of Agha Moosheh, Mr. Mouse, to helps us gain new respect for the creature, especially at the climax of the story when he proposes to Khaleh Sooskeh and is faced with the infamous question. “If I should marry you,” the lovely cricket inquires before making a decision, “What will you use to beat me with?” (Which mind you, is a natural concern if you happen to be an Iranian woman.) The response offered by the gentleman mouse has melted many a heart over the hundreds of years since the story has been told. “With this soft and fuzzy tail of mine!” he says, a promise that ultimately wins the lady cricket’s heart and leads to their marriage.
Let’s not even get started on the discussion of what the right answer would have been or that he should never think about such a despicable act. A storyteller knows her limits and tries to make the characters believable. Our Agha Moosheh is an honest Persian man and obviously no politician and therefore he speaks only the truth. The mere familiarity with the character of Mr. Mouse is enough for any Iranian child to develop respect, even affection, for the little gentleman. However, over the years there comes a day when Mom finds a mouse under her bed and the horror makes her climb to top of the dresser, screaming bloody murder. Now the child is confused as to the identity of the affectionate creature that up to now was set to redeem the Iranian man’s reputation. While everyone rushes about, calls for help or attacks the enemy with a frying pan, the child’s mind begins to give way to split personality.
Stuck between a loving grandmother calling us, “Moosh-moosheh” and an angry teacher’s insult of moosh mordeh, we don’t give mouse the chance it deserves and the poor creature ends in a mouse trap long before he has built himself anything remotely resembling a kingdom. Once in a blue moon, an occasional Persian mouse manages to gather reasonable wealth, but we ridicule him for penny-pinching and make an example of his lifestyle, “That man is like a mouse constantly counting his gold coins -- ashrafis!”
Persian language is rich for its proverbs and numerous treasures of poetry. Proverbs such as: “The mouse wouldn’t fit into the hole, so he fastened a broom to his tale,” are used in daily conversations. (This particular example applies to anyone who attempts a hard task in a way that makes it even harder.) When I was a child, every time I walked in on a grownup conversation, somebody mentioned the mice that lived in our walls. Before I knew it, I had developed a horrible vision of armies of mice living around me. It wasn’t until years later when I heard its equivalent, “Walls have ears,” that I understood the meaning. Even Persian literature and poetry is not mouse-proof for we have a masterpiece by Obeyd Zakani, The tale of Mouse and Cat. This humorous saga, written entirely in verse, is perhaps the best of its kind to depict the Iranian society and its religious values with a touch of political ridicule at a time when censorship prevailed.
But enough about the unfortunate Iranian mouse for the world seems to have lost interest in him while all eyes are on yet another American hero. As if citizen mouse had not achieved enough, they had to invent another mouse and glorify his robotic power over man’s destiny. Today, not only is it hard to communicate without a mouse in command, but sometimes his absence makes it impossible to function.
Let the French and the Swiss proceed to ridicule us, we know for a fact that their mere lives depend on a simple click of the American mouse. As for the Persian, unfortunately there’s little hope and it looks as if this time it’s the mouse that plans to get the cat!
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance
writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e
Gham" (see excerpt).
Visit her site ZoesWordGarden.com