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Amou Manouchehr
No other name could have captured as neatly the expression of this man's essence

December 29, 2004

Fewer words in the Persian language convey so much than amou and khaleh. The first is a title that when is earned it embodies the familial with the familiar in one accessible sentiment. The latter is equally meaningful but with the additional significance -- as the refrain magar khaneh khaleh ast suggests -- nowhere on earth is as welcoming a place than khaleh's.

The late Manouchehr Marzban was the amou who kept khaleh's all the more inviting and enchanting.

With a half-expression of self-indulgent amusement and half-expression of disbelief ever radiating from his mild and attractive face, the man who passed on in his sleep a week ago wore that enigmatic smile all his life. It is impossible to remember him without it. No doubt, it was an integral part of his living the true meaning of his name -- Manouchehr -- which in the Persian of his ancestors and descendants still means 'face like the paradise' and no other name could have captured as neatly the expression of this man's essence.

His wit, generosity and regal bearing, his talents and strengths, stations in life and diplomatic assignments, his frailties and weaknesses are the stuff of biographers. What I choose to remember is the three times that I experienced his affirmation of my own sense of being.

"Last night," he wrote on one February 14, "we received the good news of your success and had a drink to your health." Some twenty years later, his missive still has a place among the pages of the working copy of my doctoral dissertation, like a pressed flower from a loving soul. He himself had received his doctorate before anyone else in the extended family and in fact he had been ahead of the curve in many regards.

By October 1998 he had shown the signs of aging -- his walking had slowed, as had his talking. Yet still quite alert by anyone's standards, he had shown the determination to arrive and quietly without notice assume a seat in the audience assembled at a meeting of the Iranian National Front, where I was to give my very first "grown up" presentation in Persian.

I scanned the assembly in search of familiar faces, to calm my nerves. In Yasi's eyes and Mac's always-reassuring smile I found some measure of solace, but nothing like when I spotted the unexpected presence of Manouchehr Marzban in the crowd. He gave a slight nod of his head with a lowering of his eyes in my direction. When the lecture was over, he left just a quietly as he had arrived, leaving me to bask in the afterglow of a presentation that he described to others -- khoub goft, hamash-ra goft, 'well said, all said.'

In July of this year, I saw him one last time. Confined to a wheelchair, advance of age showed no signs of retreat. Yet the enigmatic smile of Amou still lit up the face, room and my eyes. When on the prompting of my aunt he repeated my name in acknowledgement, I looked deep into his eyes, closed mine and planted a kiss on his forehead.

Then, as today, I could hear the echo of his chetor hasti pesar joun of the years past. I am fine, Amou Manouchehr.

Guive Mirfendereski practices law in Massachusetts (JD, Boston College Law School, 1988). His latest book is A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea: Treaties, Diaries, and Other Stories (New York and London: Palgrave 2001)

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