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Requiem

Rising sun
At father's place of eternal rest

May 5, 2004
iranian.com

Ahmad Mirfendereski, who died in France at the age of 86 Sunday, was Iran's last foreign minister before the fall of the monarchy in 1979 [BBC news]. His son, Dr. Guive Mirfendereski, is a frequent contributor to iranian.com. He dedicated this piece to the memory of his father. Also see the late Mirfendereski's thoughts on diplomacy here.

The spring-time memory of my fifth grade in our neighborhood school in Golhak is a collage of enduring images of pain and pleasure. The pleasure, as little of it there was, included a sense of inevitable ascendancy to the top of the school's pecking order, a mere summer vacation away from becoming a sixth grader. The pain was pervasive. Corporal punishment was issued with religious fervor, and the religion itself was honored when the school marked the end of the principal's triumphant return from pilgrimage by slaughtering a lamb at the gates of the house of knowledge.

In the fifth grade, the assault on the senses was one thing, the violence to the mind was something else, and much of both were administered by the school disciplinarian who was also our calligraphy and composition teacher. Often he would sit on the edge of the desk, with his feet freely dangling, with his head bowed attentively over his large manipulative hands, skillfully sharpening and styling with his penknife our reed-pens needed for the next assignment. While we busied reading quietly, he would murmur his anti-regime opinions, leaving tears in one's perceived order of things, as one knew it.

In the fifth grade, we also learned from him the use of composition as a method of torture. The writing of essays and then reading them out-loud in front of the class were despised; it all became even more excruciating when the disciplinarian would assign a difficult topic. Neither then nor since has any subject stirred my emotions more than the day we were instructed to write an essay entitled "At Father's Place of Eternal Rest" (bar sar'e mazaar'e pedar).

To have written about death was hard, to have written about the death of a parent was even harder, and to have written about the death of a living parent was torture. Yet for some reason, I believe that from that singular experience has come my eventual love for good writing. I did have a point of departure.

My paternal grandmother had died in the late spring of 1962, when I was in the third grade. On the day of her passing, when father arrived from the city, I asked about Goudar's health and he paused for the longest time and eventually wrapped his arm around my shoulder and escorted me into the veranda, overlooking a modest patch which passed for a flower-garden.
Father sat in his usual spot and placed me on his lap.

As I slung my arm around his neck, he began a soft declamation about life and death in reference to the seasonal cycle of the nearby flowers. "Today," he said, "Goudar's autumn arrived and the bloom is no more." I cried hysterically, most of all because I had not gotten to thank her for the bicycle that she had bought for me just recently. I did not know then that I would work father's flower-garden speech into a composition two years later, or to revisit the topic forty years later to the season.

Last Sunday, around the noon hour, I summoned my family to the edge of the flower-bed in our backyard to give the news of father's passing. With his thirteen-year old grandson seated on my left in his own chair, I concluded my remarks on the botany of life by saying, "Son, a few hours ago, Papa's autumn arrived and the bloom is no more." From Jonah Javad's quivering lips moist with his quiet tears I heard him say, "I will miss playing basketball with him." The sound of the ringing of the bells at a nearby church added to the solemnity of the moment. [News]

Soltan-Ahmad Mirfendereski (1918-2004) considered organized religion as the root of all evil in life; he believed the place of public worship in any religion is devil's own workshop and that God, if truly as omnipotent as he is, requires none to do his work but the individual who shall cultivate his own heart. He believed in the existence of a supreme being and had experienced enough in life to be respectful of the power that evil can wield over unsuspecting souls. He was keenly aware of one's place in the struggle between good and evil, and as a night-owl he often experienced the existential meaning of it all with a setting of the sun and yet again with the rising of the sun. He considered punctuality and moral clarity as the two pillars of his personal faith; to the end he remained on time and unapologetic.

On occasion he had stated to those near to him that, on his passing, he be rendered into ash and his ashes be committed to the currents that churn over the Seine. To oblige his wishes, his will shall be done, as wrong as it may appear. As a seyyed and descendant of the House of Imam Musa Kazem, he should have prescribed a mode of disposition for his corporal remains different from what is usually reserved by our national religious traditions for the unfaithful, unclean and refuse. To dispose of the ashes over a river, where the city sewer empties, would be a double insult to the memory of his ancestors. Yet, in many ways, father's bucking of the establishment is all too familial. For example, his ancestor, Hakim Abol-Qasem Mir'e Fendereski, the sixteenth century sufi and mystic of the Persian and Indian courts had refused adamantly to go to hajj because he did not wish to be a part of any ritual that required the slaying of a living thing.

When father's ashes scatter at Pont Mirabeau, the wind shall halt for a moment as it gasps to inhale his dusty remains. May what was good in him repose in the living. I, a veritable pedar sukteh, for one, shall not miss him, for in my garden that flower knows no autumn. [See excerpt on diplomacy by Ahmad Mirfendereski]

Author
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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