Summer with grandpa
I was ecstatic when one day he asked me
to accompany him to the coffeehouse
November 9, 2004
As a kid growing up in Iran, I spent most summers in two distinct
ways: going to the movies to watch the latest Hollywood or Italian
cinema creations and playing with my friends in summer
"tajdidi" school. But there was one special summer, when I was
sent to stay with my grandparents in Kermanshah, 590 km southwest
I loved being near my grandparents for they were both very kind
and loved me unconditionally. And unlike my mom, they refused to
criticize me for being a tajdidi -- one exam away from
failing my grade and staying a year behind.
My mom used to say, "I have a son who is a distinguished
naval officer, another son who is an architect, and a daughter
who is a doctor. But this country also needs amalehs to
do the dirty work; you fit that position well!"
My mom always managed to give a well-placed jab or two using
her sense of humor at anyone she had an issue with. For example,
when my older brother and his wife, Arefe got a divorce, my mom
began referring to her as Akele. And when my other sister
in law who used to own a frozen yogurt shop got into an argument
my mom, she immediately earned the title of "Zanike Maast
My poor brother-in-law who wore size-13 shoes did not escape
my mom's labeling either and became mardike paa ghondeh (Big
Foot) and eventually earned the title "ET" when for some obscure
reason, he applied
some henna on his feet.
Living with my grandfather was a different story altogether.
He was a very optimistic, happy and nonjudgmental man. Positive
energy and good will seemed to always radiate from him, and one
could not help feel happy and positive while being near him.
the same time, he was a great teacher of life lessons and his
unimposing nature made his lessons even more effective. Among
respect, humility and an appreciation for Persian culture was
something that my grandfather had taught to many.
During his younger days, he used to be a Pahlevan, a title
reserved for an athlete with great physical, moral and ethical
But that summer, he was well over 90-years old and his back had
been permanently stooped over at a 45-degree angle. Yet, he always
managed to go for long walks, visit friends and socialize on a
One place that he loved to go for socializing was
a Qahveh-khaaneh coffeehouse in his old neighborhood.
It was a place that I had heard about and longed for visiting,
to. After all, it was considered to be a Men's Club and kids
my age had no place there.
So, I was ecstatic when one day he finally asked me to accompany
him to the coffeehouse. I eagerly then put on my shoes and waited
impatiently for him by the door, while he slowly put his suit on,
picked up his cane, got his silver box of tobacco and rolling paper,
and then began looking all over for his prayer bids (tasbih).
taken care of, we were then off walking for an hour and a half
to get to his favorite coffeehouse. To date I am still amazed
at his stamina, being able to walk such a long distance back
without showing any discomfort and choosing not to take the bus
or get a cab.
Once we arrived, couple of dozens of customers got up and greeted
my grandfather one at a time, and paying their respects. It was
so cool to see my grandpa get so much attention and respect. I
remember that I was the only kid there, and that may have been
why I was the only one who was served a sugar cookie with my tea,
while everyone else got a water-pipe.
The place was a very beautiful and unique site. It was covered
wall to wall with Persian rugs and paintings of epic religious
and mythical heroes. Then there was the storyteller, or Naghal.
He was a man with a thick handle-bar moustache wearing a felt hat
on his head, a traditional wrap around robe and a sache sinched
around his waist with a jeweled dagger tucked underneath. Back
then and even to some extent now, the thicker a man's moustache
was, the more gallant and manly he was perceived, and to me this
Naghal seemed like a giant of a man.
The story that this Naghal was reciting on that day, was one
that I already had heard, but the Naghal's exaggerated moves
and tones along with the coffeehouse's folklore atmosphere
had easily intrigued my imagination and it was as if it was my
first time hearing this story.
That night, I experienced my first dinner theatre, but it only
cost a fraction of a price of what I pay nowadays. It was theatre;
story telling and dinner all at the same time and my grandpa also
got to see friends and smoke his water pipe while sitting on a
Persian rug and leaning on a pillow.
For centuries these coffeehouses, have served as a social gathering
place in the Persian culture where men assemble to drink tea, talk
about politics, listen to stories or music, and play backgammon.
But, on that day, it gave me my fondest memory of my grandfather
as well as an appreciation for our folklore heritage.
Next time I go to Iran for a visit, I am going to the old bazaar
where I know I may still find a traditional coffeehouse featuring
a Naghal, except this time, my grandfather won't be with
Shahrokh Nikfar's The Persian Hour is aired on KYRS FM 95.3 in
Spokane, Washington. The show is broadcasted live each Saturday
from 12:00 to 1:00 pm and you can catch it on the net at kyrs.org.
The program's goals are: to promote education and understanding
of Iranian culture and to provide diverse cultural entertainment.
This program will usually consist of Iranian music and poetry,
commentaries and story telling, interviews with people who have
lived in or visited Iran, and on occasion sharing of some favorite
recipes or introduction of a new book or a movie.