Peanuts and pistachios
Another Iranian-American woman; another book
April 2, 2005
Iranian-American women’s memoir is fast becoming a genre
of its own. Marjan
Mirabdolbaghi’s Peanuts and Pistachios is its latest offering.
Our plane touched town and my mother shed a tear. We were in
America now and things would never be the same. I looked at my
father, his moustache proud if slightly fatigued by our journey,
carrying the aspirations of a generation.
We had left behind us pistachio nuts and sour green tomatoes
which had chiselled an indelible sense of the Persian into our
psyche, like the ancient inscriptions at Takht-e-Jamshid. Here
we now were, in the arms of a new land we would soon call home,
where pistachios would be overpriced and, on airplanes, unavailable -- at
least, that is on TWA flights from London such as the one we were
on to LA.
Somewhere over Greenland my mother choked on a chilli-flavored
peanut served by the cabin crew. My father administered the customary
“Stop that ahmagh!” she spluttered.
It failed to dislodge the peanut. Mom’s eyes turned red
and swollen. There was me thinking her first silent tear had been
one of sadness and uncertainty.
“Is she okay?” a cabin attendant asked. Her tone
belied a suspicion that my mother’s distress had been caused
not by a peanut but Islamic fervor. Had my mother been wearing
a chador, I might have understood her disdain. But she was not.
Iranians were not the first to come to America carrying hopes
for a better life. But we were surely the best dressed.
My father, a distinguished physician was reduced to shouting “Toff
kon zan” -- spit woman, spit! Mom, who never argued
with my dad on medical issues, ejected a missile that landed in
the book the woman in front was reading. I peered over. It was
Nabokov’s Lolita. My adventure with English literature began.
Ali-Reza Mirabdolbaghi, my father, was born into a family of
liberal clerics in Shiraz in 1933. His father, Hossein Mirabdolbaghi,
was a prominent seminarian. In those days, before Khomeini came
to power, being a mullah was considered cool, anti-establishment,
even punk. My grandfather led Friday prayers while playing blues
harmonica and guitar. He could also play our national anthem using
spoons. His reputation had endeared him to Reza Shah’s authorities,
fusing as he did the traditional with the western.
This act of cultural negotiation Iranians continue to this day.
Each of us plays our own instrument, some harmonica, some the daf.
It took a projectile peanut to make me realise that mine was words.