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Reza Bozorgi in the 1940s.

The birdman of

By J. Javid
July 1997
The Iranian

The old man did not look well but he did his very best to hold a smile. He was the only inviting person among all the strangers at Istanbul airport waiting to board a plane to Tehran. He looked as if he wanted to talk -- get something off his chest, especially when I told him I was a journalist. He opened a couple of buttons on his shirt and showed me the scars of a recent heart operation. "There isn't much time left."

He introduced himself as Reza Bozorgi. He used to be a drummer in a jazz band back in the 1950s and 60s. I'd never heard of it but was curious to hear his story. What did a 71-year-old former musician have to say 16 years after a revolution that had no taste for his kind of music? I got his phone number and promised to call him to arrange a meeting at his house in Boumehen, about an hour's drive east of Tehran.

After revisiting an army of friends and relatives in Tehran, I was ready for a break. My 12-year-old daughter Mahdiyeh and I woke up early in the morning and hired a taxi for a trip to Shomal. I told the driver we wanted to make a short stop in Boumehen. The old man's house was not difficult to find over the short bridge, off the main Haraz road to Shomal, on a narrow downhill alley.

The sun was up but just barely. The bright blue iron gate opened and Reza Bozorgi welcomed us in his pajamas. On the right of the wide walkway was a mustard-colored building with high ceilings and cracked walls. On the left, a pigeon house -- a large pigeon house with at least 50 pigeons. And in front, an open space with a crumbling concrete floor surrounded by patches of green and a few trees. We sat outside. Mahdiyeh went off to look at the pigeons.

"This place used to be Man-o-To (Me and You) Restaurant," Bozorgi said. "I started it in 1963. We had the best food. Our customers came all the way from Tehran and other cities. They would catch qezelala (trout) with nets from Siah Rud river and barbecue it right here. Look at it now."

"What happened?"

"After the revolution, it was fire-bombed by a mob. They said I was running a house of corruption."

"What do you do now?"

"I sell pigeons and flowers," Bozorgi said. He went inside the cage and pointed at some of his favorite birds.

"What about your band?"

"My band? You want to know about my band?" Bozorgi got out of the cage. "Wait here," he said and went inside the building.

Mahdiyeh was already bored with the pigeons. She didn't know why we were there and wanted us to get back in the taxi, continue driving north, and jump into the Caspian Sea as soon as possible. "He's an interesting man. He used to be a famous musician," I said. Mahdiyeh was skeptical. She thought I was wasting my time, and hers, like so many other times when she had come along to my "boring" meetings. She only came because she had not seen me for a year.

Bozorgi came out holding photo albums and a plastic bag full of old pictures.

"We called ourselves the Golden Band," he said. With each picture, his face opened up more and more. "We played jazz. We toured with popular singers like Vigen, Iraj and Jamal Vafaie, Parivash, Nourbakhsh and Roohangiz. Vigen sang his famous 'Baroon Baroon-e' (It's raining, raining) for the first time with our band. We played in Cafe Astara and Cafe Jahan in Tajrish, and also at Moonlight Park on Pahlavi Ave which belonged to Delkash. Here I am with Arham Sadr when he had just become a famous theatrical comedy actor. Because of my band, I used to meet a lot of people in high positions, even members of the royal family. I used to be a ski instructor for the Shah and his sister. "

These pictures were taken in Iran? I thought. The Iran of 1995 looked like that in 1955? Why were people acting like that back then and like this today? What's the cause of these wild social, cultural and political swings? Are there going to be more sharp turns before I leave this world? There were no answers forthcoming, only more pictures and more questions.

Bozorgi lent me some of the photos for an article and asked that they be returned to his son, who works as a helicopter pilot for an oil company in the U.S. As I was leaving, Bozorgi put his hand on my shoulder and said: "Build your country."

Mahdiyeh was already back in the taxi, waiting.


* Jahanshah Javid's index of articles

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