It's all a myth
By Asghar Massombagi
The much beleaguered Shahnameh of course was one of the cultural icons that the Pahlavis sought out in their nationalistic propaganda. And they weren't the only ones who saw in Ferdosi's Wagnerian (oops, Freudian slip) myth regeneration of a fertile ground for their nationalistic imagination. Intellectuals as varied as Hedayat, Chubak, and Akhavan Saales (especially his book Aakhar-e Shahnameh) associated anything corrupt, medieval and reactionary with Islam and Arabism, and sought a sort of pure untouched Iranian identity predating the invasion of Iran by the Arabs.
However as much as portions of Shahnameh may lend themselves to Farsi chauvinism, the idea of "we" not having forgiven Salm and Tur, but somehow seeing Alexander as a good conqueror doesn't quite work here. Alexander conquering Iran, in the larger context of Iran's history, was rather a passing affair and didn't really transform the country in any profound way. Arabs however brought Islam and stayed for several centuries. The Mongols and Turks ruled the land for hundreds of years and were deeply absorbed into the fabric of the Iranian society.
The fact is that any nation as traumatized and conquered as Iran has been in the past 2000 years by invaders from all directions will engender mythology to exert its existence.... GO TO FEATURE
Bergman and I
I had the pleasure of having a dinner with an Iranian artist in London last week. By all accounts, he's a living legend. I didn't have very much to say, preferring to listen and observe. When I spoke, I asked questions about other artists, mostly writers.
I was curious to hear his views on contemporary Iranian literature. I threw several big names at him. But he wasn't impressed. Then, as if to say there's some hope, he asked, "Have you read 'Hichkaak va aghaa baaji'?" Yes, I said, eyebrows raised... GO TO FEATURE
The chosen one
From Growing Anguish: Memoirs of a Persian princess from the haren to modernity, 1884-1914, edited by Abbas Amanat (Mage Publishers, Washington, DC, 1993). The book is the memoirs of Taj al-Saltana, one of Naser al-Din Shah's daughters.
One morning when I was in [my father's] presence and a number of ladies were standing nearby, several eunuchs came in carrying trays on their heads. When the covers were lifted from the trays, a large quantity of expensive toys and splendid precious jewelry presented itself to view. Everyone wondered what this was and for whom it was intended. After a lengthy silence, my father said, "Aziz [al-Sultan, Malijak]! These are yours. Give them to any girl you want."
The boy had been advised earlier to choose me as his betrothed. However, one of my half-sisters, who was about two years older than I, had also been made a candidate for marriage to 'Aziz. Her mother, having cajoled and threatened the boy's nanny, had won her over to her side and had made the servant promise that 'Aziz would choose her daughter. The boy had acquiesced in the plan.
As soon as my father had spoken, the boy picked up a ring and put it on my sister's finger, saying, "S-s-s-sir, I ch-ch-ch-choose th-th-this girl as my b-b-b-betrothed!" My father embraced him and said, "My dear 'Aziz! Your betrothed is this other girl, and it is my wish that you have her."... GO TO FEATURE
Delkash in London
By Baqer Moin
A pioneering Iranian actress and singer, Delkash, appeared in London's Queen Elizabeth Hall two weeks ago as part of a European tour which brought her back to the stage for the first time in almost twenty years.
Women have been banned from performing in public in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Delkash's current tour marks the first time she has sung in public since then. Now in her mid seventies, she is remembered for her energetic and dominant voice. (To hear Delkash songs click here.)
The very appearance of the diminutive, hunchbacked woman leaning on a stick provoked a standing ovation from her nostalgic admirers... GO TO FEATURE
Farewell cherry tree
By Ali Khalili
Sweeping through Iranian sites on the Internet I have yet to see one that tell the story of thousands of young Iranian boys, many barely teenagers and some even younger, who left Iran during the Iran-Iraq war for the less than friendly confines of Europe.
As a young, emotional and patriotic boy, it was a tough saying goodbye to my land. It was quite painful to say goodbye to all my soccer pals and my school mates. It was impossibly painful to say goodbye to my parents and relatives, wondering when , if ever, I would get a chance to see any of them again. As I said farewell to the cherry trees in our yard, the soccer field, my street, my house and all the people, tears came and went. I felt so horrible that throughout my flight, I had a headache that seemed to be blowing my head apart.
I entered Frankfurt airport where, in the past, I had visited as a little tourist. As I hopped on the train, I could only feel one thing: sheer pain and sadness and I wondered what I had done to deserve this, but soon I began to realize that my journey had only just begun. I was in a new world that would question my very existence and challenge me at every opportunity. I would no longer be the professor's son. And as I soon learned, I wasn't alone. There were many Iranian boys like me in Germany and across Europe... GO TO FEATURE
Photos by Mehdi Jami
Mehdi Jami is an author and journalist based in London. His photographs could have been taken almost anywhere in the world and we would still relate to them in a very basic way.
For those of us who have left Iran for London, Paris, Melbourne, Istanbul or New York, most often it is a boy's laughter, the surrounding nature or changing weather that bring back the strongest memories of home.... GO TO FEATURE
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