Diaries & Jallad

A novel: Chapters 11 and 12


Diaries & Jallad
by Kaveh Afrasiabi

CHAPTERS: (1,2,3) (4,5) (6,7) (8,9,10) (11,12) (13.14)


In the morning, K. woke up to the warmth of pleasant sunshine; a few minutes chat with his mother (who was resting her back on the living room sofa with a book of prayer, mafatih-ol jenah, to her side and sounded ill), and then after a lonely breakfast, consisting of tea, bread and cheese, he showered for about ten minutes, far less than usual. It was a small part of his new design for life to which he had woken up: to listen to the serpent-like, discordant, shriveling voices of the anti-writing self in him for once and do something different, at least for a day or two; rejected the notion of even a small indulgence by writing a postcard to his sister in Europe; was prepared for more powerful tests in the near future, tests that would agitate his determination to restore whatever equilibrium he had lost in life. He lay down on the bed naked and stared at the ceiling, breathing deeply. The time passed. His calm had stayed even. With the idea of strolling in the streets and enjoying the sun, he moved his body out of the bed, put on a white shirt and a gray pants, clean black socks and then his brown shining shoes; gave up on the left shoe's lace the moment his eyes contacted the scar on his wrist; as usual, ignored the skin throb around it. Several minutes later, after milking a few bills from his mother, who as usual exploited the moment to bemoan about his enigmatic, purposeless life upstairs, he was out in the street.

A private taxi he took dropped him off in front of the National Library, ketabkhaneh-e melli, and K. was pacing the concrete stairs leading to the glass door when a voice calling his name stopped him, turned around and saw Ibrahim's co-worker whose named had slipped his memory much to his embarrassment. After a handshake and the exchange of niceties, the man, older and taller than he and with thick prescription glasses lowered above his puffy nose, informed him that Ibrahim had no longer worked there since three months ago, and that he was now employed as a librarian at Khalili's private library. "Lucky him," said the man, "that 's a beautiful library." K. immediately agreed; he had once been to that gorgeous library where some of the finest and oldest handwritten collections of poetry books were kept in air conditioned rooms decorated with chandeliers and plush rugs; envied his friend and wondered why he had been kept in dark about this big development in his life, instantly decided that Ibrahim wanted to pocket all the good books for himself.

After a farewell handshake, K. walked to the small garden behind the library and sat on a bench next to an unshaved student devouring a book; closed his eyes and enjoyed the sun, opened them again after a long time and pondered what the impassive young man, still reading — Suhrwardi's Philosophy of Illumination, he noticed — was experiencing, and then reflected on his own experiences of reading his own works or other people's works. Each experience with reading was a discovery, a recognition. Accepting the mystery of the unknowable element, he had learnt through reading to accept individual differences, varying viewpoints, and to penetrate beyond differences into depths where the roots of human life has its beginning: love of words, a self-redeeming and self-transforming love. The young man, now distracted by K.'s unending stare, closed his book, got up and left. "We must annihilate all unlawful stares," K. murmured, feeling guilty, distracted himself with the sight of a large colorful butterfly suntanning on a branch leaf. The divine was presented to him by that butterfly, a microcosmic externalization of a macrocosmic conception. "Whenever their skins scorch, once more give them new skins," he whispered the Quranic verse. Like the butterfly, the time was ripe for him to shed the old skin and create a new layer, for one thing to socialize and make friends instead of living the life of a permanent hermit all the time. First he had to anchor himself and land a job that could give him a sense of social being, knowing that it was difficult to form a friendship when one does not have a being. What would Ibrahim think of all this?

Preoccupied with this question, K. exited the garden to the busy street and walked aimlessly toward the telephone exchange building on the other side of the Zand Street, now remembering the content of his conversation with Ibrahim the last time he had succumbed to his anti-writing tendency. Ibrahim had replied to K. that the main fact that he had had this trouble before and that it had been cured should be a reason for confidence. Inspired by his wise friend's timely counsel, in the course of waiting for the red light and passing the intersection, K.'s mind had not only reconciled with the notion of writing again, but had also created the outline of how to proceed in his novel: making a minor leap toward the grotesque with a vivid description of Moluk's murder of Ismaeel. Uncomfortable as he was at turning his princess into a murderer, he felt little sympathy for her victim; entered the building and told the woman sitting in the booth behind the glass that he wanted to place a long distance call. "Where to?" She asked. "To the past," he replied, "a very near and yet so far away past." Startled, the woman directed him to go and make his call from a hospital. "I can't make the call here?" "No." "We are almost in the year 2000. When are we going to catch the wind of progress? When?"

Outside the building, K. bought a candy from a vendor and ate it, crossed the street and proceeded toward the new Koorosh shopping center in the middle of Darius Street; half way down, he stopped at a Kebabi for a bite to eat, took refuge from the noisy surrounding by revisiting the memory of his heated debate with Ibrhaim when attending a post-rehearsal meeting of his friend's theater group; excited about his directorial debut, Ibrahim had taken K. to task on the question of whether or not the lead heroine of the play, Gorky's Mother, should wear veil, chador, on stage? His eyes glued to the dexterous hands of the kebabmaker turning the skewers of kebabs and tomatoes on the hot grill, all K. could see now were the passionate facial expressions of Ibrahim in the course of their debate, which had been prompted by the innocent remark of one of the actors that Mother is a Russian play and they don't wear veil in Russia. Ibrahim had been somewhat disappointed that K. was not on his side.

Ibrahim: I understand that. But they do in Iran. What do you think?

K.: I agree with him.

Ibrahim: Really?! (After some hesitation) Look. I 'm not personally crazy about attacking the play with a new symbolism but the times call for it.

K.: You said it. Attack. You 'll destroy its unitary style if the mother suddenly shows up with a veil on.

Ibrahim: Precisely. It will jolt the audience. Think of it. The veil is just a symbol, it makes the play ready for a new signification, relieves it of its fat, incomplete images, fills an absence.

K.: What absence?

Ibrahim: The mediation, the temporal image of the conflict between classes, the gap, the distance between that struggle in Russia at the turn of the century and our present day struggle.

K.: But that's where you 're mistaken. The Mother already has a temporal, rather epochal, image of the conflict, what you leftists call the universal conflict between labor and capital.

Ibrahim: I agree. But the form must not outdistance the meaning. I read in London Times that they were playing Hamlet in London with soldiers with uniforms and machine guns.

K.: Well, that 's very stupid. Just because they do it in London doesn't make it right.

Ibrahim: That's not my point and let's not get side tracked. I happen to agree with them, that's all. Imagine that, the Mother in veil. We can make the thing into a definite ethnic product. The audience deciphers the messages better, understands the distortions — of money and power. Besides, a good play is not one that simply pleases the audience; it is one that provokes the suspicion of its authenticity.

K.: But you exaggerate the significance. It's only a token symbol.

Ibrahim: Then don't disagree with me.

K.: But I disagree on a principled basis. For one thing you risk the equilibrium of the play by the arbitrariness of its signs. You 're just exploiting the open-structure, the transhistorical content of the play. But you don't get it that the form you 're putting on trial is not expected to express reality, only to signify it.

Ibrahim: Doesn't God love the cheerful allegorists. Of course. But what you don't understand is that we can and should enrich the ideological substance in the play's realism. By having Zahra wear a veil, all we 'd be doing is to reconstruct it with supplementary ornaments which demystify it and make it manifest to the average, semi-literate audience.

K.: Demystify it? On the contrary, it is nothing short of a voluntary acceptance of an artificial myth. Style then becomes degraded into a mode of representation — which is what this play is not about. It will simply cloud the play, decreases its abstractness, forges artificial link between form and content. Your new signification then becomes a parasite of the reality, like Brechtian dramaturgy.

Theater becomes the opium of downtrodden masses whenever it informs them of the path to salvation — that's why the best playwrights keep their most provocative ideas to themselves, don't you see. They know the inherent evil in theater, that the power of a play constitutes its greatest vice.

Ibrahim: I know what you want to say next, that I am too embedded in my neo-Carthesian universe. But damn it, there 's still a revolution going on out there. That's why we are doing Mother instead of Waiting for Gudot right now, and presenting it in Behdasht stadium as well as the high brow university. I hate to say it, but we must do what we can to inject new awareness in it even if we have to violate our a priori standards.

K.: And even if we have to impoverish the work of art itself?

Ibrahim: There you see. You yourself said it's just a token symbol and now accuse me of this?

K.: Yes. And I say both, even if only to clarify ourselves about the larger issues.

Ibrahim: For God's sake, think about the audience too for a moment — the rural worker who has just arrived in the city, and the play's message which must be mediated to him with the pure simplicity of a mathematical formula. This alteration is, so to speak, at once natural and arbitrary. It can make the play more relevant to the present zeitgeist, don't you agree? Its point of departure constitutes the arrival of a new meaning which...

K.: (interrupting) Which distorts its system of metaphors, deforms its original meaning while adding one to it, [it] alienates it. Then the theater, in modifying the audience's consciousness provokes its own identity crisis, turns itself upside down by becoming a sounding board for something external to it, to politics. And worse, it even loses the legitimacy and authenticity of its own language.

Ibrahim: What do you mean?

K.: I mean, theatrical language is never a finished language. By putting the mother under veil, you turn her into a speaking corpse, typifying it and, in terms of what 's going on now adays and the audience you care so much about, you 'll deepen the moral crisis of the ordinary audience, envelope him deeper into the mess he 's already in, all in the name of CLASS STRUGGLE, and without first clarifying who we are and who the opponent is. Pure mathematical formula! I can't believe you said that.

Ibrahim: Well, that was a lousy analogy. But then again, even if I agree with you, our hands are tied because Zahra flatly refuses to act on stage without a veil.

"You want some tea, chai?" Asked the boy carrying a loaded tea tray with his chubby hands. K. nodded negatively, stood and left the kebabi after paying. Less than half an hour later, while ascending the electric escalator in the new civic center, his eyes caught the sight of the typewriters in the bottom floor's electronics department, immediately took the down escalator and went straight to that section, browsed in the typewriter aisle for several minutes, inspecting and studying all the three different brands on display and then, when a salesman showed up next to him, asked several pertinent questions about their price, options and comparative guarantees; dampened the salesman's mood, who may have been thrilled by the prospect of more commission through him, with an abrupt, implicitly malicious, "merci, but all I need is a ribbon really."

An hour or so later, K. was back home, empty pocketed, carrying a bag full of items for Cyrus Khan's humble gift, which he relocated from Fakhri's room to his, but not before pausing a few minutes on her latest writing still-born on the typewriter:

When I listen to your murmurs like a pulpit

Angels from without address me, "Welcome, welcome."

If that radiance of joy invades my window

I will rent it my soul so that it can enter.

First I was killed by love

And as a friend who reciprocates, it lent me its soul.

Love cut off my ear: "Believe in me."

I said, "Is not your grace beyond me?"

Love and suffering are two hats

Bought by lovers in feelings' bazaar.

Waiting for love to arrive, I am sleepless and with watery

Eyes; my heart is inflated with its desire,

And my stricken soul is chatting with God.

I am like the thief who robbed his neighbors at night

And when in the morning he counted his spoils

Discovered his pearl stone stolen!

O Love, you cook no more ferment

Do not fry my feelings on a cold grill

Love silent is written in no human language

That rants about its accomplishments.

Love is love, and not to be burdened by definitions

But creamated feelings in hot and cold furnaces.

Whatever is born in Spring yields in Summer

The rose gardener of Love keeps all seasons.

It's a sunlight in the dark

And its name is LOVE.

"Incomprehensible," uttered K., left the paper on Fakhri's dresser and then exited the room with the typewriter in his arms.

Sitting on the edge of his bed, K. unloaded the result of his shopping spree: a ribbon, a spray, a package of typing papers, and the standard "Do IT Yourself" color kit. Without a moment's delay, he proceeded to work on the floor, first replaced the old ribbon with the new one and then plugged it in and typed a couple of words after inserting a paper; was immensely happy that the salesman had given him the right ribbon: the typed letters, though still small, looked incomparably better now; threw away the paper, turned off the switch and then spray polished the whole typewriter with the help of some cleanex and then unloaded the kit, the brush and the rest, in front of the typewriter and, after trying the colors on a paper and a momentary pause on his color preferences, decided in favor of red, blue and green; started with the top cover, used a book as a ruler and drew a big, blue "T" in the middle, then moved on to the keys, painting each row with a different color and, once he was done with that, painted the front and sides of the typewriter, now mixing colors like a professional artist oblivious to anything untapped by spontaneity. A few minutes later, admiring his hallucinatory artwork, K. pressed the English switch and spontaneously typed, "I salute you for your toil and tallies, your heavenly tips and demonic tinckerings. Mrs. T."


For an hour or so K., his hands readied above the keys of the typewriter, meditated; his imagination was not disposed to gratify him; he did not grow vexed; he was calm, too calm, a pure moment of Olympian calm; his ever-vigilant ears, quick and fine, registered the noises — the banging of the entrance door as it opened and slammed shut twice, the faint sound of an airplane, the branch against the window, the prowling of two cats on the roof, and the crow-like wailing of a car; he withdrew his tired hands and tucked them under his arms, closed his eyes and roamed in the darkness within, with the beginning of that darkness was able to open his inner eyes to a brightness surrounding him in a sea of darkness, like a lifeboat removing him from the eye of a storm, endowing him with a vision to see a new world of light in the heart of darkness, a darkness releasing a new touch of reality that came deeply from within his own body, but it came as a power and life far beyond him, an actualization of an energy that was thoroughly transhuman and therefore a distant presence that was removed from him and was banishing him from its universe while, simultaneously, using his body as its flood gate; and, yet, his inferiorization and peripheralization came from within by an energy and grace which was definitely his own; even though elusive of his consciousness, this energy was quietly investing in his body a new awareness of light and darkness as if he had never before reflected on the cosmos and its minor functionaries.

"So it was not you who sent me here, but I!" K. murmured, "Now I shall see only darkness, which illuminates knowledge. I pray you, even soul, offspring of lightness and darkness, to let the ascent be clear, and I go up among the ghosts, on those realms of silence that poets living fear, eternal darkness, let my mind see well." Returning from the exodus to the interior depths of meditation, K.'s disengagement from the ghost house within was prompted by the fullness and ubiquity of physical presence coming to him in the form of a stream of clicky noises — from the typewriter; he opened his eyes and was pleasantly surprised by the sight of the paragraph that read:

"I met the old woman at sahib zaman kebabi. I was lured inside by the delicious smoke that oozed, snake-like, out of the restaurant's half-open window. It was a full house; twenty or so customers had occupied all seats; some were eating, some were smoking through the long hoses of their water pipes, ghalayan, and at a corner, below a portrait of Imam Ali, beside the tall, brewing samovar, an old woman, dressed in an elegant black dress, was reading the palm of a young peasant. She was telling him all about felix culpa (1): You have sinned because you exist, because you know that you exist, and, above all, because you are glad of this existence and this knowledge and the knowledge that nothing purifies that illuminates. This is your sin."

K. feebly hailed the outcome; it did not take him long to surmise the significance of what he had unwittingly typed just now, transcendental ideality traversing the Great Barrier, conscious writing; this self non-consciousness could not be anything other than his essence itself — recited first Homer, "Blind we walk, till the unseen flame has trapped our footsteps," and then the Gospel, "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slave, entrusted his property to him." As his hands drew forward on the typewriter, he remembered one critic who had declared that he reflected and wrote like an author with no antecedents, literary or social, but who desperately needed a miracle in his writings. "No, that is a pure lie," he uttered, "miracle is an event that breaks in the order of man." His fingers descended on the keys with curious readiness; he was henceforth careful not to cause any typos; typed very slowly, too slow for the stream of thought that flowed from his finger tips; still, it was a delicate stream of pleasure, for he was certain the new story he was about to create was exclusively concerned with living joy.

"I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter. No more of that bleeding-heart aristocratic stuff any more. Just life as is, and nothing more," he solemnly declared. The rule of happiness in this house had been transgressed too long; it irked him to know that the immense roar of laughter had rarely if ever been heard though his writings, that he had been an innocent accomplice of a pervasive seriousness, that he had taken this seriousness one step further by his unsentimental compassion for abstract suffering, suddenly asked himself, "who is this person I consider myself to be? Where did I come from?" He was no longer in pawn for what he had written, now less inclined toward the archangel of darkness, saw himself as a wall open to all eclectic colors, providing only negative answers to the all-consuming enticement of lightlessness; typed again for a few minutes, his head drunk with passion, his mind guided by the angelic power whose pastime it was to trample on demonic forces of pain and suffering; stopped typing and read:

"There is but one seemingly serious philosophical problem after death. Judging whether life was worth fighting for amounts to assuming the only question of philosophy.

Did I deserve to perish? In the middle of my journey to hell, I find myself asking this dark question, for I have lost the right to live without my consent. A life-time of general disequilibrium behind me, I now chat with myself somewhat stiffly over the meanings of my life. Pondering this has been a demanding struggle, a major mental ordeal, and I am already feeling in my mind a sensation close to actual pain, as if a bullet has hit me in the head and narrowly missed my brain. What else am I to do? Freed from the hassle of every day life, I am still in the grip of making sense of my life; it haunts me with a breath of pause, crowding the space of my memories completely; in the vortex of severest remembrances my head is gloomingly spinning countless sluggish ideas. It is all so new and ironic to me that I still have not felt the 'wind of the wing of madness' yet. Not even in death am I liberated from the burden of self-control and mimesis. I truly pity myself.

Voices, faint, hazy, and spasmodic travel to my ears: you are condemned and abandoned, condemned and abondened.zzzzzzz.

No more voices please. No more sounds. In silence I will never live again. There is no escape from this smothering confinement, none whatsoever. None. Except that I must oblige death's grudging favor of letting my write again.

I have just been given a stack of papers and a black ball pen. I have been staring at them for...I don't know how long. Maybe weeks or even years. I simply have no conception of time. All I remember is that it has been a long time of staring at them at my feet. Half-raising my head, I feel that my resistance is in the process of meltdown, a semblance of clarity is returning to me. I bend down and pick up the pen and hold it close to my face and study its shape. You see, I have a writer's illness of being very fussy about what I write with. An ugly pen used to incapacitate my ability to write. A nice pen, which could be cheap but worked well with me, often helped me sneak in the trance of supreme comfort while I was writing.

I am tempted to use hell as an excellent sanctuary where peace can return to mind. All I have to do is to begin to write again, maybe then the catharsis of grief, and the stigma of Ali's death, would leave me. How nice that I no longer have the violent fluctuations of mood I experienced when I first got here. As inconsolable as Babylonish captives, I am nonetheless slowly but surely getting used to here, the pre-hell grand station where the hell-bound inmates such as me are "processed."

With a spasm of fierce disgust K. sank into gloom; that atrocious writing was surely not the happy force he was striving in hot fury to liberate from the furnace of language; moved his fingers again and, after they had ceased action, read:

"I can write. My God, I can write again. From wilderness to wilderness, always on the frontier.

Say no more.

A shot was fired, a scream, and then dead silence at the beachfront cottage, kolbeh. It was past 3 AM, a cool Summer night, perfect for the occasion, a cool execution, jalladi, aimed at preventing even a moment's break for the calamitous potential nested within that man's skull.

It happened that I was busy with another duty nearby, with a young surfer who was struggling against attack sharks, when, suddenly, I heard him cursing me and breaking his vow of never returning to that wormy business of writing. Succumbing to his dark side, he had picked up the pen and papers and by the first stroke of his fingers conjured me to his quarter, perhaps betting with himself that I would never show up to meet the challenge. Yet, my only challenge was to save the surfer from the artificial jaws while, simultaneously, summoning the old rebel to my chamber with a single shot. That is my report for today Your Highness."

K. shook his head in defiant disbelief. The spiritual darkness of consciousness had bodied forth a narrative that was neither blessed nor deified; he was still at the mercy of a petrified paroxysm of darkness; no, he could not let himself be swayed by such impositions.

The hours were slipping by unawares; his fingers churned the keys again, just as his mind was traveling decades past to the time when there was a great vogue of clairvoyants, suddenly stopped typing and saw that he had written, "I know you son. Your forefathers came from Ecbatana (2). You are about to take a step that your ancestors couldn't. No more staggering beneath the piled centuries since Cyrus the Great. You are not of the night and darkness."

Everything about that sentence, particularly the congruence of the message and his emotional state, deserved exclamation points, K. thought, now wondering what comes next. Might it be

that by receding to a secondary intellect, his non-ego was meeting the definition of the soul, that his spiritual substance, now released from the attachments of his mind and his heart, was conceiving these forms? K. asked himself, now sitting like an statue with nothing happening, waiting for an idea, a signpost, so the fingers could start working again. His fingers' acumen surprised him.

Nothing happened, not even when he plotted feigning insanity; the self-deprecation of the oblique, farcical madness simply returned him to the rational-mindedness of his alert self; the shrill sound of Fakhri from the second floor nailed his return; she was calling him for dinner; it was a timely escape from prosaic reality. "He who is beside himself revolts at the idea of self-possession. Well done, good and trustworthy slave." With a curious stomach, he descended happily, all but convinced that he would write again so that Zohreh could have a life, and have it abundantly >>> Chapters 13, 14

(1) Original sin.
(2) Capital of ancient Persia.


CHAPTERS: (1,2,3) (4,5) (6,7) (8,9,10) (11,12) (13.14)



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