"Istanbul" has always been associated in my mind with two themes: the city which was the destination of thousands of Persians fleeing the 8-year War, and the city which is the residence of Samin Baghcheban, the famous Persian immigrant composer.
In the spring of 2006, when all of a sudden I had the chance to visit Istanbul, what preoccupied my mind more than anything else was: Is it possible that Samin Baghchehban will accept a visit from me? … I could not wait to arrive in Istanbul. I called him before my departure, and without any introduction, I said, "Mr. Baghcheban, I am coming to Istanbul. I would be very happy if I could see you!"
Contrary to past meetings when Mr. Baghcheban appeared rather difficult and dour, this time he cordially said, "Certainly! Call me from your hotel so that I would guide you to my home."
As the taxicab was driving from the airport to city center, while viewing sights from various districts of the city, I thought, where in this large city would Samin Baghcheban live?
Immediately upon arriving at my hotel I called him. It turned out that he lived on the other end of town. The address which I had repeatedly written on postal envelopes, this time I would follow via street names and house numbers. It was a strange feeling, as if, after so many years, I had been informed that my family included another member, and for the first time I was seeking him out.
Mr. Baghcheban sat waiting for me at the foot of the stairs to his apartment building. Nothing special occurred to me to say to him upon our meeting. Except that with my whole being, I said, "Salaam, Aghaa-ye Baghcheban!" And with warmth and kindness he responded, "Welcome!"
Samin Baghcheban had little resemblance with the photos which I had seen of him; even with his last photo published on the cover of Ranginkamoon [Rainbow] album. Years had past since that time, and yet I expected Baghcheban to look like the photos published in Iran's Music Magazine in the 1950s!
Baghcheban guided me to his study rather than to the living room. His desk was filled with handwritten scores, which he was either editing or re-writing. He explained that his son was attempting to perform his works on the computer.
"How nice!" I said joyfully. "At least now we can hear your works!"
Baghcheban shook his head and calmly said, "Yes, there is no other choice." After a pause, he asked, "Would you be offended if I had a little drink?"
A few minutes later, Mrs. Baghcheban entered the room. She spoke Persian with such a thick Tehrani accent that I could hardly believe she was Turkish. After completing her studies and marrying Samin in 1951, she had immigrated to Persia and expended all her energy in training students in choir singing.
Although I was the one who had just arrived from Persia, Evelyn Baghcheban behaved as if she were forlorn, living in a foreign country, and I had just come from her country. She spilled her memories from Tehran in a gushing stream, saying that during the revolution they had swarmed the school where she had taught, and asked the students: "What kind of disgrace has Mrs. Baghcheban committed here?"
And the children answered: "Mrs. Baghcheban gave us a place to sleep, gave us food, and taught us not to lie and to study…"
She said, "When I traveled to Tehran after many years, I wanted to go to Pahlavi Avenue; they said that its name had changed. I said, Takht-e Tavoos; they said that its name had changed. I said, Abbas-Abad; they said that its name had changed. I said: has the name 'Iran' changed, too?!"
In the living room there was a very large picture of a choir group conducted by Evelyn Baghcheban, from a concert in the 1960s at Roudaki Hall in Tehran.
During our conversation Samin was usually silent, but I would constantly pester him with all sorts of questions. He spoke of the period in which he had lived away from Persia, while at the same time emphasizing how much he liked Istanbul. He admired Ataturk, and had composed a piece of music commemorating him. He played a tape of it while he and Evelyn excitedly sang along with it.
Having my portable tape recorder with me, I asked Samin Baghcheban to speak about his life and work in Persia, as he had in the past. But he did not consent. Like a stubborn child I persisted, however, saying, "I must have a memento from you!"
And Baghcheban only agreed to sing one of his songs. Eagerly, I turned on the tape recorder as he sang it with love:
Baa Kaaghaz-o Ney-o Choub, Kashti Misaazam
Esme Iraanamo Roush Mizaaram
Later, we went to the yard in front of the building to take some pictures. As I was leaving, Mrs. Baghcheban said, "Salaam-e Maaro Be Iran Beresounin!"
While returning to the airport, I entertained the thought that I would arrange another trip to Istanbul and visit Mr. and Mrs. Baghcheban once again. I had made plans for another trip this summer when, in the last days of Esfand (March), on the threshold of the Persian new year 'Nowrouz', a brief e-mail from a friend informed me of Samin Baghtcheban's death.
Only one day was left until Norooz. The rhythm of a piece by Baghcheban entitled, "Nowrouz is on its way," beat in my head like a sledgehammer, and a voice in my mind rejoined: "Nowrouz is no longer on its way…"
A few years ago, I sent the book I had written on Persian (Iranian) composers and conductors, which included information on him, to Baghcheban. In appreciation, he sent me some handwritten pieces from his articles, all of which have been left forlorn in Persia. I don't even have one sample from which I could quote a few sentences. When I think of this, it reminds me of a piece by Sheida Gharatchedaghi, which she composed about ten years ago in Austria for the piano, calling it, "We who have no country."
Today, I understand the meaning of his title, "Maa Bi-Vatan-haa".
* Pejman Akbarzadeh (www.PejmanAkbarzadeh.com) is a pianist, journalist and author, based in the Netherlands.
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