One generation, three centuries

Among the many political articles, I come across a short piece someone has written about what he remembers of life in Iran [See: “Once upon a dream“]. His words sound almost as nostalgic as I feel and what I read is so saturated with images, voices and fragrance, it opens an old door to memories. I know that door too well for it took me years to build it. I put a padlock on it a long time ago and threw away the key. Or, so I thought.

I remember once I mentioned a “dah-shahi” to a young Iranian girl. The puzzled look on her face reminded me that I belonged to an entirely different generation. I promised myself never to let generation gap separate me from the young.

My grandmother's voice resonates in my ears. “A dozen of eggs used to cost two 'abbassi'. Back then, one did not measure life's value by money alone,” she said as her eyes glazed over with nostalgia.  I tried to understand the world to which Nanjoon belonged, but it felt as if she knew nothing about mine. I would never become my grandmother; and decided never to tell my children about the regret of having proceeded to a more convenient, but far less humane era.

The door to the storage of decades is once again ajar. Memories pull me in and I am daunted by how the images have remained intact despite the passage of time.

As I read the article, I see those familiar scenes as if it was only yesterday. I know that boy who rolls a tire down the alley, guiding it with the touch of a twig. I've seen the blackberry stains on his face and I've picked Jasmines from that backyard to string a fragrant necklace. Still, the author's name suggests that he must be young and I refuse to feel old by telling him what a 'dah-shahi' could have bought back when I was a child or indeed what it is.

I find a certain beauty in the mere ability to understand him, the beauty of knowing that I belong to a generation whose memories have a three-century span. Having played with handmade rag dolls, I grew up to learn about robots, the child who rubbed red geraniums on her cheeks grew up to witness the transformation of faces by cosmetic surgery and she moved away from a small town that still had carriages to where the space shuttles were launched.

Sooner or later, one learns to live with memories and endure the mixed emotions they entail. But in order to ease the pain, we also need to remember that although those days will never come back, they are not lost. It is through those memories that we grow stronger, more interesting and a lot more understanding. No, we can't recreate the same era for our children, but having lived through it enables us to become better parents and appreciate what the next generation is all about.

No wonder so many poets have used the metaphor of a river to describe life. Indeed it flows past places which it will never see again and although we have no idea which mountain it originated from or where it will end, there's enough beauty in the flow itself. The river endures much hardship, but as Akhavan puts is so eloquently in his poem of the lagoon — Mordab — the ecstasy in coming out of a rock and hitting ones head against a rock makes the journey a thrill. When you focus on the current, looking back is not only unnecessary, but it doesn't have to be so sad.

As a people who seem to have endured the lifestyle of three separate centuries, middle aged Iranians of today are unique. No, we cannot recreate the lifestyle that we knew but, to be fair, we need to remember both the good and the bad. Painting a colorful picture of all that was so precious is unfair to those who rely on us in their search of the truth.

The author even misses the cruelty of the teacher's ruler on the back of his hand. I want him to know that those teachers are still there, only now they ride around town in their SUVs and their ruler is a machine gun. He misses climbing the tree for more blackberries, but when I went in search of that tree they told me it had been cut a long time ago to make room for a larger bank. And, with grandmother long gone, her land is sold and her belongings have been confiscated.

“What then?” he may ask. “Has all that beauty vanished?”

No! Not as long as  it remains within the people and not while our precious memories remind us who we really are. The stories were passed on to us by our elders and we, in turn, make a gift of it to the next generation. Although we each remember our own unique chain of events, they will continue to link us, bond us, and the union of the raindrops will make the river flow.

……………….. Peef Paff spam!

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