Iranian-American women’s memoir is fast becoming a genre of its own. Marjan Mirabdolbaghi’s Peanuts and Pistachios is its latest offering. Here’s an excerpt:
Our plane touched town and my mother shed a tear. We were in America now and things would never be the same. I looked at my father, his moustache proud if slightly fatigued by our journey, carrying the aspirations of a generation.
We had left behind us pistachio nuts and sour green tomatoes which had chiselled an indelible sense of the Persian into our psyche, like the ancient inscriptions at Takht-e-Jamshid. Here we now were, in the arms of a new land we would soon call home, where pistachios would be overpriced and, on airplanes, unavailable — at least, that is on TWA flights from London such as the one we were on to LA.
Somewhere over Greenland my mother choked on a chilli-flavored peanut served by the cabin crew. My father administered the customary dorsal beating.
“Stop that ahmagh!” she spluttered.
It failed to dislodge the peanut. Mom’s eyes turned red and swollen. There was me thinking her first silent tear had been one of sadness and uncertainty.
“Is she okay?” a cabin attendant asked. Her tone belied a suspicion that my mother’s distress had been caused not by a peanut but Islamic fervor. Had my mother been wearing a chador, I might have understood her disdain. But she was not.
Iranians were not the first to come to America carrying hopes for a better life. But we were surely the best dressed.
My father, a distinguished physician was reduced to shouting “Toff kon zan” — spit woman, spit! Mom, who never argued with my dad on medical issues, ejected a missile that landed in the book the woman in front was reading. I peered over. It was Nabokov’s Lolita. My adventure with English literature began.
Ali-Reza Mirabdolbaghi, my father, was born into a family of liberal clerics in Shiraz in 1933. His father, Hossein Mirabdolbaghi, was a prominent seminarian. In those days, before Khomeini came to power, being a mullah was considered cool, anti-establishment, even punk. My grandfather led Friday prayers while playing blues harmonica and guitar. He could also play our national anthem using spoons. His reputation had endeared him to Reza Shah’s authorities, fusing as he did the traditional with the western.
This act of cultural negotiation Iranians continue to this day. Each of us plays our own instrument, some harmonica, some the daf. It took a projectile peanut to make me realise that mine was words.
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