I like my Persian compatriots' long standing love affair with nothingness. And I say “Persian” to include a literary/linguistic country from Samarqand, Bokhara, Herat, to Balkh, Dushanbe, Ashqabad, Konia, Baku, Ganja… from Tehran all the way to TehrAngeles… rather than a country with political borders. We love nothingness and all its paraphernalia with a passion. After all what is Persian poetry, our most cherished national pass-time, but elaborate, polished, worked on nothingness?
It is the most abstract of all fine arts (architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry, in order from the most concrete to the most abstract). Also Persians do not “write” poetry, they “say” it.
Once you have memorized a poem, a ghazal from Hafez or Sa'di or Rumi, it is there: voila, polished, elaborate, filigreed, pure thought, nothingness, heech, the secret that sits in the middle and knows. Our long standing love affair, our 1000-year-old meditation with Rudaki and Ferdowsi, Khayyam, Rumi, to Sepehri, Farrokhzad, Lotfalian, Bahrami, Samandar, Kadkani, Behbahani, Attar…. add your own list …
We have been meditating to the music of Ney, the flute, a hollow reed full of air: nothingness music from the void, air, wind dancing in an empty reed, turning round and round, as if around the Sun: Shams, and whirling in and out of strategically placed “holes” in the reed, more nothingness, the space between the notes that makes the music.
Yes Sir, nothingness is serious business here.
Our favorite national drink: tea… which is aromatic hot water: nothingness
Our favorite national fruit: the fine little fragrant, Persian cucumber, mostly water, lots of taste and flavor, near zero calories, heech. And we consider those cucumbers as fruits, not some third rate vegetable.
Persian watermelon belongs in the same category as our cucumbers.
Our favorite snack: “tokhme” roasted watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds,
Pear seeds or anchoochak, even apple seeds.
Once my Mom was on a bus trip, going from San Francisco to Reno, Nevada. Next to her was seated an American lady who was puzzled and greatly intrigued by my mother eating something for hours, that smelled extremely good and appetizing but invisible. She kept taking something out of a large transparent bag and eating it, but there seemed to be nothing in the bag. My mother says that finally the lady took out her glasses out of her bag and put them on to see just what on earth was going on.
My mother finally decided to put her out of her confusion by telling her that she had roasted something like 50 apple seeds and that was what had kept her happy, satisfied, and made the travel time pass much faster and more enjoyably. But Mom said that she was sort of embarrassed to offer the lady this microscopic but delicious and healthy, low calorie snack.
One of our greatest living artists, Parviz Tanavoli, has concretized, given body to this long love affair with his set of NOTHING/HEECH sculptures that are incredibly beautiful. In another group of works, Tanavoli calls one of his magnificent huge, shiny bronze sculptures: vahdate vojud! Only a Persian could do that. Unity of Being. Oneness of Existence.
Tanavoli has also a painting that is called “Bolboli barg e goli khoshrang dar menghaar daasht” (the Nightingale with a beautiful flower on her beak) that made me cry. The nightingale has a red lock on the beak, signifying forced silence. Nothingness.
Another great sculptor, Abdollah Hesam, among many beautiful works, has a mural sculpture of a man with a closed zipper on the mouth.
Nothingness being what it is / for us Persians:
tangible, a real thing, heech,
has a free standing, independent,
bona fide name of its own, “heech”
having nothing to do with “no” nor with “thing” /
in fact nothing to do with negation at all.
The silence between the notes that makes the music.
Having been brought up on Hafez, Rudaki, Nezami, Rumi…
We walk on air, on nothing,
high, intoxicated without any visible intoxicant
our addictive substance being: art, poetry, love, ecstasy
yes sir, Ecstasy being a real thing to us
Tangible and in daily use /
not the powder/ but the real thing.
And now this new fangled Internet, the lovely WWW has brought about the ultimate union of the lovers, the vesaal, between us and our beloved heech, our centuries old love of the ethereal heech, the phenomenal way in which Persians have taken to the Internet, like ducks to water. Our newly rekindled, rejuvenated love affair with this “virtual” world of an invisible “web” of radio waves, is the consummation of a long awaited reunion of the lovers, Romeo and Juliette NOT dying, but living happily ever after, watching the sunset together, seeing their children grow. All the marvellous Persian web sites and the emails criss-crossing the continents and the oceans, have created a virtual home, a “vatan”.
The dot.com world has encouraged me to the point that I want to go back and rewrite the script, changing some chapters of our history:
King Mahmud Ghaznavi will NOT be influenced by the bad guys in his entourage and will change his mind and pay Ferdowsi the promised golden treasure. What is more, he will take Ferdowsi to live beside him in the Palace, the way Lorenzo di Medici (Il Magnifico) took young Michelangelo to live and work in his palace, and even built a sculpture garden for him.
Rostam will recognize his son Sohrab BEFORE he is killed and together they will go and find Rudabeh and they will build a magnificent house and garden in Zabolestan. The garden is so lovely that Simorgh decides to go live there as well. After all Simorgh is the one who raised Rostam's father, Zaal e Nariman. Shams Tabrizi visits them too, from time to time. Bijan and Manijeh also.
And Mirza Taqi Khan e Amir Kabir will NOT be killed and instead he will build many other DarolFonuns polytechnics all over Iran. He will also rebuild the Ark of Bam, and repair Apadana, in Perseplis.
And Mansour Hallaj will NOT be hanged and he will tell us to sit down upon the ground beside him and will tell us, in great detail and in a leisurely manner, while having tea and baqlava, and maybe gaz from Isphahan, all about the “truth” and we shall ask him to elaborate, and he will reveal “THE secret”.
And Emam Hosein will NOT be killed, and instead Yazid and Shemr will change their minds and bring nice drinks and ice water to the desert, and then will take them all back to have dinner together.
And Rabe'e will live happily with her beloved (who will NOT be killed by her brother) and she will write lots of nice love poems and we will take her chocolates on Valentine's day.