After more than nine decades and a full life, my grandmother died peacefully yesterday in Arlington, Virginia.
As her youngest granddaughter I have vivid memories of playing in her garden in Tehran in springtime and in the winter snow… the cherry blossoms that adorned the entrance to her house… those carefree days when she taught us to leave an empty bowl out in the cold to catch fresh falling snow and then drip cherry juice on top for our very own homemade snowcones!
In her later years, I was lucky to live close-by and as such was able to see her more often. I thought of her like some treasure that I sought to seek. I longed to know of every little detail of her life. She was very private and rarely spoke about her past but I prodded nonetheless, as though I was searching for things to survive.
She told me of her life as a young girl, the day she and her aunt took it upon themselves to carry several watermelons up the steps only to have them come smashing down and bursting in the courtyard with her grandfather's stern face appearing in the doorway. He never ever punished them but always reminded them not to misbehave.
To me this was a moment in time of no significance to the history of man and yet it brought a smile to my face and brought insight into my own life and my own mischieviousness. I was perhaps looking for clues in her life and that of her father’s Davar that I could carry with me like artifacts of my past. It didn’t have to be a vase or ring or even notepad, just words that I cherished because they had withstood the test of time.
I learned that as a young girl, Farangis Davar was raised primarily by her grandfather, known as Khazaneyeh Khalvat or personal treasurer to the Qajar king. As such, my grandmother Farangis grew up amidst kings and politicians. Her mother was the beautiful Derakhshandeh and her father, Ali Akbar Davar. Davar was a nationalist, a pragmatic journalist at first who would take corrupt politicians to task.
By the age of twenty-four, his tenacity led him to be named Prosecutor General of Tehran where he found a love for the law. He then went to Europe for eleven years where he got his law degree and later served as Iran’s Minister of Justice and Finance. In the 1930's Davar was the architect of a modern judicial system in Iran – one that combined western law and the Islamic law of Shariah for some 50 years until the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
When he returned to Tehran, he bought a home with a big garden on Safi Ali Shah Avenue. Farangis later recalled that the house had many rooms with an inner and outer part. Her older sister Afsar and her lived in the inner part of the home while her father had many visitors who came calling in the outer part of the home. Farangis saw very little of her father but knew that he loved music.
At a young age, she was interested in musical instruments and took up the tar. In the mid 1920’s Ghamar Molouk Vaziri was a very popular singer and as such was very selective as to where she would peform but she had great admiration for Davar and would attend gatherings at his home.
One night, Farangis and her father were sitting next to the fireplace and after Molouk sang, Davar said, “Farangis, what about you? I understand you have learned how to play. You play for us. She played all the songs she had learned. Another musician played along as well. When they finished, Davar turned to the musician and said, “I hope you don’t mind. You were Farangis’s teacher but Farangis’s fingers are sweeter than yours.”
By the age of 16, Farangis was engaged to be married to one Abbas Gholi Ardalan. Abbas’s family had first gone to her grandfather and later to Davar to ask for her hand in marriage. Davar said, “I have to ask my daughter. I am not like the old timers to give my daughter in marriage without first asking her.” He then said to Farangis, “He comes from a good family. But you have to agree. I will not speak on your behalf.”
Such was the way Farangis was raised. This sense of individual integrity and pride that emenated from her came from her father’s sense of justice.
Farangis said to her father, “Whatever you say.” In others words, I accept.
Nine months later they were married. A year later, her daughter Pari was born. In 1935, Abbas left Tehran for London where he attended the London School of Economics. The following year, Farangis and Pari went to Brussels where Farangis studied French.
In 1939, Farangis bore a son, my father Nader and by 1947 the family moved to Washington, D.C. where Abbas was assigned as the economic attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Washington D.C.
From 1953 to 1957 Abbas and Farangis lived in New Rochelle, New York where Abbas was the Iranian Representative to the Narcotics Commission at the United Nations. The two also spent two years in Ghana where Abbas served as economic advisor on behalf of the United Nations. They returned to Iran in 1960.
At that time Farangis became one of the originators of the legendary Ardalan family gatherings or doreh. Having mastered the art of Persian cooking and combining this with her decorating skills she created culinary sensations with great style and elegance.
As a mother she was devoted and took great pride in her children’s accomplishments. As a grandmother, she taught us about integrity, pride in family, and a love of hospitality.
I saw my grandmother for the last time at the hospital a couple of weeks ago. My aunt Pari had made her Asheh Sabzi and brought her several pieces of watermelon in which she took great delight. My father Nader was on his way from Kuwait to see her. I spent that night in her room with her checking her monitor for her heart rate and blood pressure every hour even though there were plenty of people more qualified already keeping an eye on her. She asked for some juice. With a straw, I gave her a cup of cranberry juice and ice. I kissed her hand and touched her angelic face. She closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
I found myself once again cycling her life in my thoughts. Farangis the granddaughter of Khazaneyeh Khalvat, daughter of Davar, the wife of the diplomat, the mother of Pari and Nader, my grandmother. I felt I was in the presence of death but the heart monitor was beating strong and steady and so I kept on writing and kept on remembering that she is the physical manifestation of my past — where I come from.
I am now without her… but my heart is beating strong and I will make her this one promise that I will carry on and our family legacy will carry on and we will keep her memory alive in our hearts and minds forever.
Farangis Davar Ardalan died Monday August 8, 2005 at the age of 93. She is survived by her daughter Pari Malek Ardalan and son Nader Ardalan and seven grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren; and her brothers Parviz Davar and Dr. Homayoun Davar >>> Video by Saied Ghaffari
Davar Ardalan is Supervisory Producer, Morning Edition, at National Public Radio (NPR) News.