Excerpt from A Man of Many Worlds: The Diaries and Memoirs of Dr. Ghasem Ghani (Mage Publishers, 2005) by Ghasem Ghani, Cyrus Ghani (Editor) and Paul Sprachman (Translator). Dr. Ghani's reflective writings offer a profoundly civilized insight into the great changes that took place inside Iran during the first half of the 20th century. Ghani was born and brought among the educated elite of Sabezevar. a remote, traditional, even medieval city on the edge of the desert. His lifelong quest for useful knowledge and understanding let him into the heart of the continuing political and social turmloil in Tehran, where he became a lifetime friend and advisor to the leaders of Iran from Reza Shah to Mossadegh.
On to tehran Uncle and I along with Crazy Safar set out and spent the first night at Sulvand about fifty kilometers outside of Sabzevar. This Safar, true to his nickname, was unbalanced. He would be belligerent and very abusive. He would also bully shopkeepers and feed-sellers with his rage and would dismiss grooms who served us for a day or two with out paying them. This was why all the tradesmen and coffeehouse owners cursed him.
The next morning we had only gone eighteen kilometers when we camped again because he wanted to baby his team of horses. He had coddled these animals and they had become fat. Every fifteen kilometers, he would tend to the beasts, giving them water and caressing them, speaking to them in Turkish, stopping and playing with them idiotically. Then we would set out again, but whenever he tugged one of the horses’ reins, he would console it softly, whispering confidences to it. In very broken Persian, he praised his team,mumbling endearments, and would at times even sing to them. Then suddenly he would shout like a man possessed and strike the groom for no apparent reason.
In the afternoon of the second day, we reached a village called Mehr, ninety-two kilometers from Sabzevar. No one dared ask Safar why our progress was so slow, least of all I, but he did volunteer that after Mazinan, the distance between stages would be longer. We would have to go about fifty kilometers without water and feed. He wanted to travel less in the more settled areas to accustom the horses. In any case, that morning he hitched up the coach and, just as we were about to go, brutally kicked the groom and punched the coffeehouse owner, without paying either.
He emerged in that same lunatic state, but just as he was about to enter the carriage, the side horse kicked him in the head so hard that he was thrown at least two meters and seemed dead. One of the things I will never forget as long as I live is hearing the entire crowd near the coffeehouse suddenly sing the Lord’s praises, thanking Him for finally giving the Godless savage what he deserved
As we had learned, one of his habits when he was in a bad mood was to curse the Lord. The Turkish driver’s obscenities would typically begin “Goddamn…!” — one of the impieties he used that day. The only humanity and kindness in that brute was reserved for his four horses. With no one to help him the task of nursing Safar’s wounds fell to Uncle and me, and we begged people to find someone to help. A villager with medical experience turned up to cauterize the wound and stop the bleeding, applying a felt bandage to it. They massaged Safar’s body.We melted a bit of sugar, added rose water, and fed it to him when he could swallow. The village mollah came to absolve him and pray over his body. As soon as he could speak, the first words out of his mouth was “horses.”His voice cracking a little, he kept crying out to his “beloved” animals.
In the meantime, an itinerant surgeon from Mazinan that had been sent for arrived. He opened the wound and rebandaged it. I imagine that he also had a variety of drugs with him like potassium permanganate, iodine, white bandages and forceps.We nursed Safar all day and night and he got better. The next morning, the groom that Safar had kicked hitched up the coach and took control of the reins himself.We loaded Safar into the coach with difficulty and tried to keep him stable while we proceeded at a slow measured pace.
In the afternoon, we reached Mazinan where the surgeon who had joined us had his clinic. He heated some water and washed the wound. Then he sterilized some felt and spider’s web and worked them for an hour until they became malleable. He cleaned the wound, stitched it and applied ointment. Safar was given some medicine. The surgeon also had them get about seven pounds of meat, cook it and feed the thick broth to him. That night while the surgeon remained with us, Safar slept peacefully. In the morning, he was well enough to take the reins himself.
But we hadn’t gone more than several kilometers when his pain seemed to return.Whatever it was, we noticed that he had begun to howl and curse the heavens. We had to stop about twenty-five kilometers from Mazinan at a village called Kaheh, where the surgeon treated him again. The pain subsided and he slept. Uncle paid the surgeon handsomely for the treatment and the drugs, and he gave us extra medicine, ointment, and bandages for the road. At every station Uncle with my help cleaned and rebandaged the wound as the surgeon had instructed. Finally, after twenty-four days on the road, we reached the outskirts of Tehran.When we were about fifty kilometers out, Safar began to pressure us for more than the agreed fare, which we gave him. This was our thanks for saving his life.
Entering tehran and on to school there We parted from Safar at the Jalilabad Street (today Khayyam Street) coach station. Uncle immediately sought out a Tehrani merchant named Aqa Mirza Nasrollah.We stayed with him for the first two or three days and then moved to the home of one of Uncle’s acquaintances, Mirza Taqi Khani, near the Qazvin Gate. This man, who was from Qazvin, apparently had spent some time in Khorasan and had gotten to know Uncle there. Two or three days later we rented a modest house on Jannat-e Golshan Avenue. An old woman was found to be the maid. The house was an outer residence with a locked door leading to the landlord’s inner quarters.We had two rooms and a very small space that served as a kitchen.
I enrolled in Tarbiat, one of the government schools with good teachers that was very famous at the time. I coudn’t have been more enthusiastic and excited. Of course, there was no comparison between Tarbiat and Sabzevar-style education. There were regular classes and instruction, things that were new to me. This novel world that I had entered had real order and discipline, where the minutes and hours counted. Students knew exactly what their schedule was each day. There were four morning classes: first period, math; second, Persian; third, Arabic; and then calligraphy. School recessed at noon for lunch and resumed at two. The two afternoon classes might be geometry, algebra, art or foreign languages. They gave us homework exercises in all of the subjects. At specific points in the day the bell rang and all the students went outside. In the afternoons they had us line up.
Because to that point I was a willful child raised without discipline and indifferent to time, the orderly spirit of the school was a welcome lesson. In class, they questioned us on our lessons and a student’s answers not only affected his grades, but also determined whether his peers treated him with respect or shamed him. The school had instituted a sense of friendly competition and rivalry among the students. Teachers both encouraged and chided us. They would reward us with pens, pads of paper or books. They were con scientious and genuinely fond of learning. During those first days of the Constitutional Period, when people’s spirits were high, no group was more engaged in reforms than the teachers.
I have the fondest memories of the teachers from this school, and it is with heartfelt respect that I write about some of them here. Sheikh al-Ra’is Taleqani was a learned man of about fifty or sixty. He was single and lived at school. He appeared lofty and dignified and was a spirited man who laughed and joked freely.He wore the robe of a disheveled preacher and often kept food in his pocket, usually some bread and cheese. Before sunrise he would leave the school grounds and sit beside the gullies along Amiriyeh or Farmanfarma Avenues and have his bread and cheese breakfast.
In those days Tehran had more trees than today and small streams ran beside the roads. He would return to school before the students arrived. Later they would gather round him and start poetry competitions. He would cheer on the winning teams and occasionally give pens as prizes. The poetry at these contests had to be from the greats — no unknowns were allowed. He never tolerated mistakes when we recited. Students formed two lines, one to the left, one to the right of him, and he would always root for the front-runners. One day Mahmud Khan Morshedzadeh, who was known for his prodigious memory and was virtually the leader of one side, lost. The next day Mahmud Khan challenged anyone to match him in lines from Ferdowsi that ended in “g” and defeated all comers.
Sheikh al-Ra’is taught in a clear and fluent voice, and would insist that the students speak the same way.He was very strict when he gave dictation. The maximum grade one could receive in dictations was twenty, and he would subtract one whole number for every mistake, like writing shotor — “camel” — with an Arabic “t.” The same applied to a misplaced dot or any other minor writing error. He allowed no exceptions; a mistake was a mistake. He instilled the habit of writing carefully and precisely in his students. He was likewise extraordinarily meticulous about reading aloud. The readers used in class consisted of a variety of texts, both prose and poetry selections >>> Read larger excerpt