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March 25, 2005

From Nasser Shojania's, "A Persian Letter: To a Pious Mother from an Agnostic Son", a literary non-fiction book, based on cross-culteral matters that involves mainly the Iranian culture and some Canadian culture. Dr. Shojania is a pathologist who came to Canada in 1965. This book is a letter to his late mother in Iran -- an autopsy on through her letters to reavel some noble Iranian characteristics.

Chapter 24, page 1
Going home

Remember, the day your father passed away I had nine children, from three to thirteen.
-- From a letter by my mother

I DO REMEMBER THE DAY MY MOTHER IS TALKING ABOUT. It was a snowy day. It might have been a sorrowful day for her, but for me it was one of the best days of my life. I am always happy when it snows. Sometimes so happy as if granular sugar is dissolving over my solar plexus. My only worry was to reach home before the day was over so that I could throw snowball with my younger brother, Hamid.

I was six, in grade one, going home with my sister from the Namoos Elementary School for girls. She was twelve, in grade five, carrying my single book with her books in one hand, holding my hand with the other, letting my left arm swing in the air at will. There was already a thick layer of snow on the ground, up to my knees, and it was still falling. Falling with large parallel particles that turned into turbulent eddies behind the passing cars like feathers exploding from ruptured pillows in a friendly pillow fight. The snow on the ground had muffled the metallic sound of the horses’ hooves, while accentuating the nagging sound of their wobbly wheels. It was still daytime, but the streetlights were on, giving off not much light, but shortening the already short winter evening. It would be night, I thought, by the time we reached home. Hamid was probably getting bored at home, waiting for me.

“Monir jun,” I asked my sister, “do you know why the lights have come on so early today?”

“Because today Tehran is celebrating.”

“What is the occasion?”

“Today is the second anniversary of the unveiling of women in Iran.”


Chapter 25, page 1
As-You-Wish Street

SOON AFTER OUR FATHER PASSED AWAY we moved from the nameless cul-de-sac in Sanguelaj District to an open ended, well-known street in Tehran, named Koucheh-ye Del-Bekhah, meaning As-You-Wish Street. It was located near the southern limits of Tehran, just before the intersection of Amirieh Avenue with Mokhtari Avenue. It connected the prestigious Amirieh Avenue to its dusty parallel, See-metree Avenue. The Mokhtari Avenue was named after the brutal chief of police during the time of Reza Shah, who was tried and sentenced to a few years in prison after Reza Shah was replaced by his son during the Second World War.

For those who were familiar with words, like Captain Vokhshur, the word Mokhtari was an Arabic word derived from Ekhtiar, meaning “to have a choice” or “to have an option,” which is not much different from having a wish. And Vokhshur would make use of this similarity to make the bus stop where he wanted.

Apart from its funny name, As-You-Wish Street was like any other residential street in Tehran: encased by two parallel walls, narrow enough to prevent any car to go in, but wide enough to be longitudinally bisected by a dry groove, decorated by a few arr-arr trees to attract donkeys. No one knew why those die-hard trees were named by the same name as the braying of a donkey. I thought it was due to the fact the donkeys of the men who brought ice or watermelon to that street, chewed on their bark while the donkey man was talking to a housewife. Its grumpy residents, however, believed that it was due to the fact that whenever they wanted to have a short sleep in the hot summer afternoons, their sleep was interrupted by a few arr-arru, or crying children who climbed the branches of those trees.

Regardless of the origin of the name of those trees, it was refreshing to have a capricious
name like As-You-Wish Street in a city where the name of its main avenues and important
streets were borrowed from the names of its royal family or its high ranking military officers.
It generated a visible smile across the lips of anybody who mentioned that name, or
heard it.


Chapter 29, page 1
Cheated to undergo circumcision

TO UNDERGO CIRCUMCISION IS EMBARRASSING, but to be cheated into it is painful. This is why I still remember it. It was not our mother who cheated us into it. It was Captain Vokhshur. And he did it through the play of words. He had a peculiar affinity for words. Maybe because he was the only one in As-You-Wish Street who subscribed to the daily newspaper and did its crossword puzzle every day.

Vokhshur knew -- and we knew -- that the word khat in Farsi meant a line. So he made use of our partial knowledge and related the word Khatneh, which means circumcision, to Khat and subjected four of the boys of As-You-Wish Street, namely, Shambool, Hamid, Nasser and Holaaku, to circumcision.

The summer before, he had told us that Khatneh is performed in two stages, a year apart. “The first year they draw a line around the prepuce or the tip of the penis, and the next year, if the tip does not fall off by itself, they might cut it with a small knife.” In short, it was not going to be a painful or bloody procedure. With this false reassurance, the next summer, when I was playing in the yard, minding my own business, Modar-jun came out of the children’s room and asked our Masdar to take me to the grocery store at the corner of our street, “And buy him whatever he wants.”

Armed with this blank cheque and followed by our obedient servant, I ran out of the house, pulling the obedient but reluctant Masdar after me. I don’t know if I was moving too fast or he was unusually slow on that day. It was not very often that our mother was so generous towards me, but our Masdar did not seem to share my enthusiasm. He was walking at least ten metres behind me and slowly like a wounded soldier in retreat.

When he finally reached the store he had a hard time finding his money in one of his numerous pockets. And when I finally chose the things I wanted, he was reluctant to pay the owner of the store, whom we called Moussio because of his European look. “I thought Modar-jun told you to pay for whatever I wanted,” I reminded our Masdar.

Chapter 42, page 1
Five Persian characteristics

SOON AFTER I BEGAN MY FRIENDSHIP WITH FRED KASRAVI -- a Canadian man of Iranian origin -- this Persian proverb came to my mind, “Either avoid friendship with the elephant-men or build a house to accommodate an elephant.”

Like always, I met Fred without looking for him. Mitra was becoming active in politics and was throwing a fund-raising party in our house for the Liberal Party and rheumatology, when the phone rang and a woman from Toronto was asking why the famous friend of the Liberals, Fred Kasravi, who has recently moved from Toronto to Victoria, was not invited. The name sounded half-Persian, so my wife, as she covered the mouth piece of the receiver, asked me if I knew an Iranian by that name.

I said I knew an Ahmad Kasravi in Iran when I was about fifteen years old. He was assassinated by one of the members of Moslem Brotherhood in Tehran while he was defending himself in the courthouse. He was a judge himself, but the day he was assassinated he was a defendant. He was being tried for his negative books and comments regarding the Arabic language, religions, and old Persian poets, particularly Hafez. His books and speeches were so blasphemous that even though it was during the secular times of the Shah, he was put on trial to explain.

As Mitra was listening, with one ear stuck to the phone and the other to my irrelevant comments, she pointed with her chin to the computer in the kitchen and said in a whispering voice, “He has a web site that explains everything about him.”

Luckily, Anna, the “head-hunter” wife of our first son, Kamran, who is used to seeing the applications of the high power CEOs who want to go to bigger firms, was there and quickly went to Mitra’s computer and brought up the page. “Wow, how impressive!” she exclaimed when she saw his picture standing beside gigantic officials, and repeated the same exclamatory remark after she read the summary of his elephantine achievements.

The rest was easy. Mitra phoned and invited him and I met him in the luxurious hotel where the party was taking place and Allen Rock, the health minister, was speaking about the importance of medicine, particularly rheumatology.


Chapter 44, page 1
Going to a green graveyard in a yellow Cadillac

I CAN’T RECALL IF IT WAS A YEAR BEFORE OR AFTER THE LAST EARTHQUAKE when I went to a pathology conference in San Francisco as part of my continuing medical education. While I was there I broke the rule of not mixing business with pleasure and went to see several of my cousins on my father’s side -- those whose male names have the suffix Mirza -- in San Francisco, and the only cousin on my mother side, Sohrab, who lives alone in Oakland, not too far from San Francisco.

The cousins who were in San Francisco included Amir and Rezvan Teymourtash, and Khosrow Mirza who had come from Mashad to see his two sons, Vahid and Hamed. Vahid is the brainy one and lives in San Francisco. Hamed is the body-builder and lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Vahid is responsible for the computer system that runs the water for the entire city of San Francisco. He was chosen among the five hundred or more who had applied for the job. There were 150 Iranians among the applicants. Their number was proportionally so high that the one who was interviewing them asked Vahid if all Iranians were specializing incomputer sciences. Hamed, in addition to body-building, builds big, white houses in Phoenix for himself and for sale. He is also employed in the municipality of Phoenix to supervise the construction of smaller houses on the cactus-studded lands at the periphery of the city where mainly the American Indians live.

I spent my first free day and night with Sohrab because his last wife, the fourth, had
recently died. Also present there was Farhad Mirza, the youngest bother of Khosrow Mirza
and the older brother of Rezvan, who had come from Vancouver to see his oldest brother.
No, I am wrong again. Vahid, too, was living in Oakland on that year. It was during my
previous trip to San Francisco that Vahid was in San Francisco. His apartment was in front
of Amir and Rezvan’s, and he was in a bad mood because he had some trouble with the real
estate agent who had sold him the apartment. He was angry mainly because the agent had
brought up the ugly matter of American hostages in Tehran...

Purchase this book here:
"A Persian Letter: To a Pious Mother from an Agnostic Son"

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