|It was sacred
Norooz is never the same
By Shirin Tabibzadeh
March 20, 2003
As Norooz approaches, a feeling of nostalgia and yearning
fills my heart. The pain of a past long gone and the longing for a dear land that
I have not seen for more than two decades but can still revive its scents in my mind,
as if it were yesterday, sometimes becomes overwhelming.
Norooz had a special place in our household, it was something more than a tradition
or ritual. It was more than a celebration. It was sacred. We observed it in full
fledge. Ignoring a single element, it was instilled in our minds, could be a bad
Norooz was the time of mending the broken hearts, making up with the ones we had
hurt, extending a helping hand to the ones who were less fortunate, and a time when
doors were open all day long to family and friends, to the rich and the poor, and
you never were tired to receive people or to go from one place to the next and stay
for lunch or dinner wherever you happened, at that hour, to descend.
Mother fanatically observed every rule and every custom. From months before
Norooz she was thinking first about everyone's lebaas-e eid (New Year clothes)
and then khooneh takooni (spring cleaning) and then baking, with dear Zahra's
help, home made cookies, Baklava, Sohan, and the rest.
A few weeks before Eid, plates of grown wheat and lentils and ... would be seen on
a mantle or a table, or by the window pane. She might have decided to change a curtain
here, a tablecloth there, or just a set of new dinnerware for a change. The yard
was cleaned, the gardens plowed, spring flowers were planted, a bunch of daffodils
here, a few jasmines there, and the outside and the inside of the house would be
painted, with its annual paint.
Though a bit on the chubby side, mother was truly beautiful, with ivory skin, hazel
eyes, and long chestnut hair, most often bundled with a pin on the back of her head.
Mother was a perfectionist and quite adamant in her ways. Nothing made her more uneasy
than taking the traditions lightly or ignoring the trend. She was the planner of
every event, the one to balance the household budget, the one to oversee the children
with whatever they were doing at a given day. She was the center of our love and
our awe, the one who had the last word and -- usually -- had to be obeyed. A strong
headed, energetic, strict woman but at the same time the kindest and the most sensitive
of all time and a perpetual worrier for the things that might go wrong.
Father, on the other hand, was the essence of serenity and peacefulness. He was adored
by all, attracted people's respect with no effort. A learned educated man for his
time but humble and kind towards a child, a grown up, a beggar or a king. He would
sometimes disappear on a weekend for an hour or two and when I asked him "where
were you father?" he would say "Nowhere dokhtar jaan, just visiting
a friend," and then immediately he would say "promise you never forget
those who need a friend." And I did not know what he meant exactly. It was only
after his death that we came to know the families he had helped.
The children had never even heard him raise his voice, or impose his thoughts, or
pretend as if he knew it all. He had something that made you love him and respect
him no matter what. Friends and family asked his advice. His words were uttered with
such sincerity and demonstrated such wisdom that it was hard to discard.
The relationship between father and mother remained loving, cordial and cherishing
to the end. When he talked about her, looking at you with his piercing huge brown
eyes, it was pure admiration: "If you only had seen her when she was young"
or "I am sure mother knows", or "She has an exquisite taste",
and mother's most effective threat would be "I will tell your father when he
gets back", and that was that.
It was amazing how this strong-headed, extremely smart and knowledgeable woman, revered
and respected her beloved man. HER untold frequent messages to her children were
"Be the kindest and the most humble but also be strong, persevering, and brave."
No matter at what precise time the winter gathered its wings to fly over the mountains
and oceans and plains to move to the southern hemisphere and give its place to the
caressing breeze of the spring, we were ready. Be it in the middle of the night or
early in the morning or late at night, all the lights would be turned on, all the
candles lit, and the aroma of Espand could be sensed coming from the kitchen. We
would all run around in haste to take shower, to put on our new clothes, to blow
dry our hair, to do the last-minute touch up, as if we were invited to the ball of
A few minutes before Saal Tahvil (exact start of the New Year) we would gather
around the table set for Norooz. The Haft Seen spread was set in the most
beautiful form, flowers here and there and candles too, mirror and gold fish and
also the holy book. As the radio or TV was on and we anxiously awaited that moment,
father recited a few verses of Shahnameh or Rumi's Mathnavi and mother
from Hafez. We really did not hear anything as our eyes were hooked to the television
or our ears to the radio flow.
As soon as they started the count-down, everyone was silent, our heart beating fast.
Ten, nine, eight,... and suddenly boom and the bittersweet sound of the flute which
had become the trend to be broadcast right after Saal Tahvil was announced.
We would all fly to father and mother and kissed their hands and they in their turn
would hug and kiss us on the face and gave us the Norooz gift which was usually brand
new bills between the pages of the Koran.
Since father was the head of the clan, for the first three days, they would stay
at home. everyday they had visitors from early dawn until late at night. We the younger
ones would visit the older ones in our own turn and every day came back with a bag
full of money and sometimes gold coins.
On the fourth and the fifth day, father and mother paid their respects to those who
had visited them in the early days. As you went through the street you could see
groups of people entering or leaving a house. In small towns and villages the sight
of women and children in their colorful outfits was quite eye catching and divine.
When we lived in that small town in the north, one day was set aside for the villagers
who came from the vicinities of the town to visit or the Turkmen coming from the
plains. That day was one of the happiest Norooz days for us. Big samovars were set
in the yard and a special room with a huge dining table covered with candies and
sweets and fruits were set for the visitors which usually all stayed for lunch.
Another day was set for the poor, who came and had a cup of tea and some sweets and
left with their gift. I always remember one of them who passed by our house every
night at ten sharp, while singing the saddest song. Then there was a few minutes
of silence which meant he was at a neighbors' door receiving something for the night.
Then he would start singing again until he reached the end of town... and the next
day and the next. And I remember it all. I remember and remember and remember in
my mind and my heart.
Towards the end, most children were married and had their own home and Norooz table
and so forth. Only father and mother, Kian and Sassan, and I, were left at home.
Now, four of them are gone; some died a natural death and some at their prime.
"Sometimes God picks the flower that is still in full bloom;
sometimes the rosebud is chosen that we feel He's picked too soon."
Maybe they tried to show me the truth: Not to take anyone, no one, for granted.
"Maybe truth was those two young hands, those young hands which were buried
under the incessant falling snow."
Since in exile, I have tried to keep the tradition alive. I have tried to make it
as authentic as possible, partly to observe a ritual that is an important part of
our national identity. And partly to do what those two precious beings -- father
and mother -- loved us so much to do. But it is not the same, it is never the same,
and the yearning burns my heart and the yearning burns my soul and I suppose I will
give the rest of my life to be there and then with those whom I cherished and so
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