Monday, August 18, 2008

A Place called Golestan

Colorful Persian miniature painting of beautiful woman in flowing dress

This story of mine which was published in Arabesque Print Literary Journal in 2006 was written in moments of fear and isolation. It contains some personal motifs and deals with the problem of identity for Iranians in the Western world.

A Place Called Golestan

Aref dreamt that his apartment had caught fire, and he tried to save his most cherished belongings -- a few photo albums, a bunch of books and CDs.

The next morning he was following the news, while having his frugal breakfast – some cereal and a cup of coffee – when he heard about how foreign troops had invaded the country of his ancestors. The news agitated him, and he did not finish his bowl of cereal.

Once upon a time an eager but very timid five-year old boy had been assigned to crush grapes with his little bare feet. His trampling and constantly moving feet had been stained with the squirting warm dark-red juice. Aref always enjoyed this activity. He knew that his grandfather, who was watching him with a smile, would use the juice to make wine; that he would pour the fruit of his trampling efforts into a large machine in the garden shed at the back. His grandfather used to tell his oldest grandson: “One day, you will be old enough to have a taste of your own accomplishment.”

Aref had waited in vain. War and politics had created an immense gulf between their lives and, reluctantly, his family had decided to leave it all behind - home, family, job and career - to embark on the quest for other more peaceful shores.

Not much did he know or remember about his country, the place where he had seen the light of day, the ground on which he had learned to walk and where his first impressions of childhood had been formed. He had always shared the belief that people were similar to wine; they would soak up and absorb a certain flavor of their region, which meant, in his case: the vast range of mountains, the sweet fragrance of rose gardens, the ornamental architecture of mosques and palaces, the thin bread, the fresh cheese, lyrical poetry.

However, his lack of knowledge about his roots and culture embarrassed him, he who was used to a tightrope-balancing act between North American life and a Western European upbringing. But he had ended up as a man without culture, an unidentified man suspended in mid-air without solid ground to fall upon, the prototypical restless nomad who never stays at one place, but, like his parents, must wander onto new horizons, to new hopes - and kept walking in formless circles.

“Have you heard?” he asked his sister on the phone.

“Yes, I tried to call there, but all the lines are busy or disrupted. I hope they’re all right. I sent an email though.”

“Yes, good thinking. Are you busy today?”

Aref felt more lonely than usual and longed for her company.

“Ah, Aref, I will see what I can do. Doubt it though. You know, got a big exam coming up tomorrow.”

“That’s OK, Shaydah,” a somewhat disheartened Aref responded.

“But I’ll be over tomorrow afternoon. Right after the exam. What do you say?”

“Sounds good. See you then.”

He hung up. Their form of communication was a borrowed language. The knowledge of his native tongue was slowly fading away.

Unfortunately, he had never bothered to learn to read and write Farsi and suddenly, despite of his North American education, he felt like an illiterate. He had spent years studying and developing French language and literature at the expense of neglecting his own background.

He called his parents and got the answering machine. In broken Farsi he told them he would call back later in the evening.

Slightly depressed and overwhelmed by these newly sprouting sensations, he decided to go to the public library to find some information that would appease his sudden craving.

As he was walking through the busy smog-filled streets of downtown, passing by students, beggars, couples, corporate people, he could not shake off the thought that, in the eyes of the world, he was nothing but a second-class citizen.

In Germany, where he finished his secondary education, he always stood out with his dark hair and dark-brown eyes. He knew that should he have applied for citizenship there, he would have never fully become a German citizen. Besides, he had felt quite reluctant to have to give up his original nationality, something that his host country Canada with its dual citizenship standard did not deny him.

He went to the public library, sat down at one of the computers and began his search on the Internet. With amazement he gazed upon the various photos of temples and fountains, read fragments of stories and legends and felt like reverting back to ancient times of padshahs, courageous fearless heroes, and beautiful princesses.

On his way back home he bought a bottle of red wine and a miniature Persian carpet. The latter he put ceremoniously on the center of his studio. Then, he opened the wine wanting to imitate the great tradition of mystic Sufi poets, who had used this ancient heavenly drink as a symbol for illumination and acquired knowledge. He drank to himself in his modest lodging and read poetry from the books he had signed out from the library.

How his philosophy of love and life coincided with the lyrical passages and descriptions in those books! How, he resembled the Majnun, the mad man, the wild sensitive young man who had lost his sanity because of his passion and love for the beautiful and incomparable Layla! How often had he been lying there on those sleepless tormented nights, suffering from love and picturing the smile of his beloved, the girl of his dreams, who had many faces, but who always evaded him throughout his life!

The wine started to go to his head, and he became drowsy, so he decided to take a short walk outside. He always found that whenever his body was in motion, his thoughts regained momentum. As he looked upon the various colorless, brick and wooden buildings under the gray light of an overcast sky and impending rain, he mused about what it must have been like to walk on the turf of his country.

Suddenly, he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. He turned around very slowly. There was nobody there. Yet the space behind him started to transform before his eyes. Like a black and white movie that gradually turned into color, the scenery changed and came to life. The gray district was suddenly glazed in bright vivid colors, the walls were being repainted with floral motifs and calligraphy, vines began growing and interlacing on the cracked buildings, olive trees sprouted upwards from the asphalt, and branches with fresh green leaves extended their arms.

And the passage below his feet had turned into a soft bed of roses and lilies and orchids. Red tulips burst open from dead solid rock and reached up towards the sun. Eagles and sparrows took over the skies.

With a knowing smile, he entered the long-sought garden.

1 comment:

rani said...

This item touched me. I left my country more than 20 years back, but not because of politics and my poems speak about this identity question. Please when you have the time look up A Wooden Door, A Metal Key and you'll realise it's implications.