Monday, October 15, 2007

The Immortality of an Ordinary Life

I finished a conversation and then looked around my small apartment to do some errands, the housekeeping ones: categorizing papers, cleaning and dusting. Then phone rang, the number was a long distance one, the one my family use to call me. I answered; surprised since the time was almost 2:00 AM in the morning Tehran time. It was my sister.

My sister said hi. And I said hi. She asked how I was doing and I asked how she was doing.
-“I am fine”
-“I am good a bit tired though.”
A bit of small talk followed and then she said:
-“Mom and dad are visiting Uncle Mohammad, he is not feeling well.”
- Why? what happened?
- He is not good, he is not feeling well.
- What happened?
- He had a heart attack, he is in hospital
- How is he feeling?
- Not good. (her voice trembled)
- He is not feeling good or…?
- He is…

It is over. The forgotten reality of life strikes. He is with my dear grandmother now, chatting in their Farsi with Shahroudi accent.

My uncle was what seemed to be an ordinary man. He did not go to college. He had a high school diploma, served his mandatory obligation as a private before revolution and then went back to his hometown. A provincial city south of Eastern Alborz Mountains, called Shahroud. There he worked in a pharmacy and then in a small agricultural firm started by a cousin. He was quiet and kept to himself most of the time; a calm looking man who wore a thick black moustache and dark rim glasses with thinning hair which became silver in the later years. It was impossible to guess what he was thinking about.

That was not all. He played as an amateur actor in plays produced by the city theatrical groups, formed by enthusiastic fans like him. His passion was his library and his music. He had a collection of Iran’s traditional and folklore music that was coveted by everyone in the family. He never missed an issue of Film magazine, Iran’s prominent monthly publication on movie and art industry. He loved movies and followed the industry very closely or as much as he could.

He did not have any child of his own, so he spoiled his nieces and nephews. He never showed up empty handed. He always had books, something remarkable and thought provoking. My small library as a teenager owed him and his generosity a great debt of gratitude. He brought me books by Jules Verne, Turgeniev, Jalal Al Ahmad, Simin Daneshvar and other renowned authors. He never seized to encourage us, the noise making bunch of wild rebels. He took pride in our achievements, in my cousin admission to medical school, in my sisters’ and my cousins’ academic and professional achievements and in my graduate studies. Last time we talked he addressed me as “Shoma”; the formal way of saying “You” in Farsi. I was embarrassed. I dreamed of the day I gave a seminar in Shahroud that he could come to, I wanted him to see me as an economist.

Was he a religious man? Yes he was in a very old fashion way. He went to Mecca and served as a Khadem[1] in a local Tekeyeh[2]. He also kept an open mind; I never heard a word of judgment about anyone from him. His rule was simple: “be good”. My uncle certainly knew the difference of good and evil. His politics was simple like millions of Iranians: hoping for better days and believing that hope is a good thing.

He was not rich. His means were limited and his life utterly simple. But he was generous with his friends and family. He never claimed to be an “intellectual”. But he was always learning or reading. His library kept growing and growing. “Dayee[3] Mohammad” managed to live above and beyond the society, without any claim to grandeur or any pretense of talent. His share of history is not larger or smaller than that of other Iranians, yet as remarkable. In a turbulent time he did what he could to keep life memorable and to bring a little sunshine to this world. There rests the secret to immortality of his life..... I sure miss you a lot Dayee Joon.

[1] Literally it means “server” but in Iran it is used for people who work in Mosques, holy shrines and Tekyehs.
[2] A place of gathering in Ashura and other holy occasions for people who mourn the martyrdom of Shiite Imams, particularly Imam Hussien, the mourners are usually served by food and tea, donated by members of Tekeyeh.
[3] Dayee: Mom’s Brother, Uncle

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