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Guilty Conscience

By Roya Monajem, Tehran

The news was short: They were executed...

خبر کوتاه بود

اعدامشان کردند...

Wrote the contemporary Iranian poet Houshang Ebtehaj so many years ago... with the echo of his words still resonating in Alborz Mountains!

Before that, the pioneer of modern Iranian poetry Nima Yushij wrote: The memory of certain people keeps me enlightened!

یاد بعضی نفرات

روشنم می دارد...

Denial, guilty conscience, anger, depression are the main emotions one goes through after losing a dear one and before accepting the bitter truth of death.

This was the first time after the first time of automatically jumping out of the house on a 22 Bahman, a killing temptation was felt inside to do the same this year! It didn't happen because accidentally an exceptional individual, a friend of a friend was caught in a snow storm and asked for help four days before that important day of the contemporary history of this ancient land.

In our first encounter, some weeks before, seeing him dressed like dervishes, despite state prohibitions, in reply to the question, why, the answer was: This is in fact how ancient Iranian men dressed up! Apparently, he had made that decision when returning home from the west thirty years ago with the high price of being forsaken by his parents and more or less other members of their westernized educated family. Being deprived of their financial support, he begins to work with his hands for the first time in his life.

- I was the first person here using only cotton and wool to make outfits similar to these. For the first set I had to borrow money. At the end I was buying bolts of textiles... I am so glad that a young couple decided to continue this trade...

His comment, "You know, one of our great mistakes under the ex-regime was that we mainly traveled to western countries and were naturally greatly shaken by their modern civilization so much so that we automatically turned to dissidents, while if we instead had traveled to India, Pakistan and places like that, we would have seen our country differently..." kept echoing in the ears ever since that first encounter... He had a point there which I had not heard from anybody else before...

Abbas Abad forest separating Klardasht from the Caspian Sea with its soaring old trees looks much more awesome during winters, particularly in winters and when covered with snow. And his house was at the end of a typical narrow mountainous road with only two or three other houses seen at far distances. Relieved to reach there just before the night fall after getting lost a bit in the area, the familiar yet nowadays rarely seen portico with the most well-known Zoroastrian icon (called fravahar) the winged Ahuramazda and all - said- in- one - commandment: "Good deed, Good word, Good thought" shinning on the lentil took away the lingering apprehension.

In the guest room with its typical old rural architecture, besides its beautiful wooden ceiling, several small windows, a large hand-made local carpet, the first things which attracted attention were the whole collection of instruments found in zoorkhaneh, literally meaning the house of physical force, replacing mehrabeh - temple of "worshippers of mehr" (meaning both sun and love) or "Mithraisim," the oldest Persian religion - after the advent of Islam. It was once the house of knights and wrestlers and now it can perhaps just be called a traditional gymnasium. His comments about why he stopped going there  confirmed the above claim. It was like they failed him in their behavior. The mil-s (wooden weights of different sizes) were the only ones I had seen before. 

- What are those two little wooden doors?

- They are not doors, they are called sang (literally meaning stone).

A smile automatically appeared on the face on seeing a Pinocchio like figure formed by the handle of those sangs and the soft round pad around it. (Alas, I couldn't catch it with my camera.)

- And that metallic chain-like thing around that child's photo should be kabadeh - (bow-shaped chain looking iron weights)?

- Yes... Usually people work with only one set of these weights, but as an extremist, I used to work with all of them!

- And is that child you?

The answer was a nod of the head.

The two rather long gazelle horns on top of the child's photo on the wall were in turn crowned by a rather large picture of Zoroaster...

He put a white cup of a hot liquid in front of me whose odor and pinkish purple color left no doubt that it is what old Iranians used to drink in the evenings to wash away the day's tension, a mixture of borage and valerian with dried Persian sour lemon sweetened with crystallized sugar (naba't). 

-You seem nervous...

- Yes, because of the recent executions and now the conversation I just had with my neighbour! He was just repeating all that we hear from the national media...

Interrupting him, I asked: But apparently most war-martyrs of this region are from these two villages, pishanbur and pih-anbur around you. So it is not that surprising, is it?

- True, that is why I promised myself not to discuss politics with him anymore. Besides, I still feel quite weak after that endoscopy in Tehran and taking those large doses of antibiotics and the other pills I still have to take!

- By the way, what does anbur mean?

- Apparently, it means anba'r (store-house).

And the following train of thoughts automatically passed the mind: then as the name of the first village where they were digging a trench for the gas pipe suggests should be the village before that store-house and the other one on higher heights, the village after it. I don't know why I didn't ask what that now non-existent store-house could be?

This was a few days before he was caught in the snow storm after ascending to a nearby mountain peak...

Another interesting corner of the guest room was on the left side of the entrance door... an old cupboard with cabinets and shelves decorated with two similar old samovars one large and the other small, a doll dressed in a beautifully knitted pleated dress, a plaster bust of the most popular wrestler-knight of the country, Takhti, a small framed picture of late ayatollah Beheshti, with a large old fading photo of Iranian Prime-Minister, Mosadeq apparently taken around the time of ex-Shah's coup d'etat in the Mirror Hall of Golestan Palace in Tehran, looking extremely angry with his left hand raised, evidently blaming America...

 - After President Truman, America began to move away from its initial humanistic path.

His voice echoed in the room...

Such a coincidence! It was only a few days ago when a mail about the humble life of Truman, as the last US president going to White House and leaving it with the same old car was circulating on the internet!

Settling down on a folded colorful woolen hand-made bedcover on the floor next to the entrance door facing a modern fireplace which he attended rather obsessively, I listened to his account about his long bare-feet journey with his companion - an expensive motorcycle, now parked in the stable of his house- to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bermeh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, early eighties staying at any tempting spiritual center or in the vicinity of any master-like personality for a longer or shorter period of time as well...

- It is full-moon tonight. Can we see it rising from any of these windows?

- The one over there...

- Do you care about these things?

His immediate reaction was like saying: How foolish to ask such a question!

- It was actually in Candy, a beautiful city in Sri Lanka with an extremely serene lake surrounded by palm trees when I began to befriend full-moon!

The sound of fire mixed with that of a little stream running in the valley below made the snowy scenery brightened by the rising moon seem more 'unreal!'

Not allowing me to help him with the supper, I used the opportunity to check mails to see if there was any new news from the capital. How interesting! Another coincidence! A forwarded mail about Mosadeq - mentioning a few stories about his personality and the fact that he did not spend a penny from the state treasury throughout his prime ministry, but only from his own pocket - truly elated him...

Two days later when the snow began, it was early in the evening when the temptation of taking out a walk in that long awaited snow won over the lethargy. The storm had just begun...The child in me was really enjoying herself being swung by the blizzard ... 

- What are you doing in this storm? Asked the old shop-keeper still mourning for his lost son and her daughter's husband since a few months ago...

- It is not that bad! Would you give me some candles too?

About fifteen minutes later, while walking down the steep slippery alleyway to my cottage, I actually realized my naivety and the reason for the shopkeeper's concern...

It was near noontime when he called for help. Presuming that the reason for his phone call is the snow, which he knew I was craving to see, I jumped into his "Dorood" (Hello) to express my joy, but then suddenly stopped as something in me had discerned that his voice had sounded strange...

- What's wrong?

- Could you come over? Last evening I climbed up to a mountain peak nearby and had yogurt with a lot of garlic with wood-men there and when coming back I was caught in the storm and could hardly sleep because of nausea and flatulence...

Yogurt, garlic, cold weather, cold environment, 'cold' type of nutrition, lots of antibiotics and other chemicals, endoscopy... snow covered roads... no intelligent neighbor... no ... no...

In a spark of time, the Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa in me - the very ones I have been concentrating to restrain in the past four or five years -  got the reign of the affairs and...

- Yes, I am coming. Don't worry!

Accepting the defeat, calming down all the protestors to that instant tyrannical decision of the above two old dictators in me, the one who had to drive reminded both side to forget their argument and hurry up before the herbal shops would close down and the snow gets thicker...

On reaching there, and taking his pulse, I got frightened. What if he is having a heart stroke...

- Please take this mixture which will hopefully calm down your nausea and flatulence. I am going to needle you too.

- What needles?

- Acupuncture!

Within two hours, all signs and symptoms except weakness disappeared. The heart pulse sounded much better too. Florence Nightingale apparently did a good job! And Mother Theresa after arguing with him that his manner of vegetarianism has been the main cause of his digestive problems, cooked him a palatable chicken, even though he had no appetite... In the evening the water in the pipes of the guest's bathroom outside froze, associating childhood days during winters...

Although the speed of internet connection in that remote place was amazingly high compared to my area, nevertheless, there was no access to mailbox. Would they execute the others too?

I lighted a fire and used the opportunity to perform my evening joyous existence meditation. 

- Weren't you ever married?

- Once for four months and ten (or twelve) days!

The irony was that the wife was a distant - never- met- blood- relative! Is there such a thing as family karma? 

- One thing I still don't understand is Karma.

- What do you mean?

- In one of my trips while passing through a heavenly place in an ecstatic mood, a little boy threw me a stone. They said it was Karma. Never in my life have I physically hurt anybody.

- Pointing to fravahar's icon, I responded: Isn't the answer there? Good thoughts, good words, good deeds. That was the karma of a bad thought perhaps!

His expression revealed his reluctance to surrender.

The fact that the slight tightness in his chest had also disappeared within those first hours after my arrival made me to put the horrible thought of what if he had a heart attack out of my mind, go to bed without much concern and wake up as usual before the dawn. Knowing where the east was now, the shades of yellow light coloring the mountain peaks heralded at least a sunny morning ...

Inviting him to eat his breakfast in the guest room with the beautiful sunrays pouring in through its windows, he asked me to make him a boiled egg, with the comment to make sure that it boils exactly for four minutes and he wanted to instruct me how to make tea, of Lahijan brand, the same tea which Mosadeq made for a group of ignorant tradesmen who wished to import tea from India, I interrupted saying: Yes, I will wash the tea with cold water, then put the tea pot on the kettle and after the water starts boiling I will pour it into the tea pot and leave it for 20 minutes, not a minute more nor less.

- And make sure to stir it after 5- 8 minutes!

While preparing the breakfast I kept trying to get connected to internet.

- Amazingly, all of sudden there were several mails referring to Ancient Iran in their subject, Kabeh Zardosht, (Zoroaster's Kiblah), God bless Ferdowsi, and one by Behnoud quoting Zoroaster: I light a lantern,...

- What is the content?

- "I read a sentence by Zoroaster chosen by Mr. Yahya Tadayon which to me is quite helpful under present circumstances. So good if our generation would understand the depth and meaning of this approach so that it would not destroy the time with its radicalism. Zoroaster has said: My war is only with darkness. To fight darkness, I don't draw a sword, but light a lantern."

- By the way, if I weren't around, who would you have called?

- My niece in Shahsavar, or my doctor cousin in Chalus!

Remembering our conversation about my shortcoming in overcoming the emotion pity, I made a great effort not asking, so why didn't you call them ...? What happened to your manly knightly manner? In fact, this was my main preoccupation not only throughout those three days, but for so many days after.

On the third day he looked so well and it was such a beautiful sunny day that I asked him if he would like to take a short walk. Remembering my mother asking me to eat some snow as we did in childhood with the thick sweet boiled juice of grape, I just made a small snowman on the way out.

On return, seeing me packing up my laptop, he asked:

- Couldn't you stay longer? Are you going to Tehran for 22 Bahman?

To tell you the truth, at this moment I just want to go home.

- Don't you feel at home here?

- I did tell you that since my heart attack during last Nowrouz, I really need to watch myself... so again telling you the truth, I no longer know what I will do. And read aloud the verse by Hafez which says:

ریسمانی بر گردنم افکنده دوست

می‌کشد آنجا که خاطرخواه اوست

A rope has cast around my neck, the Friend

Pulling it to wherever He prefers

A smile appeared on his face which was of great help to say No this time to his still lingering request for staying longer...

While waiting for the car to warm up, I went back to jump and separate one of icicles hanging down from the roof of his house and put it like a cane into the hand of that little snowman!

Naturally feeling quite exhausted, before going to bed quite early, I called him twice without getting any answer.

Giving myself the assurance of the proverb: No news, Good news, now sounding a fact of life due to personal experience, the actual tranquilizing thought was, he has gone to sleep and has pulled out the phone not to be disturbed... I was wrong. He had gone to the town... the very thing I thoughtfully tried to avoid because of the bumpy dumpy rural roads and in a Land Rover...

It was seven in the next morning when I called him again.

My goodness! He sounded much worse than the first day he called for help... He could hardly breathe...So after all it was a heart-attack!

- Will you come over?

- No! It takes more time. Call that young kind Mullah friend of yours to bring you to Hassan Kief, I join you there...

On the second day at his house, because of the radiators in the guest room was not working and the room was getting extremely cold, he called him to cover over to fix it. He was a young man dressed in ordinary outfit.

He told me about him before his arrival.

- We call him French wrench, (a term we use for people who know a bit of everything), but he insists that if we have to call him that we should call him Iranian wrench.

After his arrival while serving him tea, I couldn't resist asking him:

- Have you heard about the suicide of three young men serving their military service in three different villages here? 

Seeing his puzzled face, I continued:

- One of them was my landlord's nephew. He was such a robust jolly man. It is hard to believe that he has committed suicide. Suicide is not that easy, is it?

- I don't know. I have never tried it.

We all smiled and I left the room...

Wondering why were they hesitating so much, the constant thought was I wish I had gone to pick him up myself...It was about 11.30 when they finally arrived at the so-called hospital of the town. And to make the long story short, he died about 12 hours later at the intensive care unit of the Taleqani Hospital in Chalus![i]

May his soul rest in Peace!

His name was Massoud Gorgizad (1943-2010)!

Before leaving his house at the end of those three days of nursing, mothering, and hopefully practicing Love of Neighbour, as well as once again living through my ignorance, foolishness, selfishness, helplessness, a whole library of questions including whether in the end, pity is a virtue or sin ... and after prescribing what seems to be a remedy, the panacea of all pains which in Iranian language is expressed in the term: shoor o haal, more or less meaning passion and presence in English, I said:

- You know, I have still this bugging feeling that there is something bothering you deeply which no matter how hard I tried, I failed to discover...

In response, while looking straight into my eyes, he firmly said:

- Believe me Iran is my only concern in life...

Blessed be his soul and all those who leave this world with such love in their heart!

This is apparently the sentiment we share with all other earthly creatures: love of Birth-place, Homeland, Mother-Father-Land...

You disagree? Ask salmons, turtles, swallows...

[i] I am indebted to Dr. M.H.Najmabadi, still the sole ICU specialist and founder of ICU departments of all large hospitals of the capital, except the ones recently beginning to work, in helping me to overcome my guilty conscience to some extent after hearing the case-history. This is what he said: You should have driven him with your own car with oxygen capsule to Noshahr airport as unfortunately local ambulance drivers act like drunkards when they sit behind the wheel, so that he would be transferred to a good hospital to Tehran and... It is said in many traditions, our life-span is pre-determined. It is apparently even written on the palm of our hands and can be known from our birth-charts... Yet, is it?

... Payvand News - 03/01/10 ... --

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