|Paths of perennial ponder: A glimpse of Persian folktales (Part 2/2)||
Every year, on the 21st of March, Iranians celebrate Norouz (literally, New Day), the Persian New year. In the following tale, Amu Norouz (literally, Uncle New Day) appears in the form of an old man who is betrothed to Naneh Sarma (literally, Cold Ma or Mother Frost) who symbolizes winter. Amu Norouz who is always on the road during the 12 months of the year has the opportunity to meet his beloved only on the first day of spring.
The Tale of Uncle New Day
Yeki bood, yeki nabood, gheyr az khoda hich kas nabood. Once upon a time, there was one; there was no one (not one), there was no one but God. There was an old man who went by the name of Amu Norouz (Uncle Norouz) and every year, on the very first day of spring, with his Persian felt hat (kolaah namadi), henna dyed hair and henna dyed beard, clad in a blue waist cassock with a Khalil Khani shawl (probably a type of fine shawl), loom shaped trousers, and a pair of giveh (traditional shoes) with thin soles, he would set off from the very top of the mountains as he would pave the way with his cane until he would arrive down at the city gates.
Now inside the city gates, there lived an old woman who had lost her heart (Persian, delbaakhteh) to Uncle Norouz (a metaphoric way of saying “she was in love”). Every year, on the very first day of spring, she would wake up early, neatly fold her mattress and blankets and go through the ‘khaaneh tekaani’ ritual (literally, shaking the house, which means cleaning the house from ceiling to the floor and making everything spick and span from the top to the bottom). After sweeping the yard, splashing fresh water on the ground and making everything spick and span, she would take bath and groom herself. Then she would apply henna on her hands and legs and do the haft ghalam makeup (literally, seven items, a phrase which connotes a combination of many diverse things. Numbers 3, 7 and 40 are significant numbers in Persian traditions), from drawing lines and putting a small khaal (literally, mole, making beauty spots) on her face to applying kohl and blush. Wearing a richly pleated shaliteh (loose skirt worn on pants which became a fashion trend during the Qajar period) over a red tonbaan (pants, an outfit in old Iran) she would perfume her hair and face with musk and amber. Then she would bring the best of her Persian carpets and spread it on the veranda which faced the howz (pool) and its fountains along the small garden which was abundantly blessed with many colorful flowers and fruit bearing trees that were now full of spring blossoms. On a beautiful and a sparkling tray, she would then place the haft seen (the seven “s”, items that begin with this letter): seer (garlic), serkeh (vinegar), somaagh (Sumac fruit or powder), senjed (dried oleaster fruit), seeb (apple), sabzeh (wheat, barley or lentil sprouts) and samanu (sweet pudding made from wheat germ). On another tray, she would then arrange seven types of dried fruits, noghl(a traditional Persian confection, sugar coated almonds) and nabaat (saffron rock candy). Then she would light up the manghal (traditional Persian charcoal pan) and set the hooka right next to it, although she would not light it. She would then fix her eyes on the road, awaiting the arrival of Uncle New Day.
A little later, her eyes would grow heavy and she would gradually drift into sleep and soon the sound of her snoring could be heard. At this point, Uncle Norouz would arrive and as he did not want to disturb the old lady’s sleep, he would not wake her up. He would just pluck a hamisheh bahaar flower (literally, the constant spring flower, Pot Marigold), place it in her hands and sit by her side for some time. With a pair of tongs, he would take some hot coal from the manghal and place it on the hooka. After a few drags, he would slice a naraanj (bitter orange) into half and have a piece of it with ghandaab (sugar cubes diluted in water). He would also stir the fire on the manghal so it would last longer. Then he would look affectionately at the old woman, kiss her cheek and set off once again for the road.
The sunlight would gradually spread across the front yard and the old would woman would wake up. At first, she would not sense anything different but after opening her eyes, oh yes, lo and behold! Everything had been shifted and altered. Hot coals on the manghal, bitter orange slices on the plate, the embers stirred under the still hot coals and her cheek was wet. It was then that she would understand Uncle Norouz had been in her house and that he had not wanted to wake her up.
Jaanam baraatoon begeh (now, as I was saying my dear my ones), the old woman was very sad and kept asking herself that after all the trouble she had gone through, why did she have to fall asleep exactly at the same moment that she should have been awake? Every single day, she would tell others of her pain and ask what could be done now so she could meet Uncle Norouz. Then one day, someone told her that there was no other way but to wait for another spring wind and the first day of the New Year, for Uncle Norouz to come down once again from the mountaintops into the city.
And so, the old woman decided to wait but no one really knows whether she could meet Uncle Norouz the following year, because some people believe if the two were to meet, the world would come to an end and as we are all still here, reading these lines and listening to this tale, we know that Uncle Norouz and the old woman never met!
The Parrot and the Merchant
The following tale is originally from the Masnavi by Rumi, Persian poet (1207-1273) and written in verse.
Roozi bood, roozegaari bood (literally, it was a day, it was an era, once upon a time), there lived a merchant who had a beautiful and sweet tongued parrot that he kept in a beautiful cage. Now the merchant wanted to travel to India for trade, so he called each one of his servants and asked them what they would like him to bring them from India. Each one expressed their wish. Then he asked the parrot if he too wished for anything.
“If you see any parrots in India, give them an account of me. Tell them I long to see them but fate has kept me in this cage. Give them my regards and ask them to help me out. Is it fair that you fly in the gardens while I spend my days in this narrow cage and die of separation and loneliness? It is good for friends to remember one another. Tell them this,” pleaded the parrot.
The merchant promised to deliver the message to the Indian parrots. When he reached India, he saw a few parrots resting on tree branches in a vast and lush green jungle. So, he stopped his horse, got down and greeted the parrots. Then he delivered his parrot’s message to them. No sooner had he finished speaking that all of a sudden one of the parrots shivered and fell off the branch and died. The merchant regretted what he had said.
“I have caused this parrot’s death. Perhaps he was related to my parrot or both of them are one soul in two bodies. Why did I speak? I have caused misery to this poor creature.” so thought the sad merchant.
Yes, my dear ones, the tongue is like a rock and the mouth like iron. To strike iron with a rock can cause fire. The world is dense and dark like a cotton field. Why put fire onto cotton? Those who close their eyes and set fire to the world with their words are none but tyrants. A word can ruin the world or make dead foxes rise as lions.
Now, dard-e-saretaan nadaham (literally, I don’t want to give you a headache, bother you with the details), the merchant finished his trade with a sad heart and returned to his hometown. He brought home souvenirs for each one of his friends and servants.
“Where is my souvenir? Did you give them my message? What did the parrots have to say?” asked the enthusiastic parrot.
“I regret giving them your message. I won’t say anything else. Oh alas! Why was I so foolish? I will never speak again without thinking ahead,” said the merchant in a sad voice.
The parrot who was now curious walked a little in his cage and asked the merchant why he was sad, why he regretted delivering his message. What had happened? But the merchant was silent.
The parrot insisted more and more, until the merchant finally accepted to say something.
“When I gave them your message, one of them who seemed to know you shivered, fell off the branch and died. I was so sad. Now I know I shouldn’t have spoken a word about you. But then there is no point in regret. A word that gets out of the mouth is like an arrow that leaves the bow and never comes back,” said the merchant.
As soon as the parrot heard this, he started shivering; and just like the Indian parrot he fell down in the cage and died. The merchant was now really stunned. He wept and lamented this fate.
“O sweet tongued bird, why happened to you? Oh woe and alas! My beautiful sweet tongued bird is gone. Oh my tongue! My tongue brings me nothing but misery,” he wept and wept.
O tongue! You are the fire and you are the harvest
How long will thou set fire to my soul and my rest?
O tongue! Even though you are an endless treasure
You are also the suffering without a measure
The poor merchant was still weeping when he took the parrot out of the cage. All of a sudden, the parrot stirred, opened his wings, fluttered and flew up and sat on a tall tree. The merchant was surprised.
“O beautiful bird, enlighten me on this mystery. What did that parrot in India teach you that has made me so miserable?” asked the merchant.
“He gave me a good advice with his action and told me that I was caged for being sweet tongued. If you want to be free you have to get rid of your traits. You must dissolve; you must become “nothing” to be free. That is what his actions told me,” replied the wise parrot.
If you are a seed, birds will eat you. If you are a bud, children will pluck you. Misery awaits anyone who parades his beauty or art. Friends and foes will eye him with envy. Such were the words of the parrot who advised the merchant from treetop before he said goodbye.
“Go! May God be with you! You have shown me the path of truth and I shall follow. My jaan (literally, life, soul) is no less than a parrot’s and to set it free, one must abandon all,” concluded the merchant.
Old Is Gold
More Rumi tales
The following tales are also originally from the Masnavi Ma’navi which was written in verse by Rumi, the Persian poet of the 13th century.
Once upon a time, there were four travelling companions: An Arab, a Turk, a Persian and a Greek. These four friends had only one coin between them and they were hungry. The Persian said let us buy some “grapes” and eat them.
“No, I would like to have anab (Arabic for grapes)”, said the Arab.
“I don’t want anab. All I want is Uzum (Turkish for grapes),” said the Turk.
“Oh please stop arguing. Let us have Stafil (Greek for grapes)” said the Greek.
The four of them got into a fight although all of them wanted the same fruit, grapes. This was because they did not know the meaning and mystery of names. Each one demanded grapes in their own language. If there was a man of knowledge among them who knew the meaning of names, he would definitely make peace between them. He would tell them, “I shall buy all your wishes with this coin. This one coin will get all four of you what you desire. Trust me, for your speech causes nothing but arguments. I know the meaning of names and that is our difference. You fight for names, but the meaning and truth are one.”
Lamp in Daylight
Once upon a time, there was a sheykh (an old man, hermit, saint, philosopher) who moved about the town with a lantern. He would search each lane and pathway as though he was looking for something.
“What are you looking for so eagerly and meticulously? Why do you have a lantern with you in broad daylight?” asked some curious passerby.
“I am looking for a human being,” replied the hermit.
“Look, this lane and that bazaar are full of people,” said the man.
“Yes, but I am looking for someone alive with a human heart. I am searching for someone who is alive with a godly soul, a human being who keeps calm when wrath, greed and lust invade. I am looking for such a human being” was the calm reply.
“You are looking for something that cannot be found,” said the passerby.
But the hermit said, “That which cannot be found is what I desire and am looking for.”
The Wise Bird
Once upon a time, a hunter caught hold of a bird.
The bird pleaded for his life and said, “O good man! You must have eaten a lot of meat in your lifetime, and yet, you are not satiated. So, even this little body of mine will not satiate you. But if you set me free, I will give you three rare and precious advices that can make you happy forever. I will tell you the first advice whilst I am in your hands, the second advice when I sit on your rooftop and the third one, once I sit on a tree branch.”
The man agreed and promised to set the bird free.
“The first advice is this: never believe the incredible from anyone,” said the bird.
The man instantly let go of the bird and set it free. The bird flew and sat on the rooftop.
“Never feel sorrow for the past and what you have lost, “said the bird.
Then the bird flew further and sat on a tree branch.
“O good man! There is a precious and rare pearl of ten drams (or drachms, each dram was about 3.41 grams) inside my belly but unfortunately it was not your roozi (Persian, daily share of bread and bliss given by the Lord) and it was not in your ghesmat (your share of life, your fate) otherwise you would have become rich by selling it,” said the wise bird.
Upon hearing those words, the hunter became very frustrated and he started lamenting his fate.
The bird laughed and said, “Didn’t I just advise you to never feel sorrow for the past? Either you have not understood my words or you are deaf. I told you to never believe the incredible from anyone. You simple fool! I don’t weigh more than three drams all together, how would it be possible for me to carry a ten dram pearl in my belly?”
The man realized his mistake.
“O wise bird! Your advices are way precious! Prey, tell me the third one.” he pleaded.
But the bird replied, “But did you listen to the first two advices that I gave you that you now demand the third one?”
Giving advice to the inattentive ignorant is like casting seeds in a marshy land.
Unity in love
A lover knocked on the door of his beloved’s house. “Who is it?” asked the beloved from inside.
“It’s I,” he replied.
“Then go. You are not yet ready. You are not yet ripe. You have to burn in the fire of separation for some time before you are good and ready to knock on this door again,” was the swift reply.
The poor lover went away and tasted the fire of separation for some time. After a year, he returned in fear and knocked on the beloved’s door with care, minding his every word and action.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“O beloved! It is you. It is you, only you,” he answered.
The beloved opened the door and said, “Now we are one. You can come in. In love there is no room for two “I” (selves). A thread with two heads (branches) cannot go through the needle’s eye.”
From Masnavi in Prose by Dr. Mahmoud Fotouhi
Translation from Persian: Maryam Ala Amjadi
Subscribe to our RSS feed to stay in touch and receive all of TT updates right in your feed reader