Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran

By Fatemeh Keshavarz | Go to book overview

6 Tea with My Father and the Saints

I can easily compare my uncle the painter to a saint. In fact, I have a hard time imagining a saint in any other way. My father, by contrast, was not a saint by any stretch of the imagination. He was emotional, demanding, and easily offended. Our relationship, which grew closer in the latter years of his life, always remained stormy.

—Why can't you stay the whole summer?

—But, Baba, I have a family and a job in St. Louis!

We exchanged those two sentences close to a hundred times, I am sure. If he were really upset, he would add, “I won't be here when you come next time.” But then he could not bear the thought of my being hurt. Big hugs, cups of tea, and stories of saints whom he loved very much and called “friends of God” were vehicles we would use to normalize our relationship. An alternative solution was asking me to read ghazal of Sa'di or Hafez, after which he would declare with considerable pride, “No one reads like you.” I know he meant it. When I had my radio show in Iran he listened to it every day, recording it at the same time. My cousins had a joke about going to his room and hearing me talk, whether I was there or not.

If I were to choose one adjective to describe Baba, I would say “generosity” without a moment's hesitation. He never “owned” anything, not really. Everything that he had was in his custody temporarily until a more suitable candidate could be found to receive it as a gift. The outstanding qualification for the prospective recipient was showing a flicker of interest in the object. It never was necessary to ask. That is what he liked in saints as well, their generosity and warmth toward ordinary mortals in need of divine grace. He knew a million stories about every one of the saints by heart. Each story usually included elaborate details and centered on an unbelieving individual encountering a true saint. During the encounter, the skeptic's obstinacy would be shaken by the wondrous presence of the saint. Of

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