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Seda: Voices of Iran

Shahrnush Parsipur (Short Story)The Gentlemen

Shahrnush Parsipur

Author Shahrnush Parsipur has written eleven works of fiction and memoir. Translations of Parsipur's stories appear in Stories by Iranian Women since the Revolution (1991) and Stories from Iran: A Chicago Anthology (1991). Her career receives treatment in Michael Hillman's From Durham to Tehran (1991). English translations of Parsipur's major writings were in print by 1992, when the author toured the United States. A bestseller in Iran, Touba, Women Without Men; like many of Parsipur's books remains banned. Imprisoned by the Shah's security agency and the Islamic Republic in turn, the author now lives in exile. Parsipur was the first recipient of the International Writer's Project Fellowship from Brown University and currently lives in California. 

Translated from the Persian by Farzin Yazdanfar 

There were three gentlemen: Mr. Tahmooresi, Mr. Habibi, and Mr. Nemati. They were sitting on a patio covered with an old rug. The evening was rather long and the sun was on the edge of the roof. Mr. Tahmooresi, half-drunk, was looking at the rain spots on the wall and at the sun which was setting on the ledge. Mr. Nemati, cheerful, was whispering a popular song.

Mr. Habibi: She has a good heart. Yes, she's very sincere.

Mr. Nemati: There's something attractive in her voice. A strain of sadness! Her voice is unusually sad.

Mr. Habibi: They say that she has had a tragic life, too. Her aunt raised her after she had tragically lost her parents.

Mr. Nemati: How strange!

Mr. Tahmooresi: You guys are talking too much.

"So what do you want us to do?" The other gentlemen asked.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Keep quiet for a moment and look at the beauties of nature.

Mr. Nemati and Mr. Habibi looked at what Mr. Tahmooresi had called nature: An incongruous polygonal pond with two rectangular flower- beds on each side. The violets had withered, and Mrs. Tahmooresi had not gotten a chance to plant summer flowers. They had sprinkled water on the mosaic tiles, and steam rising from the wet tiles had made the air in the backyard swelter.

Mr. Nemati: What do you mean 'nature', Tahmooresi?

Mr. Tahmooresi: Don't try to split hairs. This is nature. Isn't this?"

Mr. Habibi: Of course! You told us to look at nature and we would like to know what you mean by nature.

Mr. Nemati: I know. He means this pine tree, these violets, this blackberry tree. Am I right Tahmooresi?

Mr. Tahmooresi: I think you don't understand what I'm saying. I mean something different. Perhaps the word 'nature' isn't quite the right word. I should look for a different word. Look around carefully. This is what I meant: you shouldn't talk too much; you should look instead.

Mr. Habibi: What should we look at? I don't get it.

Mr. Nemati: He's right, dear. We should look around. We just talk. We've been talking for 2500 years.**

Mr. Tahmooresi: According to history, 2800 years. I don't understand why we're insisting on 2500 years. Humanity has existed for a million years.

Mr. Habibi: Not humanity, 'humans'.

Mr. Tahmooresi: 'Humanity' is symmetrical with 'human'. One is meaningless without the other.

Mr. Habibi: But it's correct to say 'human'. For instance, Dr. Barnard,*** who performs heart transplant operations, replaces a human being's heart; he doesn't replace humanity's heart.

Mr. Tahmooresi: You're just playing with words. Well, if Dr. Barnard can change the heart of human beings, he'll somehow be able to change the heart of humanity. Won't he?

Mr. Nemati: But let's be honest. The question of humanity aside, Dr. Barnard seems to have started a good business. There's nobody to ask him what the fuss is about.

Mr. Tahmooresi: I really like Nemati. He never lets the argument end up with a quarrel. I was once a soldier serving in the army in Kurdestan. I mean I wasn't a soldier. I was higher in rank, I was a lieutenant...

Mr. Habibi: This is how they fool people. They think that if they give you a couple of badges and promote you to a higher rank, they have the right to bully you. I don't understand the logic behind it. Why do they waste two years of one's life?

Mr. Tahmooresi: It's obvious. If a war breaks out, there should be some people to fight. After all, how would a war be possible without soldiers?

Mr. Nemati: I don't understand at all what the real purpose of war is. I read somewhere that war isn't part of man's nature. Man invented war.

Mr. Habibi: Man invented God, too.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Voltaire argues that if there was no God, man would invent one.

Mr. Nemati: Man has indeed made so many inventions. This two- legged creature is capable of doing so many things.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Take these missiles for example. And there are cannons with a range of 200 kilometers.

Mr. Habibi: Nonsense! How can a cannon have a 200-kilometer range?

Mr. Tahmooresi: Of course, there are such cannons. Otherwise, what would be the purpose of these sham quarrels among the Great Powers. There was once, when the Great Powers wanted to divide the world. Now, they don't need to do that. Why? Because they put a warhead on a missile and shoot it to completely destroy wherever they want to destroy.

Mr. Habibi: Humanity is indeed in danger. One has to do some serious thinking about it.

Mr. Tahmooresi: One has to think. One should look, not talk.

Mr. Habibi: One should think, not look.

Mr. Tahmooresi: What's the difference? When one is looking, he's also thinking. When one is thinking, he's also looking.

Mr. Nemati: I don't understand exactly what you're saying. What do you mean?

Mr. Habibi: If Stavrogin **** believes that he has believed, he doesn't believe that he has believed. If he doesn't believe that he hasn't believed, he doesn't believe that he hasn't believed."

Mr. Tahmooresi: What? What the hell are you talking about? The Great Powers are dividing the world and starting wars, you're sitting here philosophizing.

Mr. Habibi: Everybody philosophizes. For instance, take the Hippies. They want to see the world in peace. By the way, do you know that the Hippies have been influenced by the Eastern philosophies?

Mr. Tahmooresi: (offended). One must be stupid not to know this, however, one should bear in mind that Hippism is labeled as a Western phenomenon. Westerners are very shrewd; they think everything belongs to them. They steal so skillfully that nobody takes notice of it.

Mr. Habibi: What do you mean by 'stealing?' Do you mean 'stealing' from a materialistic point of view or a spiritual point of view? We have the stealing of objects and the stealing of ideas. These issues should be cleared up.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Everyone knows that you have a Ph.D.

Mr. Habibi: You didn't understand what I meant at all. Why are you deliberately misinterpreting me?

Mr. Tahmooresi: I'm not misinterpreting. You should admit that you like to play with words instead of discussing issues.

Mr. Nemati: Let's change the subject. I read an article about 'brain drain.' It was an interesting article.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Let's face it. You're too proud of yourself, Habibi.

Mr. Habibi: You're strange. We're just talking. True that there are differences of opinion, but why are you always arguing?

Mr. Tahmooresi: Me, arguing? You're the one who's always disagreeing with my opinions.

Mr. Habibi: You know, Tahmooresi, you're suffering from a complex. That's it!

Mr. Tahmooresi: Oh, yeah

Mr. Nemati: I was talking about 'brain drain.' My brother isn't willing to comeback home from America. I've written him so many letters and begged him to return...

Mr. Tahmooresi: You, shut up!

Mr. Habibi: Don't be so cranky, Tahmooresi. We were having a good time. You're so strange.

Mr. Tahmooresi: You guys really annoy a person.

Mr. Habibi: These days everybody is upset. Everyone whom you talk to, wants to tear you apart. Well, I don't know.Perhaps this anger is caused by the solar explosions.

Mr. Nemati: What do you mean?

Mr. Habibi: Every now and then the sun has a series of explosions. Some philosophers argue that wars, human misery, and man's other related problems are caused by these explosions.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Nonsense! This issue has been resolved for a thousand years. Man wages war for economic reasons. The issue is an issue of loss and gain.

Mr. Habibi: Really! Can you tell me what brings about this issue of loss and gain?

Mr. Tahmooresi: It's obvious. Man is essentially a profiteer and he wages war to serve his interests. He should be restrained by some power.

Mr. Habibi: By what power? By the power of faith?

Mr. Tahmooresi: No, the power of faith could be effective if everybody was equal. I mean everybody...

Mr. Habibi: The problem with you, materialists, is that you want to explain everything from an economic point of view. You don't take spirituality into account.

Mr. Tahmooresi: Spirituality? What do you mean by spirituality? Do you mean the solar eruptions?

Mr. Habibi: No, the eruption of the sun is a materialistic phenomenon. Even so, I didn't say such a thing. It is very strange.

Mr. Tahmooresi: What is strange? - the fact that you're more educated than we are and can talk at the college level or the fact that we have to listen to you?

Mr. Nemati: You're going too far.

Mr. Tahmooresi: You, shut up!

Mr. Nemati: OK.

The voice of Mr. Tahmooresi's wife could be heard from inside the room, cursing: "May you all drop dead! Why don't you go to bed and shut up?"

Mr. Tahmooresi: I think we'd better go out to that small bar around the corner to continue our discussion.

The gentlemen agreed.

Translator's Note: 

* "The Gentlemen", by Shahrnush Parispur (a contemporary Iranian fiction writer), in a collectoin of short stories entitled Avizehha-ye Buloor, 1st edition, Tehran: Entesharat-e Raz, 1974, pp. 59-64.

** This is a sarcastic reference to Mohammad Reza Shah's celebration of Persian Monarchy.

*** Christiaan (Neethling) Barnard performed the first human heart transplant operation.

**** Nikolay Vsevolodovich Stavrogin is the central character in Dostoyevsky's novel 'The Possessed.'




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