By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
He started from scratch, first rethinking and criticizing Marx, then looking squarely at his own culture. "I started to see what had happened, because both the left and the right -- both religionists and atheists -- admired getting killed, and killing. We wanted to change the regime, no matter what came after that. Khomeini used the religious feelings of people to his advantage. He mixed death worship, or martyrdom worship, with political ideals." Majid's re-examination yielded a book-length collection of essays, written in Persian, with the self-revealing title In Search of Joy: A Critique of Male-Dominated, Death-Oriented Culture in Iran.
There was still plenty of death to reckon with. The Iran-Iraq war was claiming thousands of Iran's young men. In September 1987, about 800 members of L.A.'s large Iranian community (there are 600,000 Iranians now estimated to be living in Los Angeles) gathered outside the Federal Building to protest a visit to the United Nations by the president of Iran. It was at this demonstration that Neusha Farahi, a friend of Majid's who owned a Persian bookstore, also in Westwood, set fire to himself as the ultimate act of protest. He died 13 days later. "I touched his hand while we waited for the paramedics," Majid recalls, wincing. "It was like a burnt chicken wing." When he came home that same afternoon, Majid wrote "The Self-Immolation of Neusha," lamenting the seduction of martyrdom. It contains the lines:
The crowd cried in fury Trying to gain strength from death. I told myself, "Again a corpse in front. Again a casket behind." Alas! We were guardians of life, But the guardians of death killed so much. Killed so much. Killed so much. So that life tasted of death in our mouths.
IT'S A HOT SUMMER NIGHT IN LOS ANGELES, AND it's Majid's turn to host the monthly gathering of "Saturday Notebooks." This Persian literary group has been meeting together for 10 years, and they have published three chapbooks of their work. Majid's small apartment has been transformed: Twenty people -- men and women -- crowd into his living room. Everyone has brought something to read and critique, as well as something to eat. There is a vase of pale-pink roses, bowls of fresh basil and mint leaves, hummus, peaches, plums. Chicken-and-squash stew simmers on the stove. The scheduled start time is 7 p.m., but participants straggle in late from a demonstration at the Federal Building, commemorating the one-year anniversary of the government crackdown on pro-reform √Ę student demonstrations in Tehran.
As the session finally gets under way, Majid asks for a moment of silence in memory of his dear friend Houshang Golshiri, one of Iran's greatest fiction writers and a prominent advocate of human rights, who has recently died in Tehran. Everyone stands, heads bowed.
Even to a guest with zero comprehension of Farsi, plenty is communicated over the next several hours. All these writers bring seriousness and passion to their work. When your colleagues at home are being arrested, imprisoned, even murdered, for their exercise of free expression, the right to exchange words and ideas is not a privilege you take for granted. I can't help stealing glances at the man sitting beside me, who is missing the ring finger on his right hand. Later, Majid confirms my hunch: This writer lost his finger during a torture session in one of the shah's prisons.
Around 10 p.m., the group pauses for supper. I heap onto my plate some of Majid's stew. "Delicious!" I comment to one of the writers. He sidles closer. "Actually," he confides, "Majid is a much better poet than he is a cook." He takes another mouthful himself. "And he is a most wonderful father."
AZ√ĘD AND HIS BUDDY DAVID ZOOM in the front door of the apartment on their shiny scooters. Az√Ęd is a robust, handsome kid with meltingly beautiful dark eyes. He is not shy. To the time-honored question of "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Az√Ęd has a ready, earnest answer: "I don't want to have poetry for a job when I grow up. I'd like to be a basketball player or a baseball player." What does he think of his father's poetry? His eyes light up. He grins at his dad. "My favorite is 'Secret of the River.' My dad wrote it for me. I've read it to my class at school." Before heading out the door with his friend, he does something I've never known a 12-year-old boy to do. He recites a poem from memory:
Every day we go along the river And your body Takes on the smell of the water.
Seeing us, the wild geese Tune up their battle horns, And a cat behind its green hideout Lifts his tail in triumph. The old fishermen, With their buckets full of sorrow Move from place to place And a palm frond in our way Forces me to bend my head.
I stand still. And as you sleep on my shoulder I think to myself: "It's too late for me But maybe you will find The secret of the river."