by Mir Jalal

From the book "Dried Up In Meetings"
Azerbaijan International 1998, USA

There are two Mirza Shafis. One is the famous poet and the other is someone I would like to make famous.

"Listen Child, I'm telling you to look up; lift up your head. Why are you frowning like a donkey? Recite your lesson."

Mirza almost wanted to eat this child up. His shriveled face was red as a beet.

"May Allah take you or save me from you all! You have wasted my precious life. Instead of giving birth to you, would that your mother had given birth to a piece of rock!"

Putting his hands in his pockets, he started raving like a mad dog and emptying his heart. Like a mule exhausted and on its last legs, his lips were hanging. His mustache, stained and straw-colored from smoking, was getting into his mouth. The tips of his boots were scuffed and his trousers pants were sweeping the floor. His collar was loose, and his tie was swaying back and forth. His neck, which seemed to have become thinner, was red because of the heat of the day, and its skin was peeling.

Clearing his throat, Mirza continued, "It's not your fault. It's the fault of those who have stopped you from watching the herd and have brought you to school. What business has a herdsman in school? You ought to be cleaning the stable and feeding the cattle. You have to have something in your genes, otherwise, it's impossible to change someone by force. Sa'adi, may you turn in your grave. How true it is what you said, 'A man of base origin will not be lit by the light of the pious.' The effect of education on the intractable is like water on a duck's back."

Mirza Shafi grimaced. He remembered the time that he used to curse and swear at his former wife. Waving his arms, he shouted, "If you beat him up, it's no good. If you don't beat him, it's no good!"

This was not the first time. These robust-looking peasant boys who were sitting quietly on the benches had already figured out their teachers and knew how to deal with them. Therefore, very often they came quietly and went quietly.

They didn't say anything in front of the teacher. One student's father had said, "My son, your flesh belongs to the teacher and your bones to me." The only people who tested Mirza Shafi's patience to the extreme were members of the Komsomol (Youth Communist Organization) who made life hell for him by criticizing his drinking habits and exposing that he beat up on students and other "insignificant" shortcomings. The greatest blow came when they drew a cartoon on the school's wall newspaper. Mirza was shown up to his neck in a barrel of vodka with drink spewing out of his mouth.

It was night. On the slopes of the Alchajig Mountain, along the dusty lanes of Soyudli village, contented cows were licking and scratching themselves under the low roofs and shade of the trees. It seemed that the village cattle were slumbering. It was unlike any ordinary night. There were no sounds of carts transporting goods to and from the village, nor greetings and pleasant chattering of people returning from the city, nor the whistle of the guard of the woods. Faraway behind the mountains, rising after a swim, the moon was glowing like a copper furnace.

Inside the house, village ladies wearing long trousers were scurrying about in the light of the burning lamps, preparing the evening meal. The sound of horse carts and ploughing had ceased. Occasionally, dogs barked at frogs croaking in nearby waters.

Mirza Shafi could not breathe because of the big piece of food that was in his mouth. Rising on his elbow, he leaned against the white embroidered pillow next to him and then he swallowed. The beams of the well-decorated white-washed room seemed longing to partake of the food. Aunt Parizad was checking the cattle outside, looking inside the window every once in awhile. Since her food was always eaten so quickly, she realized that in spite of being a novice in many things, she was an expert in cooking rice and pouring water over the hands of people after the meal was finished. This was her expertise, not the "Nazbare" dance that the teenagers knew.

"I raise this cup to toast Mirza Shafi's health who, for the past twelve years, has looked after the dead and living of the village and who has enlightened our children!"

The cups clinked against each other.

"To you, Mirza Shafi, long life! Mirza, my dear, you have taught me, too! I kiss you! May your sorrows fill the hearts of your enemies! Long live Mirza Shafi as long as the world turns."

Mirza twisted his mustache and replied, "My brothers, may we live long, stay healthy, eat and drink well. May we be like nightingales but not the ones in a cage. A cage is a terrible thing."

The glasses were filled to the brim for a second round. It was Mirza's turn to speak. While chewing a piece of onion, he slumped down like a camel onto his knees. His body was sweating and smoke coming out of his mouth. Mirza spoke a bit about history.

"The people who are gathered here today are the most learned in the village. Gentlemen, I am sure that among us there is no one who has reached manhood just this afternoon. Haji Agakishi, Mashdi Qurban, Jahan Bey, Mohammed Aga. Right from the beginning, Allah be praised, we have not suffered in any way. If we are united in words and action, we will not suffer in the future either. When I came from Iran..."

Here Mirza pointed to Haji Kishi and said with a smile, "I came from Iran with nothing but the clothes on my back. By the grace of God and the help of men like you, I am able to make a good living now. But that's not the point. I want to say a few words about life. I am known not only in this village but in other villages as well. How I teach, how I make the kids understand, how I deal with good and evil-I don't want to discuss these things. Let me get to the point. The head of the Executive Committee does not get along with me. Three or four members of the Komsomol are in my class. You know their character well! They have bothered everyone."

Haji Kishi said, "That's Luti Karim's son and Abdulbalakhan's grandson. May God strike them.

Mirza continued, "The other day they disgraced me on the wall newspaper. I came out and drove them away. The head of the Committee and Party Secretary came and said, "You have no right to do this. The regulation is this and self criticism is that. But I'm not afraid. I can take ten such committee heads and secretaries to the spring and bring them back thirsty. It is true, nowadays such people have positions, but it isn't for no reason that people call me Mirza. Whoever they criticize, it is not right to criticize a teacher. Nowadays children don't listen even to their parents."

Everyone replied in unison, "God save us! Nowadays who takes care of his father? Yesterday's baby sparrows have shed their first feathers. They've become starlings and are teasing the teacher."

Mirza was encouraged even more. "I have written several times about them to the place that I should write to. But because of my feelings towards them, I didn't want to go too far. I know what to do! If you are a Komsomol, be a Komsomol. What business do you have at school? I haven't been appointed by a Komsomol that interferes in my affairs. Let the "white-bearded ones" of the village judge my work. Whether I drink or not is none of their business. As to the question of beating the kids, there's a famous saying, 'When you fasten the plough to the cow, it will try to get away.' If you take it easy, education is impossible. You have to beat them, you have to pull their ears. One does not become a learned man in a moment. Take me, for example. I have been several times bastinadoed. Otherwise, how could I have become a teacher. I am not the village teacher, I am the father of the village."

Jahan Bey put down his glass full of drink and interrupted Mirza, "This is very true! Mirza Shafi is our master. May we not live one day without him!"

Mirza again was encouraged and thought it necessary to list a few of his achievements. "In other villages, clubs are being opened. Not a single girl is left with a veil. Shariat is absolutely gone. I have somehow managed to keep the virtue and chastity in this place. My point is-I am very grateful to those real men who do not sell Mirza to such unruly kids. I have sacrificed for their sake and I will continue to do so. Long live the men who value honor and chastity!"

Glasses were emptied. The people around the meal leaned forward and waited. Mirza Shafi, opening and closing his reddened eyes, coming forward a bit, like a reciter of the Quran beside the dead, sang in a husky voice, "O Saki, may I be a sacrifice to your eyes..."

One month after these events the following conversation took place between Mirza Shafi and Director of the Office of Education.

"You have taken me away from my favorite village."
"So where have you reassigned me?"
"To your home."
"But I have been a teacher for the last eight years. I am still teaching."
"This is why you need rest. You have worked enough."
"Can't you send me to another school?"

Various teachers and students were coming and going to the Office of Education for their jobs. Everyone passing looked at Mirza Shafi who was sitting motionless like a stump of a tree near the wall. His face was red and his wrinkles had deepened. His eyelashes were thinning out and his sunken eyes shone like two beads.
(1) "Sa'adi, may you turn over in your grave." An expression denoting that Sa'adi (a poet) would have been shocked by such an idea.
(2) "My son, your flesh belongs to the teacher and your bones to me," meaning "You have to obey your teacher and your parents."
(3) "White-bearded ones" - (agh saggal) refers to a mature man who is esteemed for his wisdom and judgement. The equivalent for a woman is "one with white side-burns" (agh birchak).
(4) The expression, "When you yoke the cow to the plow, it will try to get away" means here that a disciplinary approach is necessary to educate children.
(5) Bastinadoed - beaten on the feet. Considered one of the most severe and painful methods of torture.
(6) Shariat. Koranic law.
(7) Glasses were emptied - signifies agreement with what has been said earlier. They drank to the idea.
(8) "O Saki, may I be a sacrifice to your eyes..." indicating that he is completely drunk.


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