Ali Salami

Rasoul Parvizi: The Patched Pants [Shalvarhay-e Vasleh Dar]

Oh, joy and gloom were locked in a fierce battle. Our schoolyard was a chaotic mixture of laughter and tears. A student might walk down the hallway with a glum look on his face, but as soon as he stepped into the courtyard, he was enveloped in a cloud of mirth and laughed along with the others. What the hell was going on, you ask?

Well, I will tell you. The deputy principal had been shouting at us for ages that we needed to wear a smart suit to school. But was anyone listening? No, not a single one. The students turned up in their traditional garb: cassocks, capes, turbans and skullcaps.

But on that fateful day, the deputy principal had finally had enough. He threw a ruler and a pair of scissors onto a table at the entrance to the school. Anyone who walked in without a Pahlavi hat on their head had hit the jackpot. The school staff tore off his coat or frock, pulled out the ruler and cut off the lower part without any ceremony.

Needless to say, the students were not very happy about this turn of events. They sulkily put on their ragged clothes and trudged out into the schoolyard, looking like a bunch of pathetic hunting dogs. It was a downright ridiculous scene, I tell you!

Well, it wasn’t just the school bigwigs we had to contend with, oh no. The government had passed a newfangled dress code law and insisted that everyone wear the same clothes. But the clergy were having none of it, I can tell you. They made a real fuss.

Inside the school, the powers–that-be demanded that we all wear suits. But as soon as we left the hallowed halls, there was a mighty outcry against this new-fangled uniform nonsense. The opposition refused to follow the dress code. The whole town was in an uproar, I swear. There were even a few good old-fashioned protests.

Well, if that isn’t a story about the infamous Slim Ali! Nowadays you might call him a womanizer or a good-for-nothing, but back then he was the go-to guy when it came to stirring up trouble in the city. When it came to ousting a governor or lowering the price of bread, Slim Ali was the man to call.

Slim Ali was not a pompous politician or a smooth talker. He had a different way of inspiring people. He took a stick bigger than a tree trunk, stood on a street corner and belted out a tune while clapping his hands. And before you could say “Jack Robinson”,” a crowd of people gathered around him, eager to see what mischief he was up to.

When the rulers in Shiraz made it law to wear fancy suits and Pahlavi hats, the opposition pulled out all the stops, including Slim Ali’s gang. This mischievous rascal led his merry band, clapping and singing up a storm. I think I remember a few lines from one of his songs, “We don’t want no blue handkerchief, we don’t want no babi guv’nor, we don’t want no foreign hat.”

Well, I’m gobsmacked! Slim Ali was apparently no stranger to causing a ruckus. As soon as he spotted someone wearing a Pahlavi hat, he would take his trusty cane and give them a good thrashing, tearing the fancy hat to shreds. I think I once saw him beat up a worthy-looking man in Mowla Square and tear his hat to shreds like he was nothing! I tell you, that was enough to make a man wet his pants and make a run for it.

This Slim Ali was a very dangerous hooligan, I can tell you that. But even after he was arrested and flogged in public, he wouldn’t give up his mischief. No, he just kept on mumbling the same old tune:

“We don’t want a blue handkerchief, we don’t want a Babi leader, we don’t want a foreign hat.”

The poor civil servants and students had a hard time. They had to wear these newfangled clothes in their offices and schools, but when they stepped outside the door, they were so scared they didn’t know which way was up and which way was down! Some tried to lead a double life, wearing turbans and capes to hide their forbidden clothes and wearing their Pahlavi hats tightly wrapped in a piece of cloth. Only just before they entered their office or school did they take off the disguise and put on the hat.

But that day we looked like a bunch of circus clowns! The boys were all excited, like animals without tails. That was because our dear old deputy principal, bless him, had just snipped at our cassocks with a pair of scissors so that the hems hung out jaggedly for all to see. You could even catch a glimpse of our long underwear, and a shabby patch or two here and there. I guess we must have been quite a sight, stumbling around in our mismatched rags like a bunch of lunatics.

Now let me tell you about Karamat’s underpants. They were made of white flannel, but they were not brand new. Oh no, they had been made from his father’s old pants. They had been carelessly shortened and patched in a makeshift fashion, with a khaki oval and a black circle covering the seat of the pants. The poor boy must have been quite a sight, don’t you think? And he was not the only one, as the other boys looked just as funny in their ill-fitting clothes. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, they made the best of their situation and had a great time, laughing and making fun of each other. Their joy was short-lived, however, as the school bell soon rang and called them to their classrooms.

The bell rang and did its best to rouse the students from their fun. Reluctantly, they lined up and trudged to the classroom. It was a glorious spring afternoon, just like outside in the yard, where there was joy and movement in abundance. But inside the four walls of the classroom, gloom hovered over their heads like a dark cloud.

Anyone who had seen the schools of the past would recognize the dingy and dark classrooms, which were more reminiscent of a prison than a place of learning. And as fate would have it, this beautiful spring afternoon in the city of Shiraz was no exception.

Ah, spring in Shiraz! The air is as sweet as honey and brimming with love and hope. The children long to run around in nature, the youngsters want to frolic, and the elders reminisce about times gone by. But unfortunately for the pupils, the magic of spring is just a bitter illusion. We were trapped in our classroom, gazing longingly through the window at the birds chirping merrily and moving freely. It was torture, not education. Our teachers were foul-mouthed, short tempered and cruel, as if we were their enemies and not innocent children. They beat us with rulers and whips and we all trembled in fear of them. We felt as if we were taken to prison in the morning and brought back in the evening. In the midst of this misery, we had one solace, one ray of light, and that was Mirza Javad Khan.

Mirza Javad Khan was our history teacher, an amiable fellow who seemed to be in a constant haze of opium smoke. His lectures were only held in the afternoon, perhaps because the mornings were reserved for his enjoyment. At first he wandered off into his own thoughts, but then he woke up and began to talk about ancient history. His voice was captivating and his stories were so enthralling that we sat open-mouthed as he regaled us with tales of the crown of Kavus, the belt of Kaykhosrow, the dance of Shirin and the charming idiocy of Shah Sultan Hossain. Under his tutelage, we felt a sense of pride in our history that made us forget the oppressive monotony of the classroom, the cruel discipline of the deputy principal and the nastiness of the other teachers. Coincidentally, we had one of his history lessons on the day our tails were cut off.

“Attention!” The students jumped up as if they had been shot by a cannon. Mirza Javad Khan shuffled into the classroom and sat down behind his desk. He had adhered to the new dress code, but necessity had forced him to improvise. Instead of the usual suit, he wore an old frock coat with a strange tailcoat.

The yarn of the frock coat was just as fascinating as that of Karamat’s trousers. When the authorities made it mandatory for teachers to wear suits, Mirza Javad Khan was too poor to buy the material and have it tailored. In desperation, he ventured to a flea market and bought a tattered frock coat with shiny silk lapels. The garment had once belonged to an Armenian translator at Imperial Bank who had sold all his belongings, including the coat, when he moved to another city. Armenians are notoriously plump, and the coat had suited the translator’s generous proportions, but was far too big for Mirza Javad Khan’s skinny frame, which had been emaciated by years of opium abuse. But what choice did he have? The law is the law, and if he resisted, they would take away his daily bread. The frock coat dimmed Mirza Javad Khan’s charisma considerably, and when he sensed the students’ dissatisfaction with his new wardrobe, he became prickly and immediately began his lecture.

“Boys! Listen carefully, I’m going to quiz you now before we dive into a new lesson. Karamat, it’s your turn. Go over to the blackboard,” yelled Mirza Javad Khan, our history teacher. Karamat, who was sitting right in front of me, stood up hesitantly. In his strange attire, he seemed hesitant to leave his seat and approach the front of the room where students are usually tested.

“Karamat, tell me, how many years of history do we have?” the teacher asked.

“Sir, we have two thousand years of history,” Karamat replied, sounding a little uncertain.

To be honest, I can’t quite remember what tickled me so much, but as soon as Karamat uttered the two little words “two thousand”,” my eyes fell on the patches adorning his pants and I started giggling.

“Tell me, good sir, which king chopped off the heads of the two lions?” I inquired.

“It was none other than Bahram-e Gur,” replied Karamat. “He was still a young boy when his old father died and the nobles tried to rob him of his rightful crown. Thinking he was a brave young man, they decided to put his courage to the test. They placed the crown between the two lions and challenged Bahram to take it if he really considered himself worthy of the throne. Well, Bahram did not shy away from the challenge. He drew his trusty blade, slew one lion with a mighty swing, then the other and claimed his rightful place as king.”

I declare again that I do not know what possessed me, but as soon as I heard the two little words “two lions,” my eyes wandered back to Karamat’s spots, and lo, they seemed to have turned into the animals themselves! I found myself staring at them, and the longer I stared, the more they resembled the majestic creatures.

Then Ibrahim, a scoundrel of a fellow, stood up from his seat and asked the teacher a cheeky question. “Sir, if I may ask,” he said, “were the lions chained or free? If they were free, why didn’t they attack the nobles and make off? And if they were chained or caged, what’s so impressive about killing lions that can’t even move?”

Well, my incessant chortling in conjunction with Ibrahim’s question must have really upset Mirza Javad Khan. In a fit of rage, he slammed his cigarette holder down on the desk and roared, “None of your business, you mule! You and that other fool” (by which I suppose he meant me) “can just get the hell out of here. Monitor, give them both two fat zeros!”

The moment Mirza Javad Khan uttered the words “Class monitor, give those two zeros”, my eyes fell on Karamat’s spots again. Lo, they had already transformed again, taking the shape of two monstrous zeros! Once again, I couldn’t help giggling, much to the chagrin of our otherwise gentle teacher.

Mirza Javad Khan had had enough of my hilarity, it seemed. He jumped up from his chair, grabbed my ear, twisted it hard and dragged me towards the door. As we reached the threshold, he rammed a hefty boot into my back, sending me tumbling into the courtyard. Ibrahim fared no better, he received the same rough treatment as me.

Then Mirza Javad Khan roared in a voice hoarse from opium consumption: “These two are not students! They are wild beasts! They should be harnessed to a carriage like a couple of pack mules!”

Although our teacher had already said “two” three times, my aching ear and bruised bottom hurt so much that I didn’t even think about Karamat’s marks and the thought of giggling didn’t even remotely cross my mind.

© 2023 Ali Salami

About the author

Rasoul Parvizi (1919-1977) was a well-known author of short stories and a prominent figure in Iranian politics. He was a member of the National Consultative Assembly and a representative in the Iranian Senate. Rasoul Parvizi was also a prolific newspaper columnist who wrote insightful commentaries on various social and political issues.

in 1957, Parvizi published his famous collection of short stories entitled “The Patched Pants”. This collection was well received and gained him widespread recognition as a talented writer. In 1968, he published his second volume of collected short stories under the title “The Drunken Gypsy”, which further cemented his reputation as one of the most important voices in Iranian literature.

Despite his success as a writer, Parvizi eventually decided to work in administration and gave up his literary activities. His literary legacy lives on, however, and his contributions to Iranian literature are widely recognized.

Tragically, Rasoul Parvizi passed away in 1977 at the age of 56 in Shiraz, Iran. He was buried in the city where he had lived and worked for many years, leaving behind a rich literary legacy that continues to inspire and captivate readers today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *