Oh, joy and gloom were locked in a fierce battle, they were. Our school yard was a chaotic mix of laughter and tears. A student might walk down the hallway with a sour look on his face, but the moment he stepped out into the yard, he was enveloped in a cloud of merriment, laughing along with the others. What in tarnation was going on, you ask?
Well, let me tell you. The vice-principal had been bellowing at us for ages, telling us we had to wear a fancy suit to school. But did anyone listen? Nay, not a one. The students kept showing up in their traditional garb: cassocks, cloaks, turbans, and skull-caps.
But on that fateful day, the vice-principal had finally had his fill. He plonked a ruler and a pair of scissors down on a table by the school entrance. And lo and behold, anyone who sauntered in without a Pahlavi hat on their head was in for a right treat. The school staff would rip off their cloak or frock, whip out that ruler, and chop off the bottom of it without ceremony.
Needless to say, the students were none too pleased with this turn of events. They sulkily put on their raggedy clothes and trudged into the school yard, looking like a sorry bunch of hound dogs. It was a downright ridiculous scene, I tell ya!
Well now, it weren’t just the school bigwigs we had to contend with, oh no. The government had gone and passed some new-fangled law on dress codes, insisting that everyone wear the same duds. But the clergy was having none of it, I tell ya. They were putting up a right fuss.
Now, inside the school, the powers that be were demanding we all wear suits. But once we stepped outside the hallowed halls, there was a mighty uproar against this newfangled uniformity nonsense. The opposition was diggin’g in their heels, refusing to comply with the dress code. And the whole dang city was thrown into turmoil, I swear. There were even some good old fashioned protests breaking out.
Well, shiver me timbers and blow me down, if it ain’t a yarn about the notorious Slim Ali! These days, you might call him a rapscallion or a ne’er-do-well, but back in the day, he was the go-to guy for causing a ruckus in the city. Whenever the mood struck to raise some Cain, whether it was to oust a governor or lower the price of bread, they’d call up Slim Ali without a second thought.
Now, Slim Ali was no fancy-pants politician or smooth talker. He had a different way of getting folks fired up. He’d take a stick bigger than a tree trunk, plant himself on a street corner, and belt out a tune while clapping his hands. And before you could say “Jack Robinson,” a throng of folks would gather ’round him, eager to see what mischief was in store.
When the powers-that-be in Shiraz made it a law to don fancy suits and Pahlavi hats, the opposition pulled out all the stops, including enlisting Slim Ali’s gang. That mischievous rapscallion would lead his merry band, clapping and singing up a storm. I reckon I recall a few lines from one of his ditties: “We don’t want no blue hanky, we don’t want no Babi guv’nor, we don’t want no foreign hat.”
Well, I’ll be hornswoggled! It seems that Slim Ali was no stranger to causing a ruckus. The minute he laid eyes on somebody with a Pahlavi hat, he’d take his trusty stick and give ’em a good thrashing, tearing that fancy hat to shreds in the process. I reckon I once saw him rough up a dignified-looking fella in Mowla Square, tearing his hat to pieces like it was nothing! I tell you what, it was enough to make a man wet his pants and high-tail it outta there.
That Slim Ali was a downright dangerous hooligan, I tell you what. But even after he got himself arrested and flogged in public, he wouldn’t give up his mischief-making ways. No sirree, he just kept on muttering that same old ditty:
“We don’t want no blue hanky, We don’t want no Babi guv’nor, We don’t want no foreign hat.”
By jingo, those poor civil servants and students had it tough. They were forced to wear those new-fangled clothes inside their offices and schools, but when they stepped outside, they were so scared stiff they didn’t know which end was up! Some of ’em tried to live double lives, wearing turbans and cloaks to cover up their forbidden clothes, and carrying their Pahlavi hats wrapped up tight in a piece of cloth. They’d only take off the disguise and put on the hat just before they entered their office or school.
But on that particular day, let me tell you, we looked like a bunch of circus clowns! The boys were all in a tizzy, like animals without their tails. That’s because our dear old vice-principal, bless his heart, had only snipped at our cassocks with a pair of scissors, leaving the hems all jagged and hanging out for all to see. You could even catch a glimpse of our long underwear, and here and there a shoddy patch or two. I reckon we must’ve been quite a sight to behold, stumbling around in our mismatched rags like a bunch of loonies.
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 fashioned out of his father’s old trousers. They had been carelessly shortened and poorly patched, with a khaki oval and a black circle covering the seat of his pants. The poor lad must have looked quite the sight, don’t you think? And he was not alone, for the other boys were equally comical in their ill-fitting attire. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, they made the best of their situation and had a jolly good time, laughing and poking fun at one another. However, their merriment was short-lived, as the school bell soon rang, calling them to their classrooms.
The bell rang and it did its best to tear the students away from the fun they were having. Reluctantly, they lined up and trudged their way to the classroom. It was a lovely spring afternoon, just like outside in the yard where joy and movement were in abundance. But inside the four walls of the classroom, gloom had taken over like a dark cloud hovering over their heads.
Those who had seen schools of the past would recognize the dingy and dark classrooms that looked more like 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, springtime in Shiraz! The air is as sweet as honey and brims with love and hope. Children itch to frolic in the countryside, youth to gad about, and the elderly to reminisce their bygone days. But alas, for schoolboys, spring’s magic is but a bitter illusion. There we were, imprisoned in our classroom, gazing longingly through the window at the birds merrily chirping and soaring free. It was an agony, not an education. Our teachers were foul-mouthed, short-fused, and cruel, as if we were their enemies, not innocent youngsters. They thrashed us with rulers and whips, and we all quivered in fear of them. It felt as if we were being carted off to prison in the morning and being delivered back at evening’s end. Amidst this misery, we had one solace, one beam of light, and that was Mirza Javad Khan.
Mirza Javad Khan was our history teacher, an amiable fellow who seemed to be in a perpetual haze of opium smoke. His lectures were held only in the afternoon, perhaps because the mornings were reserved for his indulgence. At first, he would drift off into his own thoughts, but then he would awaken and start to spin yarns about ancient history. His voice was captivating, and his stories were so enthralling that we would sit there, mouths agape, as he regaled us with tales of Kavus’ crown, Kaykhosrow’s belt, Shirin’s dance, 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 vice-principal, and the spitefulness of the other teachers. As it so happened, on the day our tails were cut off, we had one of his history lessons.
“Attention!” the students sprang to their feet as if shot by a cannon. Mirza Javad Khan shuffled into the classroom and settled himself behind his desk. He had complied with the new dress code, but poverty had compelled him to improvise. Instead of the standard suit, he donned an old frock-coat with a curious tail.
The yarn of the frock-coat was every bit as intriguing as that of Karamat’s undergarments. When the authorities mandated that teachers wear suits, Mirza Javad Khan was too poor to buy the material and have it tailored. In desperation, he ventured into a flea market and purchased a tattered frock-coat with shiny silk lapels. The garment had once belonged to an Armenian translator at the Imperial Bank, who had sold all his belongings, including the coat, when he relocated to a different city. Armenians are notorious for their rotundity, and the coat had fitted the translator’s generous proportions, but was far too spacious for Mirza Javad Khan’s meager frame, emaciated as it was from years of opium abuse. However, what choice did he have? The law was the law, and if he resisted, they would snatch his daily bread. The frock-coat considerably tarnished Mirza Javad Khan’s charisma, and when he sensed the pupils’ dissatisfaction with his new wardrobe, he grew prickly and started the lecture straightaway.
“Boys! Listen up now, I’m about to quiz you before we dive into a new lesson. Karamat, you’re up. Go on over to the blackboard,” bellowed Mirza Javad Khan, our history teacher. Karamat, who was sitting right in front of me, stood up hesitantly. Clad in his comical attire, he seemed hesitant to leave his seat and approach the front of the room where students are typically put to the test.
“Karamat, tell me, how many years of history do we have?” queried the teacher. “Sir! We have two thousand years of history,” responded Karamat, sounding somewhat unsure.
To be honest, I can’t rightly recall what had me so tickled, but as soon as Karamat spoke the two little words, “two thousand,” my gaze fell upon the patches adorning his trousers and I commenced to snickering.
“Pray tell, good sir, which king was it that lopped off the noggins of the two lions?” I inquired.
“Why, ’twas none other than Bahram-e Gur,” replied Karamat. “You see, he was but a stripling when his dear old pa passed on, and the nobles sought to deprive him of his rightful crown. Thinking him to be a brave young lad, they decided to put his mettle to the test. They placed the crown betwixt the two lions, and challenged Bahram to retrieve it if he truly believed himself worthy of the throne. Well, Bahram didn’t back down from the challenge. He drew his trusty blade, dispatched one lion with a mighty swing, then dispatched the other and claimed his rightful place as king.”
Once more, I declare I cannot fathom what possessed me, but as soon as I heard the two little words “two lions,” my eyes darted back down to Karamat’s patches, and lo and behold, they appeared to have transformed into the very beasts themselves! I found myself staring, and the longer I stared, the more they resembled the majestic creatures.
Then Ibrahim, a scoundrel of a fellow, rose from his seat and posed a cheeky question to the teacher. “Sir, if I may ask,” he said, “were the lions chained up or loose? If they was loose, why didn’t they go and attack the nobles and then make a run for it? And if they was chained or caged, what’s so impressive about killing lions that can’t even move?”
Well, my incessant chortling combined with Ibrahim’s inquiry must’ve set Mirza Javad Khan off something fierce. He slammed his cigarette holder down upon his desk in a fit of anger and roared, “That ain’t none of your business, you mule! You and that other numbskull” (meaning myself, I presume) “can just skedaddle on out of here. Monitor, give them both a big fat goose egg!”
The moment the words “Class monitor, give the two zeroes” escaped Mirza Javad Khan’s lips, my gaze once more fell upon Karamat’s patches. And wouldn’t you know it, they had transformed yet again, taking on the form of two monstrous zeros! I couldn’t help but chuckle once more, much to the chagrin of our normally mild-mannered teacher.
Mirza Javad Khan had had enough of my mirth, it seemed. He leapt from his chair, grabbed my ear, and gave it a good twist, hauling me towards the door. When we reached the threshold, he planted a hefty boot squarely in my back, sending me tumbling out into the courtyard. Ibrahim fared no better, receiving the same rough treatment as myself.
Then, in a voice made hoarse by his opium habit, Mirza Javad Khan bellowed, “These two ain’t pupils! They’re wild beasts! They ought to be hitched up to a carriage like a pair of pack mules!”
Now, even though our teacher had said “two” three times already, my aching ear and bruised posterior hurt so mightily that I gave nary a thought to Karamat’s patches, and the notion of giggling was the furthest thing from 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.