From Rumi to Hafez, Persian literature is full of nuggets

One of the oldest, most dynamic and yet still thriving literary traditions in the world, its impact spans centuries and continents. If it were known only for its medieval—but still popular—Sufi mystical poets, its national epic that spans mythology to recorded history, or its tales of star-crossed lovers, it could rest on its laurels. But Persian literature has much more up its elegant sleeve.

Take, for example, a 14th-century satire that might be the possible predecessor to the cartoon “Tom and Jerry”, an early 20th-century work so deeply pessimistic that it was banned on the grounds that it could make its readers suicidal, and a candid coming-of-age story, amidst revolution, war and heartbreak – in a graphic novel format.

Moreover, there is also a distinct connection between India and modern Persian literature, both in content and production, in keeping with the age-old ties between the two civilizations.

However, whenever we think of Persian literature, what usually comes to mind is its glittering firmament of classical poets, who flourished from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Let’s start with them only.

There is Hafez (or Hafiz), who was even once quoted by sherlock holmesor Sheikh Sa’di, from “Bustan”, a work of verse enlisting the standard virtues for people, and “Gulistan”, a work of prose, liberally sprinkled with short poems of aphorisms, advice and reflections on the fickleness of fate, and one of the first expressions of the absurdity of human existence.

Omar Khayamthe “Sage of Naishapur”, has to his credit the “Rubaiyat”, one of the most famous works of world poetry, especially after its interpretation in English by Edward Fitzgerald.

This rather loose translation would not only inspire the titles of works by authors as diverse as Agatha Christie, Eugene O’Neill and Rex Stout, but also accomplish the singular task of making Khayyam popular again in his homeland.

Above all, there is Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, whose emphasis on personal paths to understand and unite with divinity, and the overwhelming nature of selfless and sacred love, make him one of the world’s most important and popular poets – especially in the United States, where even recordings of his work top the music charts.

And then there is Rudaki, the first poet to write in New Persian. He wrote a poem so evocative that, according to one account, he so moved the king that halfway through he jumped on a horse and rode off so fast that his courtiers had to chase him for miles before he could persuade him to wear shoes. like leggings, and he never pulled the bridle until he got home.

There is also Nizami Ganjaviwhose fame rests not only on two works of passionate but doomed love “Khosrow and Shirin” (whose Shirin-Farhad episode is better known than the entire work) and “Layla and Majnun”, which is Arabic in source but essentially reworked.

In the realm of prose, Ferdowsi/Fardushi’s “Shahnameh” is not only a captivating reading of the mythology and history of the country, but it is also a glorious testimony to how a national civilization thrives despite religious change.

And there is the fourteenth-century writer Ubayd Zakani, of which “Mush-o-Gorbeh” (“Cat and Mouse”) is about a cat who drinks and kills mice, then repents, but becomes so mad about a mouse that he gathers an army to fight the little ones creatures. It may sound like a children’s fable, but it’s actually an incisive political satire targeting organized religion and its hypocrisies.

Persian literature also did not leave its heights in modern times – even as the country was plagued by social and political unrest. There was a growing belief that literature should reflect, and not stay away from, contemporary realities. There was even a directive from a prominent statesman of the mid-19th century, who reproached a poet for “lying”, that literature should espouse modernism.

But litterateurs are a stubborn bunch and work according to their own whims and fancies. Let’s also take a look at some modern works.

Among the first standard-bearers of Iranian modernist literature, Sadegh Hedayat is known for his too morbid “The Blind Owl” (1936 in Persian, 1957 in English) – originally published in a limited edition in Bombay and stamped “Not for sale or publication in Iran”.

With Hedayat to India to learn more about her country’s ancient Zoroastrian religion and learn Sanskrit, the short story infuses Indian and Iranian myths and icons.

Hedayat, who took his own life in 1951, was also a prolific short-story writer – but these are also far from cheerful.

Slightly happier but unrestrained in its satire is Iraj Pezeshkzad’s “My Uncle Napoleon” (1973 Persian; 1996 English), a coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of Allied occupation of Iran during World War II.

At its heart, it’s the story of the struggles of the unnamed narrator – a high school student – ​​to block his cousin’s pre-arranged marriage to another cousin in order to have her for himself.

And finally, no literary tradition can be complete without mentioning the voice of women, who, otherwise repressed, can use the pen to share their fate and even fight back.

Shahrnoush Parsipur’s “Women Without Men” (written in the 1970s, but first published in 1989 in Persian and 1998 in English) uses interwoven narratives and magical realism to depict the social condition of Iranian women and their desire to break free.

It features five women – a former schoolteacher struggling with a disturbing experience, another in search of independence and a husband, an older woman shaken by revelations about virginity, a disenchanted bourgeois housewife and a happy prostitute, who find themselves in a magical garden. , where they can freely reflect on their lives, dreams and desires.

Marjane Satrapi’s ‘Persepolis’ series is well known as a semi-autobiographical account of the loss of faith and trust in religion, society and even relationships, but it is her ‘Broderies’ (2003 French; 2005 in English) which is more – punchy in its candid discussion of sex between three generations of women in one household and some of their friends and neighbors.

—Vikas Dutta, IANS