Uncle’s Complaint: Tale of a Rejuvenation

March 29, 2019 by  

۲nd and final part – Dr. Iraj Bashiri

“That’s what brought us to the realization that we were in a life and death struggle with them. Struggle not just for the people, mind you, but for the valley,” said Mashiyaneh. “We fought back, without weapons, of course. We had no choice.” 

“If you did not fight with weapons, what did you fight with?” Asked Uncle.

Mashiya said, “With the wisdom of the ancients, mutual understanding, and respect instead of show of force and self-gratification. More importantly, with respect for all sentient beings including human beings, animals and plants.”

“What do you mean by ‘the wisdom of the ancients’? I thought you are the ancients.”

“No, son,” said Mashiya. “We are not the ancients. A thought world preceded us. In it, the forces of good fought against the legions of evil. We fled from that world in a curious way and took refuge in this valley. For a long time, we were safe and the valley was tranquil. Then that viper demon appeared. Unfortunately, we did not recognize her on time. Then it turned out that she is immortal. There is no way of getting rid of her permanently.”

“What did you do then?” asked Uncle.

“We undermined her power.”

“How?” asked Uncle.

“By keeping water clean and by keeping truth paramount in our thoughts.”

“What is the relationship?” asked Uncle.

Here Mashiyaneh joined the conversation. She said, “Water and thought are the initial elements of the two vital chains that constitute our being. Clean water that gushes out of the heart of the rock is pure. Its purity impacts the plant world, the animal world, and the world of the humans. It also keeps the air clean and allows the life-giving rays of the sun to do their magic. Evil cannot find a niche in that world to begin its destruction. It remains dormant. Similarly, thought that is conceptualized with good intention forms thought structures that are constructive. As a result, actions that are realized from the implementation of those thought structures will necessarily be good and benevolent. Here, too, the hands of evil are tied. That is when evil mounts demonic countermeasures in order to destroy the tranquility of valleys like ours. In short, son,” Mashiyaneh concluded, “two distinct elements, thought that rises from truth and pure water, especially their interaction with the material and spiritual life of the valley, returned our tranquil lives to us.”

Uncle amazed at Mashiyaneh’s eloquence in explaining everything praised her effusively.

Mashiyaneh continued, “We considered our material and moral needs paramount and we left religious affairs in the hands of the people themselves. Our material problems included air and water pollution, environmental disarray, animal habitat recovery, jobs, and the like. We placed those concerns at the top of our rejuvenation agenda. To remedy the water situation, we dug large reservoirs and directed rain runoff into them. We also dug qanats  at the side of the other mountain across from where they lived and used that water to run the mill and keep the trees around the river alive. That approach bought us some time to think our options through and find a permanent solution for our problems.”

“Did you say permanent?” Asked Uncle.

 “Yes, permanent within the limits of human ability” continued Mashiyaneh, “After much soul searching we concluded that to defeat them, we had to use the reverse of their strategy. We confronted them with Truth in all its shades. Why we didn’t think about that basic principle at the beginning, it’s hard to tell. They say history repeats itself because we take it for granted.”

Uncle felt uneasy to have addressed Mashiyaneh the way he had. “I think,” he said, “the ones creating havoc in and around Hamadan today belong to the same stock as your viper demon. But, how did you confront their culture of lies?”

“You see, son” said Mashiyaneh. “They were calculating but not experienced and wise. On the contrary, they were undisciplined and not averse to telling lies. In fact, it was their lies and pretentions that opened the way to our institutions to them and it was their unethical behavior that gained them positions and authority. We undermined their authority by simply following the well-trodden path of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. That golden principle isolated them and made them a community unto themselves. No one in the valley interacted with them, and no one respected them. In other words, we shunned them.”

“What was their reaction?” asked Uncle.

“They mounted a campaign of hatred. The more we emphasized our ancient heritage and denied their false gods, and the more we refused to frequent their temples and participate in their religious celebrations and wakes, the more they hated us and made us suffer. Fortunately, the people of the valley had been awakened and the intruders’ old lies had lost their effect on the ordinary people’s thoughts and actions. As a result, after some time, some of them picked up their effects and left the valley the same way that they had come.”

“But one point is unclear for me,” said Uncle. “Shunning by itself could not have been the solution to the type of problems that you faced.”

“But of course it could not,” said Mashiya. “I did not mean that things happened overnight and that shunning worked a miracle. In reality, shunning was a general response to your query. The first step was to familiarize our people with the valuable heritage that our forefathers had bequeathed to us. But we had to do that in a way that the intruders could not dilute our truth with their lies and feed the concoction to the unwary populace. Actually, what intensified their hatred towards us was the fact that their lies were no longer effective on their common followers. Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds had betrayed their tissues of lies.”

At this point, Mashiya lifted the quilt and put more ashes on the fire to bring the temperature under the korsi down. Then he continued, “Returning to your main question. In order to realize our social and political aims, we used their own strategy—secrecy—against them. This was not difficult because the number of their leaders was small. To begin with, we formed several small secret meetings and ascertained which of our essential rules had been drastically compromised. Those meetings ended in a secret assembly that abrogated all the undesired rules that they had introduced. In their place, we legislated new rules. Then, in an open assembly, consisting of valley people only, we accepted the new rules and created a board of elders that, in turn, with the assistance of the assembly, chose a charismatic leader to guide us out of our predicament…”

“Who was this charismatic leader? Someone I know?” asked Uncle.

“He was a simple blacksmith, but one knowledgeable about both the valley culture and the culture of the viper. He guided us out of the swamp that was threatening our very existence.”

“And that’s how you got rid of them permanently,” said Uncle.

“No son. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds,” continued Mashiya. “Over the years they had made us think like them. That means we lied just like they did and were not bothered when committing evil acts. Our children were brought up in the same manner and acted accordingly. The unseemly seemed appropriate. Unwittingly, we had become enemies of each other. What we did was that we gradually, and steadily, reversed those trends. More importantly, we made an effort to change the direction of their lives as well. It took a while before indications of a change of attitude appeared in some of them. They started to scrutinize their thoughts, weigh their words, and think about the consequences of their actions. At the end, we allowed those who accepted to follow the new rules and contribute to the rejuvenation of the community to stay.”

Uncle expressed his delight at the manner in which the people of the valley had dealt with their predicament. He said, “I am glad that weapons did not play a role in your plans.”

“We thought that that was the most humane solution,” said Mashiya. “After all, as human beings, they were not different from us, neither were we different from them. As exploiters, as unethical beings, and as chauvinists, they differed from us. We made them understand that their lie was exposed and that as intruders they no longer belonged.”

Uncle was unhappy at his own lack of knowledge about the history of a valley in which he had spent his childhood and had visited frequently thereafter. He asked, “Then, how did you return the prosperity that the valley had lost?”

Mashiya said, “The problems that they had created, like links in a chain, were related to each other. Obviously, the lives of the people depended on the well being of animals and plants, and the lives of the animals and plants depended on pure water. How is it that they did not realize this simple fact is beyond me! For this reason, management of water and restoration of fresh air formed the first steps of our endeavor. In other words, to remedy uncleanliness, we dealt with the root of the problem: water pollution. Clean air and pure water stopped the plants and the trees from being poisoned. Instead of cutting trees and burning them for charcoal, we planted new saplings. We saved the animals’ habitat and stopped their senseless slaughter. We also banned the maiming, hanging, and beheading of our people. We assigned people to jobs that suited them and stopped them from robbing and killing each other. Those who aspired to higher positions were given every opportunity to prove themselves in fair competition against their peers. Some of the old guards are still around, here and there. But they can do no harm.”

“The last word,” said Uncle. “The things that you outlined had to be paid for. You didn’t have a treasure trove. So, how did that work?”

Mashiya said, “The money was paid by the labor of our people who were determined to take back their valley from the thieves that had taken charge of it. Actually, the money was always there, but the thieves by ruining our source of income from farming, had put us at a disadvantage. In any event, the intruders abused both the fruit of our labor and the funds that they collected for their bountiful harvest upstream. They squandered all that simply because they were not thrifty and because they were poor money managers. Once they were deprived of using the treasury, everything fell in place.”

“Then you destroyed the dams after they left?” Asked Uncle.

“No. We didn’t destroy the dams. We decreased the amount of water used upstream then supplemented our water with what was left. We modified the dams to beautify the valley.”

Uncle took his eyes off the holy Avesta  in the corner of the display and said, “Then there is hope!”

Mashiya said, “There is always hope. What is needed is implementation of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds and patience so that those concepts can, in their true sense, work their magic and reconstruct the culture and the society.”

Mashiyaneh, who had been silent all that time, joined the conversation. She said, “There is one major point that needs discussing: leadership. The leader that we chose was charismatic. Right from the start, he challenged the leader of the intruders. Supported by the assembly and the board of elders, he went to the lion’s den, as it were, and made the leader understand that his followers had two options. They could remain in the valley, participate in its affairs and, if they desired, stand for election for positions, or seek distance from the valley, the farther the better for them and the valley.”

It was late and Mashiya knew that Uncle had a long way ahead of him. He said, “Son, we sympathize with you and the rest of our children. I fear that you may be right that you are in the grips of the descendants of the same ancient Yemeni viper demon. From what you tell us, I cannot think otherwise. Just like the bullfish  who, for a whole year, patiently carries the world on one horn, you must patiently sow the seed and wait for an opportunity.”

Uncle looked at the mirror on the display. A white egg rested in the middle of it—an egg waiting the changing of the year, waiting for the tremor to be caused by the shifting of the world from one horn of the bullfish to the other horn. He heard Mashiya saying, “Learn patience from the bullfish and use the method we talked about. It worked for us. Why should it not work for you?”

Thanking his hosts, Uncle said, “Unfortunately, as usual, I shall not be able to stay for the Nowruz. I have to help children make Nowruz displays; I must be sure that they celebrate the Charshanbe Suri and that they are joyous at the moment of the change of the year. Most importantly, I must take some of the joy of this valley to the other side. I should warm their hearts by telling them about your life and experiences.

A hush overtook the trio. Each one thought of his or her own Nowruz. Then Mashiya, breaking the profound silence, said, “I can’t fathom why our children should ignore Nowruz, a celebration that I have always felt is in our blood! How can it be ignored!”

Uncle explained, “Maybe I did not make my point clear. Some children are being brought up as if Nowruz does not exist. Their parents redirect their attention elsewhere and prevent them from thinking about Nowruz and all that is related to it. The problem is that year after year the number of those children increases. As I said at the start, my fear is that the direction that the parents of those children have chosen will distance us from developments in the world—we who were among the most progressive people in the world.”

Then with a sad face, he looked at the fish in the pool, the colored eggs, and the bowls of flour and cheese and said, “Something is missing. Perhaps, in the past, life was more simple. People lived as you do. They tilled the land, sowed the seed, tended their cattle and, when idle, celebrated their good fortune. A special warmth bonded them. We are loosing that warmth…”

Mashiyaneh said, “Son, it’s not like that at all. Life as life is unchangeable one way or the other. Attitudes can change, beliefs not firmly set in reality and truth can change, and behaviors can change. We discussed this same issue last year. You predicted that there would be no celebration…”

“No, I didn’t,” interrupted Uncle. “I predicted that they would not allow…”

“In any event, was there one?”

“There was,” Uncle conceded, “But only after a fashion. On Nowruz day, early in the morning, when the kids were going on their rounds, they hanged two young men in the center of the village…”

“My word,” Mashiyaneh gasped. She then asked, “But the children. What was their reaction? 

“What could it be? I have said it so many times. The children have become impervious to the atrocity. Cruelty has become a part of their culture. Villagers are mostly relatives of each other. Nevertheless, they watch the hangings. It seems it doesn’t matter whether the victim is the brother of one, or the father of the other, or the uncle…”

Mashiya sympathized with Uncle. He said, “Son! It is clear that your job is not getting any easier. Yet it is a responsibility that you accomplish very well. Nowruz is not only a national tradition, but also the cornerstone of our heritage. We are its guardian and you are our representative. It is your duty to pass it on to the children, all children. After all, you are the messenger of happiness that brings joy! The only place that you can feel gloomy is within the four walls of this mill! This year, when you see our children, when they sit around the Nowruz display, remind them that laughter is the gift of Yazdan,  that music is the joy of life, and that darkness and gloom are the handicraft of Ahriman.  Remind them that, in the cosmic battle between good and evil, they carry a great responsibility on their small shoulders. They should not shirk that responsibility and definitely should not allow their peers to destroy the mainstay of their lives, their happiness.”

As Mashiya spoke, Uncle felt a surge of devotion come over him. He recalled the days when, in ancient times, he had been at the court of Cyrus, the time when he had accompanied Xerxes into Athens, and when he had attended Nowruz celebrations at Persepolis, the incomparable palace of Darius the Great. He felt as if he was again living with Mashiya and Mashiyaneh—a feeling that in the past few years had become less and less tangible. He was ready, once again, to abandon his troubles in the old mill and return to his village near Hamadan, a changed man. Nodding with understanding and appreciation, he turned to his parents and said, “I should be ashamed of myself. Every year all I bring you is a lot of complaints.”

Then he fell silent. His parents, too, did not speak. After a short while, Uncle continued, “then again, what can I do? Who else is there to listen to me and cheer me up?” And as an afterthought he added, “You know, you look young, but you are endowed with the wisdom and the holiness of the…”

Mashiya interrupted him saying, “Don’t forget that seeing you each year rejuvenates us as well; and also don’t forget the days that you lived here with us. This is your home, too. You are our son as are the rest of the children of the world. We work a whole year for the sweet smile of one of our children. And we wait a year to see your face. I hope this year will be a happier year for you all.”

Uncle pulled his pipe out of the fold of his shawl, poured some tobacco into it, lit it, and said, “Well, time for me to go. I have inconvenienced you enough!”

Mashiyaneh, putting the hooka away, said, “We are always pleased to see our children. I had hoped that you could stay at least until Sizdabedar.  It’s a pity you always must hurry.”

Uncle got up and said, “Please give everyone in the valley my warmest wishes for a happy Nowruz. Don’t let them feel unhappy.”

Then he threw the sack that was now full of toys over his shoulder, took his cane firmly in hand, said goodbye, and left the mill. Mashiya and Mashiyaneh watched his silhouette as it disappeared behind the trees.



Uncle walked briskly along the river, and, as he went by the ruins of the dams, houses, and fortresses, he thought about the blacksmith of his own era. Would he emerge and guarantee the unity between his people and his country? Then he thought about the moment when he will reach the summit. He hoped that by then bonfires will be lit on that side of the mountain as they were on this side. He imagined children jumping over them yelling, “Take my sallow color and give me your red.” Then he thought of how he would tell the children the incredible story of his visit with Mashiya and Mashiyaneh. He would tell them, “Once upon a time, there was a man called Mashiya and he had a wife called Mashiyaneh. They were brother and sister, born of single stock of a rhubarb plant. They lived in an abandoned mill, just on the other side of the mountain…



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