November 19, 2018

My Grandpa Aghajan.

Habibollah.  A beloved of God.  Beloved by Allah.  That was my grandfather’s name.  Each time I hear of trouble in Israel, I reach out for his memory as a sinking man to a buoy.

Habib- the beloved, as his friends referred to him- and Aghajan to me- an endearing name given to Persian grandpas meaning “lovely sir”- was a statues man with piercing blue eyes and a strong hand that gloved my little digits when crossing the cold and busy streets of Tehran.

“God has no religion,” he pronounced convincingly as we entered the Bazaar, where he was known for his business acuity, his expertise of Persian carpets, and for his fairness.  He had no formal education.  I doubt he was ever schooled, except for a couple of formative years when his teachers had smacked his knuckles with wet tree branches both times he had asked questions to which they had no answer.

Much like the dozens of English sentences he had memorized in the final years of his life, he had taught himself to read people, study faces, even as his contemporaries remained illiterate.  His people skills brought him a respectable fortune, a large house he shared for over fifty years with his step-brother, and the latest Buick with shiny white-on-black oversized wheels.

In argument, his beliefs waivered from one moment to the next.  One day socialist if he was hungry, another capitalist when he had scored a large trade, yet a third communist, my father would often greet him by asking which way the political wind was blowing.  Refusing to be pigeonholed, Aghajan cited Hafez’s beckoning call to rip open the heavens and reconstruct the universe anew:  “Rose petals let us scatter/ and fill the cup with red wine/ the firmaments let us shatter/ and come with a new design.”

Among Muslims, he was a Jew who could talk Islam through Rumi and among Jews he could quote Torah in Farsi with the accuracy of Tevye in Fiddler.   “If you believe God,” he began each time he wanted to convey his truth, “there is nothing better than love.  Love of women.  Love of people.  Love of things.  Many things.  Many people.  Many women.”

“Knowledge makes an ass out of you.  You divide things into good and bad, black and white, rich and poor, and judge without seeing.  That’s why God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat of the tree.  You forget that everything is one.  Joy is more important than knowledge.”

In his eighties, he regretted never having a bar mitzvah.  Yet, I don’t think he ever missed a chance to pray as a Jew three times a day, nor to sing along the entire Adhan- the Muslim call to prayer when he heard it go off over the town’s sound system.  He cared for any form of prayer that moved him, that connected him to his Beloved, but most of all for poetry, which was woven reason, religion and faith. 

Aghajan was a proud Zionist and in love with his motherland- Iran.  To me, he never spoke of hardship growing up as a Jew in a Muslim country.  Instead, he told stories of Rostam, a giant amongst men, who was tricked into a battle with his son Sohrab.  After hours of wrestling, Rostam weakened and stabbed his opponent in the heart.  In that moment of vulnerability, he noticed the necklace he had given his newborn son before leaving for battle.  Although, treatment arrived, it was too late.  Each time Sohrab died in the hands of his father, I cried.  The story still reminds me of the binding of Isaac, with a twist.  “It’s never too late to show love,” Aghajan whispered.

I doubt my grandpa’s purpose was ever to unite people, as he took more pride in being the devil’s advocate.  Still, in the medley of his multiple personalities, in the alchemy of his poetic words, in his finely woven soul which resembled the tapestry he knew so well, a spark of love warmed those near and far. 

And for that, I’m sure, he remains God’s beloved.