the wordpress dashboard says that somebody has come to this place searching the internet for the word “forghoon”

now i have no idea why would the search engine lead anyone here for that word. as far as i remember, i have not used it here before. but then again, i cannot be so sure. i have written a good few posts here in states of questionable alertness, and on a few other occasions, i have let the muddled streams of consciousness and subconsciousness run into each other and take hold of the tendons and muscles of my ten fingers and type away.

whatever the case, when i saw the word among the search terms, it evoked a distant and rather delicate memory from many years ago. it is strange what we remember in what places and under what circumstances. here in hyderabad, it is 23 degrees celcius and the ac in my hotel room is on. this morning, boarding the plane in kabul airport, i could not feel my ears because of the cold.

he came to karez, the village where my father was building our new house all of stone, on a warm summer day, looking for work on the construction site. he was wearing a green, knitted cap, and he seemed to suffer from a permanent case of cold, because he kept inhaling to pull up the never-drying secretions of his runny nose. among other distinct things that i remember about him, he wore clothes unlike any garment color i had ever seen before, it was the color you would get if you mixed loud yellow and bright blue, but it was not quite green. kind of bluish, greenish, yellow. and he wore sandles that had been mended by melting pieces of plastic onto the torn parts. he spoke with an instantly recognizeable accent -that of somebody who had spent years and years in iran. a polite, bookish kind of farsi -not the accented hazaragi-dari spoken in central afghanistan. he was impeccably polite. he claimed to be illiterate, but i thought had seen him read and write, and he often quoted good poetry to make a point. as i said, he was very polite. he was also a very honest man. he was trustworthy. this is why very soon he won the trust of everyone in the family and fell into place -as a family member. and he was a humble human being. he was kind to us -the children, even when we were less than polite to him. and sometimes, being children, we we mean to him. we called him names. when we saw him carrying massive stones from the blast-site to the construction on a hand-drawn cart (karachi in afghanistan, or as he preferred to call it, by its proper, polite, iranian-farsi name, a ‘forghoon’), we sat on the boulders nearby and called him ‘sar sawooz, forghoon ba-dast’, or ‘green-headed, forghoon in hands’. it was mean of course, but it was not mean in the way that spoiled brats would taunt a poor person on the street -it was mean in the same way that i would taunt my brother, or a kind and fun-to-tease uncle, if i had one (i never had any uncles on my father’s side, and in afghanistan, those are the ones that really count, because they live with you and most likely see you grow up). that kind of mean. and he took it that way. so that’s the story with forghoon.

we never treated ‘agha’ -forgot to tell his name, we simply called him ‘agha’ -roughly, ‘sir’. it is a word common enough in iran -people refer to most men, politely, as ‘agha’, and to ladies, as ‘khanom’. yes, the family never treated agha as just another worker. of course we had other workers too. some who were not so trustworthy. some who were less than honest with their work. and some who could simply not be trusted around family. but agha was family. he ate with us. he played with us. in the evenings, he sat with us near the warmer part of the floor (on the surkhi) and advised us. i distinctly remember him once advising us children against consuming too much water in the evening, quoting this poem:

اگر خواهی آهو بگیری به دو
مکن خوابِ روز و مخور آبِ شو

and i remember this poem and that advise of agha almost every time i drink water late at night.
and yes, when we were caught teasing agha, we were always admonished. especially by the women in the household. those women, they were the standard-bearers of behavior and morality in the household -ever so watchful, ever so wonderful; my late grandmother and my late mother. i remember them telling me against bothering agha and calling him names, because of his humanity, and his dignity as a human being. i remembered that always.

agha always smiled. he was always kind.

one late afternoon though, just before namaaz, when everyone had taken refuge from the cold of outdoors to the warmth of the surkhi in the house, which by then had been mostly built, my mother asked agha a question. she was playing with one of my younger sisters, and then she suddenly asked him whether he had any family, and daughters. it was an obvious question. agha seemed to be so alone in this big world, and yet i had always overlooked this fact, because before i knew it, agha had come to have a family -it was us. we were his family. then, when my mother asked him about this family, it gave me a pause. we had come to embrace him as family -otherwise a wandering day-laborer. where did he come from? who was his family?

agha smiled, like always, but i think the question raised in his mind the same thoughts as had entered my young mind. maybe he felt the distance too -the distance that we had all gotten used to not noticing. he said that he had a daughter. my mother asked about her name and age. he did not know her age, but he said that he thought her name was bakhtawar. we children laughed -how could you not know your own daughter’s age, and how could you not be sure of her name? that was crazy talk. we laughed. agha smiled. and he changed the subject. maybe he made an excuse and left the room, maybe he said it was getting late for namaaz, the evening prayers, and that we should all go and make abolutions -i do not remember that part.

some time after that, one day i came home from school, and agha was gone. i could not believe it. of course i had nothing to claim, nothing to protest. he was another day laborer whose work was done and who had left. other workers had come and gone too. but i could not bring myself to accept this. how could agha be gone, just like that? put his hat on, put his chadar on his right shoulder, and walk away from the newly built stone house on an afternoon, into the west, where treetops were always silhuetted against the sad, sitting sun of the late afternoon. but agha was gone, and with him, the chance to ask him so many questions about his life. for a while, the children around the house continued speaking in mocking iranian-persian accent of agha, and then forgot about him. but everyone secretly missed him. i missed him a lot. maybe that was the first significant departure of a family member for me. he was as good as dead, because he never returned, nor did we hear from him again. did he find his family? his daughter, whose name was, maybe, bakhtawar? did he recover from his constant cold? did he change that yellow garment? did he live to see his fortieth year? did he miss us children in the same way that we missed him?

he left many theories behind him, in the village. he had come to live with us for so long, and on such terms, that others in the village had also come to accept him as part of the family, and part of the village. the village as a whole was all extended family -at most, four generations before everyone’s pedigree ties knotted together, in the same ancestor. about agha, they spoke different things. some said he was a jasus -a spy, for the iranian government. that, i thought, was rubbish. iranian government had other priorities than to task a meek man with an obvious iranian-persian accent to spy on my family and our little village of seven households in the middle of nowhere for four or five months. some said that he was a little off in the head -that he had been a good student, a learned student of faith in one of the prestigious theological seminaries in qom or another city in iran, and that the iranian police had taken hold of him and had sent him to one of those horror camps (siah tal and sang-e-safid) where they beat and abused prisoners to no end and stuffed them inside giant truck tires and rolled them from atop a hill until the person lost his mind and went crazy.

of course i did not believe any of these things, just like i never really believed them when they attributed supernatural phenomenon to the cia and blamed it for everything in the affairs of afghanistan this side of its continuing crop failures and the shortage in rainfall. i just thought that agha was remnant of that rare and ever-decreasing number of human beings who are losing out in our modern process of evolution, a process of un-natural selection. he was too good, too honest, too simple. he was just a simple human being in a green cap and a bluish, greenish, yellow garment. and i hope he is doing well wherever under god’s great sky he is right now.

in the words of hafez:
سرت سبز و دلت خوش باد و جاوید


~ by safrang on February 2, 2008.

3 Responses to “‘forghoon’”

  1. a vivid ,brilliant piece. I guess if aghaa puts the search word “forghoon” in google again, he will definitely find this post. have a safe trip.

  2. you are absolutely right -searching for forghoon on google gives this page as the first entry!
    i do hope aaghaa (i hope you forgive me for foregoing the two a’s in the beginning and the end, i thought i would save pixels!), yes it is a nice thought if aaghaa could look online for the instrument of his yesteryear’s labor and run into these pages. reading it, he would probably recognize me…
    but more seriously, i hope aaghaa is well and happy. some people have that effect of touching our lives in such a lingering way.
    (to the iranian company mass-producing forghoons: yes, you may email me for placing ads on this page)

  3. […] است‏ صداي جمهوري اسلامي ايران شبكه خراسان) از آغا كه قصه اش را اينجا كرده ام و از زواري كه از مشهد دسته دسته تسبيح […]

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