Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A tale of three young scholars!

There is an old journalist I have lunch with every month. His health has been deteriorating and his movement progressively more impaired.

A while back as I watched his face grimace with pain and unable to find the book he was looking for, I offered to reorganize his library and to sort of “computerize” it so he would know exactly where everyone of his gems might be located at. He was delighted and so I started.

His collection is indeed a treasure house with thousands of volumes. Some very old hard to find manuscripts, as well as numerous collection of journals long since passed out of sight. And, of course, those smells—the old book smells some of you probably know all too well. Absolutely enchanting!

I was working fast to finish with just enough time to make notes of the titles and occasionally also to sift through some of the more curious finds. In retrospect, three items have had been preoccupied for a while.

There was a reasonably well written (at a glance) old book on Amir Kabir, an important figure during times of exceptional weakness. Mirza Taqi Khan is most famous for his contribution to reforming the state, strengthening it and modernizing the country from above.

Amir Kabir also contributed to developing a foreign policy that attempted to safeguard Iran’s independence relying on equilibrium between great powers. The author of the book in question? A younger Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Isn’t it an oddity? Yes, Mr. Moneybag himself probably interested in another term also as the president in order to fiddle with (“salvage”) his “legacy.”

Then there were some of Amir Taheri’s old writings. Taheri, you will recall, was an executive editor in chief of an influential daily Kayhan. Mr. Taheri’s Farsi prose is magnificent, I think. His nickname (then) most evoked had been the “Emissary of the Apparatus,” (Namayande-ye Dastgah) How to put it diplomatically? Well, think of him as the brainy chief stooge.

He was one of the favorites of the prime minister, Mr. Hoveyda, (note Bill’s review of Milani) and thus quite a fearsome little chelovak as far as the other journalists were concerned. I am talking here about the sort of journalists who were not quite as inclined to collaborate with the security organ that kept them on a tight leash, and obviously also abused, tortured and terrorized dissenters.

And you want to hear the ironic part about all this?

Another branch of the same apparatus he worked for had him under surveillance suspicious of his much too cozy dealings with the operatives of some of the Shah’s closest foreign allies! Such is life under an authoritarian regime, you see.

And then there was one of the first volumes of the journal, Sokhan. This particular issue from some 60 years ago was practically a who’s who of Iranian literary giants. Some most famous names really with long intimidating titles in tow.

There was a non-descript short piece by a man with no title at all that caught my attention, though. A very young EhsanYarshater writing about the Russian fabulist Krylov, I think.

Each young scholar appears to have made a choice early in life and subsequently has persistently followed a set trajectory throughout his career. Power and intrigue appear more of an animating force in the lives of Rafsanjani and Taheri , whereas a profound sense of intellectual curiosity remains the abiding impulse inYarshater’s.

Which one of these men, do you think, will be remembered the longest?

For the record, my money is on the third fellow. The name Yarshater will be etched in the collective memory for generations to come because of his contributions—both in terms of his initial conception as early as 1972 and his tireless efforts in compiling and producing the Encyclopedia Iranica.

Something well worth ruminating especially for all the young, talented men and women who thirst for quick fame, fortune and money; nonetheless, a bit too hasty in disguising petty ambitions and loathsome choices in life through grandiose sloganeering about god, duty and country.

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