From the Bazaar to the Clinic and Back
A Memoir of an Isfahani Physician-Merchant
By: Haj Mirza Abdol Javad Okhovat (1889-1945)
Introduction and editor: Mehdy Naficy

This book is the memoir of a merchant from the Bazaar of Isfahan, Iran. He lived during the time of four Qajar Kings and 2 Pahlavi Shahs. He grew up as a child of a small Bazaari trader during the chaotic time of Ahmad Shah Qajar (1909-1924). It was a period of political and military intervention by the super powers Russia and Great Britain and of internal governmental chaos, political and social crisis and environmental and health catastrophes, namely famine shortage of food, and widespread diseases. As a young adult he describes vividly how the Russian troops arrived in Isfahan, how they behaved toward the natives, how the people in the city fought and survived the different famines and droughts and the shortage of commodities and food. He describes the hording of commodities by corrupt local governmental officials and the manipulation of the superpowers which worsend the economic and political conditions.

At the same time this book is a biography of a young traditional Bazaari, who grows up in a city, struggles with modernity and the introduction of western cultural traits and values, and attempts to join the modernization efforts by becoming a physician and working in a newly established hospital with modern western equipment.

In the last period of his life, he is confronted with the modernization efforts of Reza Shah who forced reforms from above. While he admires and supports the efforts of Reza Shah for securing transport routes and putting an end to the local thieves and suppressing the rebellious tribes, when it comes to the forced unveiling of women, he starts to oppose it. Gradually he turns back to his traditional role as a Bazaari and, thanks to the security of the roads and trade routes, he establishes himself as a successful import-export merchant and opens up his trading shops in the Bazaars of Shiraz, Tehran and Isfahan, while returning to the old traditional values of his family.

This book is about the long-term struggle between tradition and modernity, told through the biography of a merchant who becomes a modern physician in his adolescence and after a while goes back to his traditions and establishes himself as a great and successful merchant in Iran.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Written by Mehdy Naficy

Writing journals and memoirs in Iran

Life and times of Mirza abdol Javad in Isfahan

The private life of Mirza abdol Javad according to his children:

First Period: In Isfahan: working in the Bazaar, becoming a physician

Second Period: In Shiraz: getting involved in trade and commerce

Third Period: In Tehran: Expansion of trade activities and network

Diaries of Mirza abdol Javad Okhovat:

About my education

Beginning of my work in my father’s shop in the Bazaar

Beginning of my cooperation with Shahzadeh Mirza Muhammad Hassan as druggist

About my religious beliefs and my Weltanschauung

On founding the “Islamic Hospital” and my work there

My trip to Mashhad

Riots in Isfahan

Despotism and the Constitutional Revolution

A short history of the Qajar dynasty

Establishing the first Department of Public Health in Isfahan

Dispute and challenges related to opening my physician’s office in Isfahan

On Shahzadeh’s deteriorating health and his death

My father’s trip to Mecca

On my job as a shopkeeper in the Bazaar

Some new disputes and conflicts related to my physician’s office

On becoming an orphan

On my voluntary work with the military

On moving to a new house in Isfahan

On obtaining my diploma as a physician and my cooperation with another physician

My forty-day trip to the city of Kashan

My return to Isfahan and reopening my office

A bad incident

Rumours surrounding the arrival of the Russians in Isfahan and the departure of the Germans and Mojahedins from Isfahan

Separating from Dr. Ali and establishing my own office

On the arrival of the Cossacks in Isfahan

Dr. Ali leaves Isfahan and goes to Tehran

On the occupation of Isfahan by Russian and British soldiers

On the city’s deteriorating conditions: high bread prices, drought, famine, hoarding and lack of safety

On establishing charity institutions to help the poor

The political conditions of Iran during these years

The case of an Iraqi immigrant

Our trouble with bread shortages, famine and the spread of infectious diseases

On the chaotic political situation in Isfahan and the inability of the government to rule

On the relative improvement of the bread shortage and other commodities

Once again shortage of food and the spread of typhoid

On the spread of cholera in Isfahan and the vicinity

An influenza epidemic

My brother Mirza Mahmmud’s trip to the city of Shoushtar

My intended plan to go to the Bakhtiari region

The end of my diaries

Attachment: How the son of Mirza abdol Javad, Ahmad, died? Written by his older brother Reza Okhovat


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