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3. The Poet of the Tâti Language
The book which contains Nimâ's poems in his local tongue is called Rojâ meaning “red”. In a beautiful preface to this collection which the poet wrote in 1940, he identifies himself with birds in nature:
The bird has forgotten the oldest song that he sang. Later on the winds passed through trees and took it to the faraway lands. I too do not remember which was my oldest poem, but at the death of our cow, Rojâ, I recited a poem on this occasion in my father's presence. My father only told me: ‘Well done, you have to learn shooting as well', and he pointed at and old arrow and bow hanging from the wall. Though he, himself, used other equipment for shooting.
In fact, the father wants Nimâ to follow the path of their ancestral tribe and to become master in the art of shooting and bravery. Here comes the new vision of his tribe:
I have been careful to be like the ancient lovers of the mysterious country to enchant people and not like witches in doing harm. Periodic journeys may have changed my thoughts, but it has not taken away what my tribe has dressed me in. I hide a knife under my coat, and I say that my folk have been like that.
Nimâ again, years after his youth poems connects this new vision with the old romantic notion of the “heart”:
If you [the reader] are a poet, you will touch my warm chest. From the bottom of my heart I send you a manly salute, and from the depth of many years in the past, I enhance my light and lighten a corner of your room. Hold me like a burning candle that burns and gives light to others. I salute you again, the unknown young whom I do not know when you have been born and whether you know your own parents or not.
In Rojâ, Nimâ sees a new mission for himself. He begins the preface to his poems with a phrase in his local tongue, mi atâ gap, meaning “one word from me” and he adds “I am the poet of the Tâti language.” As we have seen before, Nimâ has always been interested in the literature and language of his province Mâzanderân, but this is the first time that he writes in this language and names it “Tâti”. Tâti is a separate language which, alongside other languages, such as Persian, Avestic, Kurdish, Baluchi, Soghdi, Tâjiki, Afghani, Tâleshi, and Semnâni, form the Iranian language family. The people who speak Tâti live on the west side of the Caspian Sea both in the Republic of Azerbayjan (part of the former Soviet Union) and in different provinces in the west and north of Iran. In the Republic of Azerbayjan, in which the dominant language is Azeri, a Turkish language, the Tâti-speaking people had a political movement. In 1995 it was crushed and their leader was executed.
In Rojâ, one can feel that Nimâ moves towards a national identity, not in terms of political entity, but rather cultural. According to the translators of Rojâ into Persian, Nimâ attempts to write a grammar for his local tongue, but it remains unfinished. Nimâ does not look at Rojâ as a hobby like other Persian poets, such as Bahâ or Vahid, who have written a few poems in their local dialects, Khorâsâni or Esfahâni, respectively. On the contrary, he sees himself as the “national poet” who wants to restore an unrecognized language by creating a masterpiece in it. Just like Ferdowsi, who wrote the Shâhnâmeh, in order to “revive Persiandom with this Persian” epic, Nimâ too, sees a mission for himself in Rojâ towards his people in Mâzanderân.
Every national movement needs a national myth to show the story of its suppression by the oppressors. When in the third century A.D. the Sasânis came to power in Iran and attempted to boost national pride against the Parthians, who were influenced by Hellenism, reminiscent of the rule of Alexander's offspring in Iran, they wrote Kârnâmak-e ardeshir-e pâpakân, in which Ardeshir is depicted as a national savior whose ancestors saved the national “seed” in remote mountainous areas far from the reach of the Hellenized power. In the Shâhnâmeh, itself, when Zahhâk, who is of Arab origin, usurps power from the mythological Pishdâdi king Jamshid, the latter's son Fereidun is raised by a holy cow and then by an old man in a mountain cave; from this cave, he eventually comes down to orchestrate a national uprising against the usurper.
Nimâ finds the national myth of the Tâtis in the story of Rostam's campaign against the White Div in Mâzanderân, usually called Haft khân-e Rostam (“Rostam's seven ordeals”); he campaigns in order to rescue Kâvus, the king of Iran, who is blinded by the White Div and kept in a castle. Nimâ sees the White Demon (div-e sepid) as his national ancestor:
Do not ask me for the Div's story, which is long
However so much I say, it will still be the beginning of my story
I say so much, as if it were a river
I sing so much that you think it is a song
Say that the White Div was your forefather
It seems as if the willow tree planted last year was as tall as he
Not one nor a hundred, they were a thousand.
It was Zoroaster's fault to say there were a hundred of them
Beside the White Div, there are other famous divs, such as Savât, referred to as Shavât of Turân in the Shâhnâmeh, and who Nimâ referred to as one of the great warriors of Mâzanderân:
We have a div, Savât, who had a bad name
He went to Rostam and befriended him
We have a div who conquered Mount آrârât
This is the root and origin of the Div and the Tât
In the Shâhnâmeh, divs are depicted as tall demons who are half human half beast and carry a horn. For Nimâ these are only cow horns that the old Tâti warriors carried as paraphernalia:
The cow's head was the helmet of our div
The cow hide was a beautiful brown garment
The div had a bell because he was great and a king
A millstone was his mace in hand
The word div, which in Persian means “demon”, in its Indo-European root meant “deity”, as can be seen in the words for “divine” and “deity” in various European language today. Was there any crusade behind the Rostam campaign in Mâzanderân? In fact Rostam, the great warrior of Iranian kings pursues a mission against local “infidels”. Nimâ, himself, points this out:
The Magi attributes greatness to the div,
He is not a vision which comes in a dream
He draws near you and watches you without ceasing
The Magi attributes lies to the div.
Nimâ calls the religion of the Mâzanderâni people âftâb parasti, meaning “sun-worship”:
But the div of Mâzanderân was a great name
Rostam tied the div's hands cunningly
The house of the div were sun-worshipers
Zoroaster was spiteful towards them.
Sun worship is part of an old religion in Iran called Mithraism which predates Zoroastrianism. The Latter did not abolish Mithra, but rather added it to its own pantheon of gods. In the Gâthâ, the oldest part of the Avesta, composed by Zoroaster himself, we see Mithra as the god of contract who has a thousand eyes and controls the enforcement of contracts among people and between divinity and the people. Mithra rides a chariot, one of whose wheels is the sun. Therefore, whenever the sun rises, Mithrâ is coming out with it to the world. The reminiscence of Mithraism which in Persian is termed either mehr parasti or âftâb parasti can still be traced in Kurdistan, Azarbayjan, and Mâzanderân, especially among a Kurdish sect who call themselves Ahl-e Haqq (people of the truth).
For Nimâ today, sun-worship has only a poetic quality. In fact, Rojâ signifies a little red star which appears in the sky before dawn and leads the caravans to their destination:
Rojâ is a wanderer, has lost everything
When he shines, it is the sign of day
Hidden and in the open, he is my heart's blood
In the midst of the night, he is my guide for the road.
Here Nimâ depicts the perpetual battle between the sun and darkness. In the following double couplet, “love” is a metaphor for the sun:
The caravan lit its own lamp
The boar of the plain fled to the hills
Ah! the little drunk, Rojâ, showed his light
My love's moves turned those plains red.
He addresses the sun as “my friend” and talks to him as to a person. In Rojâ, nature as a whole has a human quality and its anthropomorphism is not limited to the sun. He calls the forest jangal jân, meaning “dear forest”:
The sea says I am always in turmoil
I milk clear water out of the mountain cloud
I sell water to the earth as much as I should
When I feel the cool summer breeze of Kap I am invigorated.
In many places, he talks to his cow like a person:
My flower, my flower; Oh! my beloved bull
Oh black and white raven, Oh my little lamb.
In the following example, Nimâ ascribes the human activities of tearing and sewing to natural elements:
In the midst of the night the star washes his tooth
The boat saddles up along the seashore
One is tearing off his garment,
The other is sewing his.
And in the following poems, man and nature are inseparable:
In the midst of the night when my campfire is blazing
It turns to ashes and gives its ashes to the wind
One sits down, one goes, one comes,
One beast is standing and watching us.
Nimâ's mission in Rojâ goes beyond Tâti nationalism and the glorification of Mithraism against Zoroastrianism. He interlinks his mission to class struggle. There are many pieces in Rojâ that depict the greed and tyranny of the landlord towards the peasants:
I went to the city, I saw the old and the young
I saw a thousand evil and righteous people
I returned to the countryside and I saw the village in ruins
At the people's expense, the landlord's eyes were shining.
The demon comes and mumbles as he counts
Near the harvest field, he closes his eyes
He wrecks the rice farmer's house
He leans back on the pillow and sees himself as landlord.>>> Chapter 4-E