Tag Archives: Farsi

The Persian King and the Plate

“Uhh, I am going to tell you about the, one of the, Iran’s king. That… umm… He loved France and he used to travel over there. And so finally they send a salesperson to his castle to sell, sell him some china from France. And they bring their best china and say, ‘Oh, you need this, you know, for when you have a party and this.’

And he just picked it up, and look at it, and he says ‘Okay, let’s go outside.’

And the guy just look at him and say, ‘Why do we have to go outside?’ [laughs]

He says, ‘Well, we just, let’s just go outside.’

So he goes outside and he tells one of the, uhh, uhh, person that it was was selling him, go get some of the, umm… the plate we use. So he goes and bring the, the plate they were using that time, it was, uhh, made from, umm, copper. And they would put the, umm, zinc over it, they would make it really hot, and put the zinc over it, umm… with a cloth they would just go all over, and it turns white, just like a silver. And they had to do that every year.

So he, they go and bring a set of that, and then, he’s sitting on the horse, and going around, and then, he just picked up the china, and keeps throwing them, and then they would break. And then he gets the, the, umm… copper one, and he keeps throwing it, and it doesn’t break.

And he says, ‘Why do you think I’m gonna pay all that money for the things you throw it, it breaks, and I have this, I’ve been using it for years, and it still looks the same?’

And then, the, the salesperson just look at him, and he just leave the uhh… umm… castle, and he just goes and never comes back. So that’s the story of the Persian king that he didn’t want to spend his money for something is not good. It just, like, to him, it was like wasting money. If it can use those plate instead of that. [Tells story in Farsi].”

Analysis: This legend is told in order to teach people the value of thrift and tradition. Its central moral is similar to the English phrase, “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” The King of Iran, as the protagonist of the story, attempts to illustrate that traditions exist for good reason, and that just because somebody else thinks something is nice, it doesn’t mean that you should, too. While a nationalistic tale of sorts, the story is used to impart important lessons to the audience.

Persian New Year

Okay, so Persian New Year, it lasts seven days…So, basically the Tuesday before or during, everyone goes to a special place or they do it at each other’s houses and they make fires, like small fire pits.

 

Inside or outside?

 

Outside, it’s always outdoors. Like in an alleyway, or if you have a big backyard, or they do it at the beach. And then people jump over it and they say a saying that’s kind of like, I don’t know how it’s translated but it symbolizes throwing your bad energy or anything bad from the past year into the fire, or like from other people, into the fire. That’s basically it.

 

Do you know the phrase in Farsi?

 

Yeah, but you’re not gonna get it. It’s like, “sorheitaz…?” I don’t even know how to say it, you’re kind of just saying whatever is bad is going into the fire. And you kind of say it with a friend, like whatever’s bad from each other, your relationship goes in too.

 

When is Persian New Year?

 

Our calendar is different, the Persian calendar is a little different. It’s first day of Spring, so it starts on March 21st, and then it lasts seven days. And we always set a table, it’s called the Hafseen, and Haf means seven, so like everything starts with an “S” you can look this up, I don’t know what each thing symbolizes.

 

So there’s a lot of symbolism involved?

 

Yeah, there’s seven things, there’s like a fish, and then there’s a specific thing you grow, it’s like a grass, and then there’s flowers… It’s really specific but it’s all with Spring and has to do with new beginnings and stuff like that. So it lasts a week, and then after that you get rid of the table and everything, and they throw out the grass thing, they’ll go to the river and get rid of it, there’s like special ways. And they celebrate after too.

 

ANALYSIS:

The informant is clearly engaged in her family’s and culture’s traditions and customs surrounding New Year, although it is clear there is a generational gap – she speaks Farsi, but doesn’t know exactly what she’s saying or what it means when they jump over the fire. She also participates in the traditions and knows the general gist of how things are set up, but doesn’t know specifics about the symbolic elements of the festival. However, she is aware of how the ritual is done, participates in it, and has a general idea of why these things are done and what they mean. The new year festival is about being away with or burning away all the old, stale, bad things from the past year, and bringing in the new year. There are very specific things that must be present and actions that must be done to ensure good luck, success, happiness, good relationships, etc. in the new year. This also corresponds with the earth cycle, and not with the biblical calendar.

Evil eye sayings

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. She says that a common thing to say when you see someone  in new clothes, or looking particularly beautiful; or when someone has very good fortune in (for instance) an exam or a job; or, especially, with children and new babies; is

“Nazr-bad-door” or “Chashme-bad-door”

 

 

 

 

 

 

which, word-for-word, means “look-bad-far-away” or “eye-bad-far-away”, but translates to, “May the Bad Gaze/Evil Eye stay far away from you.”

Analysis: The purpose of this little saying is basically to keep away the Evil Eye, which the informant says can be put on someone if they are envied or have something that others covet (eg, good grades or good health). When the Evil Eye is put on you, you may fall sick, fail in your job or school, lose your money, etc. Children are especially susceptible because they are often the center of attention, especially in the informant’s Pakistani family, and so if someone merely looks at a child with selfish or ungracious thought in their mind, the child could fall ill or have an accident, etc. It is thus important to remember to praise God when you see something beautiful and not be jealous or ungrateful, and this phrase is a way to remind oneself of that, and also to express the desire to protect someone from others’ ill gazes as well. The informant said all this as what people “used to believe”, implying that the traditional phrase is kept even though the specific belief may have been altered or abandoned altogether.

Irani stereotype joke

Context: The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both originally from Pakistan. He has lived in Southern California all his life, with frequent trips to Pakistan to visit extended family. He attended a private Islamic elementary school and a public middle and high school in the South Bay area. He relates the following story told to him by one of his friends, a young man whose parents are originally from Tehran, Iran.

Inf.: So when [friend]’s family went back to Iran to visit you know, like his grandparents and his cousins and stuff…but they live in Tehran, and supposedly–there’s a stereotype that people from Tehran are generous but like people from this other city–I think it was […] Isfahan, right? Isfahan is the place where they’re supposedly really stingy.

Me: Is that what he told you? Like I mean does he believe that or is it like a stereotype in his family…?

Inf.: No, i mean i guess everyone believes it. Like if you’re from Tehran, you think people from Isfahan are crooks. Like how if you’re from Pakistan you think Pathans are really stupid and people from Lahore are really rude and stuck up.

Me: Ok, ok. So then what?

Inf.: So then…so he–his family went to Isfahan and his dad went into the store, and he’s like, ok i’ll talk with an Isfahani accent so the guy won’t make me pay extra–like you know how people will charge tourists three times whatever it actually costs because they’re tourists? [I nod] Like that. So if he talks with the accent the shopkeeper would think he’s from Isfahan and tell him the actual price. So…ok, for some reason bananas were really expensive at the time,ok? So he goes up to the shopkeeper and he asks, How much are those bananas? And the shopkeeper goes, You’re not from Isfahan. And the dad goes, how do you know? And the shopkeeper said, If you were from Isfahan, you wouldn’t even bother asking how much they cost.

Analysis: The informant says he enjoyed the joke because it was very similar to and illustrative of the kinds of stereotypes that exist not just among Americans/Europeans/Westerners about other races, cultures, and ethnicities; but also among non-whites about other ethnicities. He mentioned the fact that many Pakistanis tell Pathan  jokes with the punchline being that somehow that particular ethnic group is stupid and only they could do something like whatever is told in the joke. The fact that the joke is predicated on the stereotypes between cities, a much smaller demographic than an entire ethnic group, is interesting; because while ethnic/racial stereotypes might seem plausible because of the supposed “biological connection” (i.e. DNA)  shared by all members of a race; any possible connection between members of a city is much less obvious, unless the population of that city is mainly composed of a single ethnic group and that is what the stereotype is (covertly) referencing. This joke, in order to be funny, relies on the audience knowing two pieces of information: the stereotype of Isfahanis as stingy people, and the fact that bananas were for some reason very expensive at the time. This is an example of requiring an emic point of view in order to understand the humor, or at least to fully appreciate the cultural context within which the joke/anecdote is situated.

Lilli Lilli Auzak: Farsi nursery rhyme and hand game

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. The following nursery rhyme is one in Farsi that she and her siblings learned from their mother when they were very young, but that few of their children (and subsequently grandchildren) learned in their turn.

Audio File

Text in Farsi:

Text in Farsi for Nursery rhyme "Lilli Lilli Auzak"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transliteration:

Lilli lilli auzak

dowre auzak sauzak

Tutti (murghe) aamad au khord

Paish lakkad au bourd

Ee gereft, ee pukhte kard

Ee rasad kard, ee khord

Ee  aamad:

     “Khala khala?”

               “Jaane khala.”

     “Rasad-e-ma kojaast?”

              “Meene doli.”

     “Meene doli neest.”

               “Peeshek khourd.”

     “Peesheke softe neest?”

               “Une aamad, miaouw, miaouw, miaouw”

Translation:

[note: This translation was not a line-by-line rendering; rather, the informant gave a general idea of what the little narrative was about, in Urdu. The conversation was then translated into English, which is what appears below.]

Inf.: There was a auzak, you know, like how do you say?

Me: Like a fountain?

Inf.: No, not fountain.

Me: A pool?

Inf.: No, not a pool–but anyway, there was–and you know how at the edge of the water that greenish chip-chip [sticky] stuff that grows you know? Around the auzak that slippery stuff was growing and a murgha [rooster*] came to drink water, and his foot slipped on the green stuff, so, he fell in and drowned. One got him, one cooked him, one served him on the table, one ate him; and the fifth came and said, khala (mother’s sister=aunt), where is my piece? And she said, It’s in the doli (pot). And he said, No it’s not. And she said, Then the cat must’ve eaten it. And he says, the cat’s not here, there’s no trace of the cat, and she said, No look, here he comes going “meow meow meow”.

*[note: in the transliteration above, both murgha (rooster) and tutti (parrot) are mentioned; in the audio, the informant almost says tutti but says murghe instead; and in the written text, only tutti is mentioned, but spelled two different ways.]

Physical description: Like the Western nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy”, this rhyme also has a tactile/physical component. The performer takes the child’s hand in theirs and begins the first two lines by tracing a circle on the child’s palm. At the third line, the performer imitates a bird’s peck coming to land in the center of the child’s palm (representing the rooster/parrot coming to drink water from the pool) then twists the tips of the fingers around to indicate the drowning. At lines 5 and 6, the performer closes one finger into the child’s palm for every action mentioned (i.e., “one caught it”=a finger down, “one cooked it”=second finger down, etc.) and at the seventh line, the performer holds the child’s thumb and wiggles it to match the conversation between the little boy and his aunt. At the mention of the cat coming (“meow meow meow”) the performer usually walks their fingers up the child’s arm and tickles them.

Analysis: This nursery rhyme is one of the only ones that is somewhat familiar to the informant’s children, who are all Urdu-speaking themselves, not Farsi-speaking. It is relatively easy to remember because so much of it rhymes and many of the words are the same in Farsi and Urdu (like rooster, parrot, foot, pot, aunt, etc.). Like many nursery rhymes with a physical component, this one in particular may be popular with young children because an integral part of the performance is the physical contact and the subsequent connection established between the parent (or other beloved adult) and the child, who relishes the special attention. The tickle at the end especially is eagerly waited and enjoyed, because the child and the adult both know it’s coming, and the slow buildup to it is part of the appeal.

As for the content, it seems to be a common occurrence in nursery rhymes, both Western and otherwise, for animals or even people to be violently injured or killed, and/or cooked and eaten (for instance, Sing a Song of Sixpence). The cat taking the blame for the boy’s missing share is an interesting element: the aunt (and other family members, of course) have eaten their find and left none for the boy, who immediately notices and outright asks the aunt, who outright lies to him and redirects his attention elsewhere. Both are quite aware of what the other is up to, but engage in this playful banter anyway. I think this may exhibit and model a joking relationship between aunts and their sisters’ kids, or more generally, between children and their parents’ siblings that is also present in real life. In the informant’s family, for instance, her youngest sister is only a few years older than the informant’s oldest daughter, and so the aunt and niece maintain a very casual, joking, teasing (but still respectful) relationship.