Friday, August 14, 2015

In Memory of Faranak

Faranak is no longer with us. Her smile, spark and joy no longer in our midst.

Faranak’s short-lived life of five decades seems a rarity; a path of twists and turns, ebbs and flows.

Her birth and early childhood in Shahrud form Faranak’s character—a working mother and father who are both employed by the state; books and newspapers are a common element of life; the learning of other languages, mental and physical exercises, and the sciences are pursued by all members of the family. In the aftermath of the August 1953 coup the bitter taste of political suppression is felt through the imprisonment and torture of our father Doctor Zahraie. Father continues his medical laboratory work which he had begun prior in Isfahan and Tehran. Once in Shahrud, he restarts Farabi Laboratory at home when he is able to procure a second hand microscope. Later, he moves Farabi to Qazvin and finally for the ensuing decades to Shemiran.

Faranak begins school in Qazvin and later in Shemiran on a fast pace. In Qazvin, Doctor Tonokaboni who had recently returned from studying child psychiatry in France, observes that Faranak's IQ is above average and rare. Faranak continues her secondary education in Turlock, California, then Shemiran, Tehran, then Seattle, Washington then Somerville, Massachusetts and she finishes high school at Brooklyn Friends School in New York. She then enters New York University (NYU). Intellectually and spiritually, she is part of the last generation to come out of the 60s and 70s. In New York she supported the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran (CAIFI). She is active with Payam Daneshjoo publication. It is of her own recognition and volition that she moves towards this gravitation.

These times coincide with the 1357 (1979) revolution in Iran. Faranak, like thousands of others, is drawn back to Iran from afar by the tidal wave of social change in Tehran. She returns to the country in Bahman of 1357 (February 1979). She leaves her university work midway through; she enters the historic scene of revolution and war.

During her first four years residing back in Iran, Faranak’s energy is completely focused towards the organization of independent politics in the country. She participates steadily with Kargar newspaper, the independent socialist weekly. She begins working at a battery manufacturing plant’s production line. She starts a family. Less than two years later, without any legal justification she is arrested along with her colleague Monir, both intellectually like-minded and both expectant mothers. They are kept in solitary confinement for three months. Faranak felt, like the rest of us, that pursuing the common good and national sovereignty through the independent organization of wage earners, including those in industry, agriculture and other fields of work, is the best guarantee of the political, spiritual, and material progress of the country. The government followed a policy of harassment and detention of the educated members among the workers.

The twists in Faranak’s life become more evident when a year later Mostafa, her spouse, who had already experienced nearly a year of imprisonment during the nascent Arab movement of Khuzestan, is injured at war during the siege of Abadan by Iraq.

The government’s policy of shutting down independent politics during late 1361 (1983) led to my arrest and lengthy incarceration. As a result, after late ’61 (1983) for a decade I did not see Faranak. It seems she comes to the realization that her civil rights and the rights of so many like her, are violated by the government.

Faranak returns to the United States and the next chapters of her life reflect this change. Based on her knowledge of scientific laboratory she starts working in medical labs. Mostafa and later their daughter Sainaz, join her in The States. To be able to support her family she resumes her university work and completes her degree in Information Engineering while working. She works for IBM for over two decades and up until her recent illness. Her success during these years is matched by that of her husband’s.

In the ensuing years I rarely saw Faranak. The geographic distance between us was substantial. Visits were made on an annual basis, communicating more frequently. During the last week of July we were at her bedside with my son Navid. Her pain could be felt by the entire family.

The next morning, with her usual smile she said “this Marg bar Amrika [Down with America] slogan in the end manifested itself in ISIL.” She spoke of a debate video of a professor that she had watched. We exchanged a few words about a debate that shows anti-Americanism on both sides—one side in the form of “Marg bar Amrika” and the other side mimicking German, French or English version. Any which way, such debates might not have yielded much. Faranak was vibrant, with a smile and in bloom.

Faranak enjoyed music so very much. Volleyball was part of her weekly routine in Seattle. In recent years, the engineering couple made the farm and the garden their home. At dawn, the same sound of a rooster crowing like that of her childhood in Shahrud was heard at Mostafa and Faranak's farm in Lakeport. Sainaz and her spouse Arian, both successful artists, came to Faranak's care and sweetened her last months.

Faranak stepped into the political arena and lifted off her life afterwards, something sought by all women, and this she did with happiness. She lived with joy and was always full of love. May her beloved memory live on.

Babak Zahraie
August 2015
Washington D.C.