Shahnaz A'lami was born in Esfahan. In 1954, one year after the Shah's coup d'etat and the overthrow of Mosaddegh's government, she left Iran and resided for many years in former East Germany. Berlin was her final home until her death in December 2003. Among her many and varied cultural roles, she ran an Iranian School, where pupils are taught Persian language and culture.
I took with me a suitcase,
light, very light,
Two or three sets of baby clothes,
A white georgette dress,
An indistinct photograph of my mother,
wearing a headdress,
And a complete list of traditional things
for the Noe-Rooz's celebrations, (1)
Lest a single thing should be forgotten;
These were what I had,
or rather, people thought I had,
in my suitcase
With which I left the land
of the generous sun.
My suitcase was,
or rather, people thought it was,
very, very light;
But what a big mistake!
You must have seen the shows
of professional magicians;
They put their fingers
up their sleeves,
And take out whatever you may name:
Birds, rabbits, kerchiefs of all colours,
Sometimes a crystal jug,
Sometimes a piece of stone,
Fire, water, soil,
Flowers, thorns and many other things;
So was my empty magic suitcase.
Now it has been almost a lifetime
That from inside the same suitcase
I have been taking out anything I want:
Wonderful springs of Isfahan
And its exhilarating groves
in the outskirts;
The colourful autumn of Shiraz
And the fragrance of its orange trees;
The ancient ruins of Persepolis; (2)
The Baghestan Mountain
with its historical inscriptions;
The Palace of Princess Shirin;
The poor village of Cham in Na'in; (3)
The tattered dress of Fatima,
a peasant little girl,
And a flock of other children like her,
Who are all in the same suitcase.
I take them out;
I sit and talk with them;
I live with them;
And the moment someone appears,
They all run back into the suitcase,
The very suitcase which people think
must be very light
and almost empty.
When I make my will
I will ask for my suitcase
to be buried with me.
No doubt they will say:
"Her life was madness;
And her will is foolish!
What sort of will is that!
Who needs a suitcase
in the other world?"
Let them say whatever they like;
who does know the secret
of the professional magician of love?
Is it not true that love
is the astrolabe of God's mysteries? (4)
(1) Noe-Rooz, or NowRuz, the Persian New Year's Day (21 March in the Western calendar) is followed by twelve days of celebrations and visiting relatives and friends.
(2) Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of Darius, Xerxes and other kings of the Archaemenid period. Baghestan Mountain, near Kermanshah in western Iran, has on its face a bas-relief depicting Darius I, with captive chiefs and a record of his reign. In the same province was the palace of Shirin, an Armenian princess who is said to have been the wife of khosrow Parviz (521 - 628), one of the greatest kings of the Sassanid period.
(3) Cham is a village near the town of Na'in, famous for its carpets.
(4) The words in italics are part of a famous couplet from the "Masnavi" of Jalal-od-Din Rumi, one of the greatest Persian Mystic or Sufi poets, who is also known as Mowlavi. He lived a good part of his life in Konya in Turkey, where his tomb is a shrine for a dervish sect known as "Mowlaviyyeh".