Iran Journal, Part 5: Keeper of the Flame

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(Host) VPR’s Steve Zind went to Iran this spring in search of his family’s history. The journey took him to cities, villages, bazaars and mosques. The Iranians he met welcomed him warmly, talked with pride about their culture and spoke candidly about their dislike of their government.

Today, the trail concludes in the city of Shiraz. It’s home to a 95-year-old family patriarch and a place to reflect on the country Steve Zind got to know while keeping this "Iran Journal."

(Sound of prayer and swallows chirping in a mosque courtyard.)

(Zind) Near the end of our three-week stay in Iran, my brother and I travel to Shiraz. The city’s main street is Zand Boulevard. Our distant ancestor, Karim Khan Zand, made Shiraz his capital during his reign in the 1700s. He oversaw the construction of the bazaar and the Vakil Mosque where swallows turn and dive over the courtyard. A patron of the arts, Karim Khan built a tomb in Shiraz for Iran’s most beloved poet, Hafiz.

Iranians love their poets. They’ve built monuments to them as Americans have done for presidents. Many Iranians can recite Omar Khayyam, Rumi and Hafiz from memory.

At night the stone pavilion at Hafiz tomb is lit with an emerald light that spills into the surrounding gardens. Iranians crowd around the tomb and recite the poet’s verse. One young man sings from a book of Hafiz’ poetry.

(Sound of a man singing poetry.)

(Zind) Shiraz was also the home of our grandfather’s family. Finding out about them – their names and descendants – is a remote but tantalizing possibility.

And so we visit Mr. Asad-ol-laah Boostani-e Zand. He is the keeper of the Zand flame – the only living direct descendant of Karim Khan. He’s written articles about the Zand ruler and lobbied to restore and preserve Zand Dynasty sites. A few years ago, Mr. Boostani-e Zand, prevented Karim Khan’s remains from being destroyed when an area near his fortress in Shiraz was being excavated.

At 95, Mr. Boostani-e Zand is brimming with vitality and good cheer. He has a full head of thick white hair combed straight back, and a nose of historic proportions. We arrive unannounced, but he welcomes us graciously. He tells us that ever since he heard we might visit him he’s been looking forward to meeting the American Zands. He leads us into his apartment, serves us drinks and disappears. After a while he returns dressed in a suit.

The suit and the ornate d cor of Mr. Boostani Zand’s apartment reflect a bygone era. Over the mantle there is a painting of Karim Khan Zand in his tall turban and beard. Beneath it is a framed certificate. Years ago the Iranian government issued these to people who could prove they were Zands.

The proof of Mr. Boostani-e Zand’s ancestry is in the old documents he keeps in a brass tube. Written in beautiful Persian calligraphy, they trace his lineage back seven generations to Karim Khan Zand.

He brings out two thick books written in Farsi. They tell about his family’s history in Shiraz, but nothing in them sheds light on our grandfather’s family. After all, we have only a handful of stories and the name of our grandfather born more than 150 years ago. It is too little to go on.

Mr. Boostani-e Zand serves us cookies and a sweet drink called Sakanjabin, made from basil, vinegar and sugar.

"To Mr. Boostani-e Zand and the Zands."
"To the Zand Tribe." ( Sound of glasses clinking.)

(Zind) We may not have found the names of our grandfather’s family, but we have discovered his people. We’ve reached the high point and the end of our journey in Iran. We’ve followed the thread of our grandfather’s story as far as we can. We’ve been welcomed by people who share our name in the village where our ancestors were born and we’ve raised a glass with a distinguished family patriarch. We many not have found the names of our grandfather’s family, but we have found his people – warm and gracious to a fault and proud of their heritage.

My brother and I were able to come here because of our Iranian heritage. The United States and Iran don’t have diplomatic relations and Iran doesn’t give visas to Americans who want to travel the country as we have. Because of longstanding tensions in the Mid East and differences in ideology, this is unlikely to change for many years. For most Americans the Iran we’ve experienced will remain hidden, a half a world away.

(Host) Steve Zind’s "Iran Journal" is a production of Vermont Public Radio. The production engineer is Sam Sanders.

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