“Oh Hear the Story of Mahaheh Palace”
By Nourollah Khoramian
“Oh, how sweet was the air of Sarechal The palace of Mahaleh and all its beauty” Foreword There have been other articles, both in English and in Farsi, about life in the Jewish Mahaleh (neighborhood) of Tehran and other Iranian cities. Most recently there have been some wonderful scholarly articles, notably Dr, Houman Sarshar’s “Mahaleh” in the English volume Esther’s Children and Dr. M Michael’s “Mahaleh Yehudian-e Tehran” in his Farsi history, Khaneh be Dushan Kore-e Khak (Vagabonds of the World).
What we have here is of a different nature. Mr. Nourollah Khoramian has written an account of life in Mahaleh that has a unique style. It is a rhyming poem which is personal, humorous and nostalgic. He wrote it in 1992 in Los Angeles for his compatriots whose origins are in Tehran’s Mahaleh but whose currently “mahalehs” are the likes of Beverly Hills, Westwood and Bel Air. Living among all the luxuries of life in California, he wrote this poem to express his nostalgia for the simple flavors and odors of the old neighborhood.
We have been fortunate that a dear friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, agreed to translate this wonderful poem. It was not an easy task since the rhyming verses in Farsi are impossible to translate into English rhymes and the unique tone of the poem is difficult to capture. It is our hope that in reading this translation the English-speaking children and grandchildren of those of us who, like Mr. Khoramian, came of age living in or or hearing about Sarechal will be able to imagine the lives led there.
Khoramian describes the daily life and environment of Jews living in Tehran’s Jewish neighborhood during the early 20th Century. At the center of the Mahaleh was a circular area known as Sarechal (literally, head of the slum), a name that became synonymous with the Mahaleh. Persian Jews have deep connections to this area, as their forefathers—and, for many, they themselves—dwelled there. Over time, Jews of other cities also began migrating to Tehran’s Mahaleh.
Though life in the Mahaleh was difficult at times, its former residents still enjoy sharing bittersweet stories of days gone by. Kids played in Sarechal’s narrow winding streets, walked younger siblings to school and even weaved rugs. Older children often cared for siblings, shopped, cooked and helped perform various rituals. They also attended to their studies and their games, of course. Some boys became apprentices. Young girls were often sent to the homes of older, learned women to practice the arts of sewing and homemaking.
Khoramian writes nostalgically of life in the Mahaleh, recounting his memories of the people and places that shaped its character. With this simple poem, he hoped to perpetuate the names of those who participated in communal life, each person contributing in his or her own way. Below is a loose translation, as it does not keep to the poet’s original format. Headings have also been added to guide the reader. Words in parenthesis are explanations of names or key phrases within the text. Certain Persian words were translated using the classic dictionary of Haim, himself a resident of Sarechal and one of the many stars who emerged from that memorable quarter of Tehran.
We hope that this English version can give you a glimpse of the world that your fathers and mothers left behind, a world now gone forever except in their memories.