art ~ spirit ~ transformation
e*lix*ir

e*lix*ir   #16
Twin Birthdays 2023
Voices of Iran
 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Editorial

The Art of a Loving Correspondence

The Writing Life

Trust in Poetry by Tami Haaland

Features

The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, A collaborative work by poet Sandra Lynn Hutchison, composer Margaret Henderson, and painter Inger Gregory
Writing Music for The Beautiful Foolishness of Things, by Margaret Henderson

Poetry

Heather Anne Hutchison
Victor Kulkosky
Linette Kuy

Essays

The Art of Losing by Victor Kulkosky
Yearning for Water: The Story of a Traveling Quilt by Bradford Miller

Personal Reflections on Bahá’í Texts

Fire and Paradise by James Andrews

Letters

Dreaming of a Better Iran: A Letter to Our Fellow Citizens by Eight Bahá’í Students

Translations

“I Want to Walk With You” translated by Bashir Sayyah

Comics

Ruhi & Riaz by Eira

Voices of Iran

Keeping the Eternal Garden by Maryam Afzal and Saam Mozafari
Mrs. Mansouri’s Mission by Shahrzad Mohebbi
Nothing but the Sanctity of the Desert by Nazgol Adyani
Five Days by Bahar Rohani

Interviews

Art and the Creative Process: An Interview with Hooper C. Dunbar by Nancy Lee Harper
An Interview with Erfan Hosseini, Santur Player by Mehrsa Mastoori

Arts

Paintings by Hooper C. Dunbar

State of the Art

Books for Children by Allison Grover Khoury

Looking Back on Books

Forty-eight Fragments by Imelda Maguire
The Divine Melody: Song of the Mystic Dove by Lorraine Hétu Manifold
Walking to Martha’s Vineyard by Franz Wright
Soul of the Maine House by Bradford Miller

Films

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in France by Perry Productions


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Ann Sheppard

Five Days

by BAHAR ROHANI

My grandfather, Sohrab Rohani, was abducted when I was only three. A tragedy such as this is one that could strike anyone, anywhere in the world, but this kidnapping, the kidnapping of my beloved grandfather, took place in Zahedan, a city in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan. On 21 January 2005, my grandfather disappeared suddenly, without a trace. He was not the first Bahá’í to disappear in Sistan and Baluchestan. Over the span of three years, a haunting pattern had begun to emerge: there had been three kidnappings of Bahá’ís — a six-year-old child, his father, and my grandfather. And each kidnapping involved a high ransom.

I never asked my grandfather about his experience, partially to spare him from reliving those agonizing memories, but mostly because I knew I would not be able to bear the pain his recollections would inevitably bring me. Even the sight of him writing about his ordeal was almost too much for me. All that I know of his tribulations comes from my parents, and their accounts have left me in tears, my heart filled with anger and sadness. As I remember these fragments, my mind reels, trying to comprehend how he and his family could have endured such hardship.

Who suffers more from a kidnapping, the tormented victim or the loved ones left behind to imagine his plight? The ordeal began when my grandfather’s apprentice found the workshop gate smashed open, its glass shattered, and drops of blood staining the ground. My father and the police arrived at the chilling scene, greeted by the tire tracks of an unfamiliar vehicle. Their grim conclusion was that my grandfather had been kidnapped and that a demand for a ransom would likely follow. Suddenly, our minds plunged into an abyss, void of light and hope. I don’t know how we weathered that first day. Any sense of security we might have felt as a family was shattered, replaced with a terrifying, uncertain future. As my grandmother put it: “I just didn’t know what to do.”

On the day after my grandfather’s disappearance, the dreaded call came. I was too young to understand what was happening; I can only imagine the fear that surged through the members of my family when the phone rang, the display showing an untraceable private number. How their hearts must have pounded as they listened to the cruel, merciless voice demanding 300,000,000 tomans, about 400,000 US dollars, for my grandfather’s return! Stunned, my grandmother, Paricher Rohani, and her sons consulted with the Yaran, a Bahá’í administrative body in Iran, which advised them not to yield to such extortion. On the third day, my father bravely answered another call: “We don’t have this kind of money, and even if we did we wouldn’t want to give it to you.” The chilling retort was immediate: “Then we will kill your father. Tell that to your mother.”

On the third day after my grandfather’s disappearance, we all gathered at my grandparents’ house to pray for comfort, strength, and hope. Family members prayed that Bahá’u’lláh would keep my grandfather safe. But I wonder now what they were really praying for? Did they still hope for his return, or were they asking for his end to be painless? Maybe some were praying for his spirit, asking Bahá’u’lláh to ease his anguished heart? Meanwhile, the Bahá’ís in our city did their best to comfort my grandmother. She was trying to stay strong even as she faced the threat of losing her husband.

On the fourth day, many people congregated in my grandparents’ house with heavy hearts but still hoping for a miracle in the form of a ring of the doorbell announcing my grandfather’s return, or a call declaring his freedom. Everyone present clung to these possibilities. But the phone rang with a different message. When my father picked it up, the room fell silent as everyone waited, watching my father’s face for any sign of the conversation’s outcome. “We have dumped his body in the river,” a cold voice said. “Go ahead. You can have him now.”

The experience of hearing these words might be likened to standing on a frozen mountain, your skin tight against your body as you clutch a single lit match, and pray that it won’t go out, then suddenly feel a rush of icy wind extinguishing the last glimmer of warmth. How could anyone deliver such news with complete indifference? And how would my father relay this news to my grandmother, to tell her that the kidnappers had murdered her husband without a shred of remorse?

On hearing the news, those gathered armed themselves with pickaxes, axes, or whatever tools they had, and set out to find my grandfather’s body. Some of our friends even brought armed Baluchi friends with them, just in case there was a confrontation. Whether they truly hoped to find his body or not, I can’t say. Maybe they sought closure, a proper burial for a great soul who had made the supreme sacrifice? Despite their best efforts, they returned empty-handed. Their search was in vain. Perhaps there was a bitter solace in that?

As the day was nearing its end, the phone rang again, the sound slicing through the suffocating silence. My father answered, his voice a mask of control as the kidnappers sneeringly asked, “So, did you find the body?” Burying his rage and ’despair, my father responded, “We tried, but we didn’t find anything.” After a brief pause, cruel laughter echoed through the phone line. “We were just joking,” the kidnapper said. Imagine the monstrous audacity — to kidnap a man, to thrust his family into a whirlpool of terror, to demand a ransom of a large sum of money they had no right to, to claim they had discarded his lifeless body, and then to laugh it off as if it were a joke!

If I had been the one holding that phone, I would have unleashed a storm of fury, letting the kidnappers know of the burning desire for revenge that their heinous joke had ignited within me. I find myself wondering how my stoic, steadfast father, managed to swallow his rage, and keep himself from screaming threats at them or promising them a reckoning they would never forget. Yet, all my father said before he hung up was, “Well, that was a tasteless joke.” Clearly, his restraint was in stark contrast to the chaos raging within the assembled group.

On the following day, Bahá’í community members trickled into my grandmother’s house one by one, each arrival punctuated by the ringing of the doorbell. They came to pray for a miracle, and as they did, their collective hope filled the room. But of all the rings of that doorbell, one stood out, arriving after the time appointed for the gathering. As my father opened the door, he found himself face to face with the very man everyone was praying for. Bruised and battered, with red, swollen eyes, my grandfather stood on the threshold. My father rushed to call my grandmother, who ran to embrace my grandfather. His first words were, “Don’t hug me now, I’m really dirty!” And my grandmother’s response was, “You are the remedy for all my pains!” It would have been a perfect ending if it had truly been an ending, but, as it turned out, my grandparents’ trials were far from over.

As things began to settle in the room, my grandfather broke the silence, “Was the world always such a painful place?” I can only imagine his experiences as a captive, the fears that gripped his heart, and the loneliness that would have consumed him. I hope our prayers reached him, because they were the only thing we could offer. His hands were bound the entire time he had been held by the kidnappers. He had been denied the basic dignity of using a bathroom and had held his urine for so long that his kidneys suffered severe damage. He was also subjected to physical abuse, and his body bore the brutal marks of his maltreatment by his kidnappers.

On my grandfather’s return, the house had been filled with joy, relief, and hope — a calm that now felt like the deceptive quiet before a storm, as my grandfather began to give an account of his ordeal and to explain why he had been set free. Unaware of theYaran’s advice against paying the ransom, my grandfather had offered the kidnappers one-tenth of the demanded amount. Now, they were lurking in the shadows, waiting for the promised money. His ordeal was far from over, and I can hardly bear to think of my strong, brave grandfather, a man who rarely showed his emotions, weeping, haunted by fear and guilt for a crime for which he was not responsible. “Why did I promise them the money?,” he asked himself. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have!” The kidnapping, it seemed, was not over yet.

In the days that followed, the kidnappers called again, demanding to know why the money hadn’t been sent. My grandfather, resilient as ever, refused to give them any money, to which they retorted, “Then we will kill both your sons.” It was a cruel repetition of the conversation the kidnappers had had with my father, when they threatened to kill my grandfather. Now they were threatening my father with the murder of his sons. The pain of such a threat, the regret over ever mentioning any money, the wish to have simply endured his captivity instead — all these thoughts and feelings took hold of my grandfather. As for my grandmother, she had to find a way to live with the threat that other members of her family would be abducted and killed. And sometimes I wonder how my mother, a pregnant woman with a three-year-old daughter to care for, endured those sleepless nights and days, haunted as they were by dread.

Fear lingered in the air, with every ring of the phone potentially a private number bringing more threats and more despair. Time passed, and the first day of Naw-Ruz arrived — the Iranian New Year, supposedly a day of joy and hope for the coming year, but for my family, the day the kidnappers made their final call. “This is the last time we will ask nicely,” they said. “Give us the money.” Defiant, my grandfather replied, “I won’t!” Their threats escalated, “Well, then, we will kill your sons, and we will kill you for all the opium you stole from us.” My grandfather retorted, “If I’m the kind of person that would smuggle opium, it’s better that you do kill me!” Then he hung up. So it was that the start of Naw-Ruz was marred with threats and insults, a stark contrast to the hope and joy it was supposed to bring. My family had not a moment of peace, let alone joy.

My grandfather, Sohrab Rohani, was a man of strength who hardly ever displayed his vulnerabilities. One day, near the end of his life, when he was bedridden, his bones swollen from pain, he broke his unspoken vow of stoicism. He looked at me, his eyes watery and his voice faint, and told me how much pain he was in. For me, the sight of him in such terrible pain was unbearable. I felt helpless, and although I wanted to blame the brutes who started it all, I was consumed with sadness at my inability to do anything to alleviate his suffering.

The last years of my grandfather’s life were marred with physical pain. His shaky steps eventually gave way to complete bed rest. His passing on 22 January 2019 brought with it a wave of sorrow, and, yet, I am comforted to know that he resides in that spiritual world Bahá’u’lláh evokes in His Writings, a place far removed from the pains of the material realm. Reflecting on those last months of my grandfather’s life, I wish I had spoken to him more. Although, amidst tears, I did tell him I loved him, and somehow I knew he understood, still I wish I had shared more of my love with him.

Feeling powerless is terrifying, and the knowledge that there are people in our world capable of inflicting harm without feeling the slightest bit of remorse is overwhelming. I wish I had delved deeper into my grandfather’s life, asked him about his experiences, his fears, his pains. I wish I had been braver, wept openly with him, expressed my pain at his suffering and my anger towards those who caused it. I wish I had allowed myself to be more vulnerable. We could have shared our pains, our fears, and our insecurities. We could have tried to make sense of the seemingly meaningless pain that life sometimes presents us with, together tried to shed light on its purpose.

As I pen these words, each tear that falls brings me closer to a revelation: it’s time for me to share my pain, not just with my father, mother, brothers, and relatives, but also with the world. It’s time to cry openly and to lend a shoulder for others to cry on. It’s time to create meaning from shared pain. It’s a terrifying path, but I’m ready to step onto it. I yearn to meet others who feel the same way, to form a community that embraces pain together and moves forward. I hold steadfastly to my faith as a Bahá’í. I believe in a higher power that bestows meaning upon our pain. And I pray to Bahá’u’lláh to protect my grandfather, Sohrab Rohani, and all the souls who, like him, have ascended to the spiritual world, a world so grand that if we, the living, knew more about it, we wouldn’t want to spend one day more in the material world. It is in this glorious world that my grandfather, the noble Sohrab Rohani, truly belongs.