GUEST APPEARANCE , Where Pilgrims Dare , Citadel Pune, May 2000
Written by: Nisha Ghosh
Unravelling the mysteries of the past, he is one of those rare custodians of culture and tradition which has been buried in the sands of time. His work has inspired him to explore the rocky terrains of Iran, to discover unheard of sects and tribes which are bound by age-old religious beliefs. Meet a man with a hoary past and a quixotic present, kaleidoscoping into an uncharted future. M. Raza (also known as Fariborz Hamzehee) is originally from Kurdish area of west Iran, now lives in Germany and makes regular pilgrimages to India (read Pune) to renew his spirituality. His life defies labelling or slotting.
He is now going to make a film that will document the lives of the Zoroastrians who came to India in the last two hundred odd years and trace their progress.
ASK him how old is he and he looks you straight in the eyes as he says, “Four hundred!” Strangely enough, you believe this distinguished looking gentleman who radiates serenity, considering his oceans of knowledge, his varied mystic experiences, his endless research, his antecedents… It’s funny how he almost seems timeless. And in his life of four hundred years, Poona holds a very special place.
Hamzehee recalls how he was first introduced to this country by the Iranian surrealist writer Sadeq Hedayat through his work…”He is my idol. Interestingly, he wrote most of his best work while living in Bombay.” It was not until ’74 while he was working at the assembly line of General Motors in Teheran, that he co-incidentally meta gentleman named Rustom who was related to the owners of Diamond Café at Main Street. Adds Hamzeh,”Poona was an accident and during my stay here I changed, without intending to do so. I became a new person. I am indebted to India, it’s my spiritual home.”
GUEST APPEARANCE Where Pilgrims Dare
Hamzeh came with the intention of doing a course in film making at the FTII. Though unfortunately they didn’t admit foreigners then, so he opted for studying English instead at the Symbiosis College. This was in the winter of ’74. Followed by a bachelors degree at the Wadia College as he specialised in Economics even as he pursued English Literature, Politics and Persian Literature. The next three years he did a course in Sociology with an emphasis on sociology of India, its social structure and the changing patterns. Clearly this fascinated him.
When Hamzeh first touched the Indian shores, he knew some English and no Hindi. Being a communicative person, he made friends easily. One particularly close friend is Reggie Aaron. As he relives those carefree days when they met, the Kurd gentleman has this to say, “I come each time to meet my little brother Reggie. He always makes it a point to spend a lot of time with me and we recall the wild days.” Hamzeh treasures such friends. In his words, “These are my assets. My career in life is to make friends, even a millionaire can’t get this priceless treasure.”
While doing his Masters, he also learnt German at Max Muller, went to Germany and at the University of Augsburg did more language courses. Academically he worked on his Doctorate at the University of Pune with a dissertation titled ‘Study of some Millenarian School Movements in Iran’.
His interest in interdisciplinary research continued in Germany to where he moved home after 86. At the University of Augsburg, he researched on the Ale Haqq – The Yaresan, a religious minority group of the Kurdish community. In ’90 he published ‘the Yaresan’ in book form, in Germany. It was a scholarly work and perhaps the first on this subject. Yaresan is the name of an important community in South Kurdistan, about which there is very little known. This intensive study goes into the emergence of the community, their distinguishing religious tenets, their turbulent history and its survival to the present day.
Where Pilgrims Dare
Hamzeh enlightens us with this knowledge. “Ya,” says he, “is the Godly essence and therefore the people are called Yaresan, that is of Godly essence. Also this word ‘yaar’ that friends use commonly in India has come from their “yaar” meaning friend in God.” For his work, the author says modestly, “It is a dream of every research scholar to have his dissertation published as a book. Though I did achieve this, I don’t consider it my best work.” The best was still to come. Nevertheless, the Yaresan is used as a reference book in the US, and a text book in the Uppsala University in Sweden.
Another research work close to his heart is on the Oriental Gypsies. He spent fifteen long months in Iran in the early nineties doing field work and later again for six months in ’96. He found a lot of unexpected material on the gypsies in Pune, in the nineties. To his utter delight he stumbled upon Persian speaking gypsies in the slums of Shivaji Nagar. What excited his sensibilities was that they had retained their cultural flavour. Now ten years later, Hamzeh visits the area determinedly and picks up threads of their lives. Unfortunately, some have passed away, and others do not respond positively. But this man with a voracious appetite for knowledge, hasn’t quite given up. He continues relentlessly prodding them for more information.
Hamzeh considers Pune his hometown, the other being Kermanshah, Augsburg and Teheran. Kermanshah was where he was born. Very recently he spent three months there. He discloses, “I have a small garden there and this time I built a small house in it. The architecture is inspired by two old Iranian styles. With a few people we actually built it ourselves. It was a wonderful experience.” Perhaps it was his attempt at capturing the old world charm of Kermanshah, a part of his Utopia that is fast slipping away.
He believes that a deep-rooted change has seeped into Pune which is losing its precious soul. He is visibly upset as he admits that he couldn’t find enough shops selling kurta-pyjamas sets unlike earlier times. He feels that the Indian attire is very comfortable, “Instead, everywhere I see so many shops selling jeans – that does not go with this weather,” he moans, “I miss the beautiful rural touch of Poona. We had only bicycles then, and for a student to have a motorcycle was a big luxury. All this new architecture, such post modern facilities have no inspiration in them. But I am not completely disappointed, afterall this is still India,” he says with his clipped accent.
While on Utopia and paradise lost, ‘Warcham’ Hamzeh’s most sensitive work which was published in ’94, is about the mythical town of the same name. Written in an autobiographical form it begins, “I am Fariborz, and I am carrying many names with me. I am the continuation of the life of my ancestors…” He questions the meaning of reality which he has experienced – the historical, mystical and the mythological realities. The storyline vacillates in time, where perfect realities are woven into myths.
In ‘Warcham’ India figures too. ‘Warcham’ could well be the four hundred years of the scholar’s life. The present trip to Pune has been particularly On this trip too, Hamzeh has widened his scope of research, and is now going to make a film that will document the lives of the Zoroastrians who came to India and trace their progress. Having researched on the subject for twenty long years he says, “The film will not be dramatised,”but the reality he hopes will enhance the simplicity of the documentary.
Right now he is spending long hours tracking the Zorastrians and hopes to cover their trials and tribulations as well as their success in places which they now call home. Though most of Hamzeh’s work draws upon different cultures, the emphasis is both on the commonalities and the differences. Little has been written on two of the world’s oldest cultures, the Vedic and the Avestic. His work on them together is therefore pioneering. He says, “Historically, India was the assylum for old Iranian intelligensia, who were always welcome to the Indian courts. Do you know that they have a saying that henna got its colour when it was brought to India?”
Despite chartering new frontiers of research he has this to say, “There must be a reason for what – I have achieved through this strange journey. All I my life I have been learning and experiencing. We have a Sufi saying, that not a single leaf moves or falls without reason.” More accidents of fate fill s his life, but the fondest accident was Poona, “The first time I bicycled down a road lined with gulmohar trees in full bloom I felt myself come alive. This multicultural freedom you don’t even get it in the west.” This was some time in those four hundred e. years.
“Historically, India was the assylum for old Iranian intelligensia, who were always welcome to the Indian courts. Do you know that they have a saying that henna got its colour when it was brought to India?”
TRAKING DOWN THE ROOTS PUNE TIMES OF INDIA ABOUT M. REZA HAMZEH’EE
Methodological notes on interdisciplinary research on near eastern religious minorities