Mirror of the World

If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than it was because he was he, and I was I. —Montaigne

A great sense of occasion is present when one has the opportunity to introduce a unique voice. Challenge is, Ali regards his own individuality as the least important thing about him. What makes him spring to life and purpose are the dear people of this world. Sure, I could tell you that he’s Iranian and a Persian mystic, that he’s a lover of Nietzsche and Thoreau and teaches English to students of all ages in Tehran. But that’s only my reflection of him — and I’m too much in the way…

Who are you?

Alireza (Ali for short)

Alireza (Ali for short)

The Friend’s mirror. We find ourselves in each other and give meaning to each other’s existence. Without my Friend, I do not come to existence. And without me, he is an undiscovered, hidden beauty.

What are you reading right now? What do you think about it?

Rumi’s Masnavi. I am speechless. The only thing that comes to mind is that I find it like a journey along the banks of a river whose headwaters are pure and clear but unreachable. That’s the source and destination: eternal perfection. It is the story of a never-ending journey toward an eternally unachievable perfection.

What’s the single most important lesson you’ve learned from reading?

The fact that the ways to God are as different and varied as the number of all the people that have lived and will live in the world, and that of all these ways, the best is to be helpful and useful to other people.

What book had the greatest foundational impact on you?

The Divan of Hafiz. Unfortunately, no translation gets even close to its absolute poetical and spiritual beauties and glories.

What is your favorite scene in literature? Explain.

I have many favorite scenes, but only one has captured my whole heart. It’s a scene from Saadi’s Gulistan. A young child, Saadi wakes up in the middle of



the night to say some prayers (say the Salat which is the Muslim way of regularly praying to God during the day). This is something that adults find difficult to do, being so busy and careless. He looks around and finds all the adults in the caravanserai sound asleep. He then says to his father, “Oh father, what would have happened if one or two people of all these who are fast asleep had woken up and said one or two prayers.” What makes the scene unforgettable for me is his father’s answer, which explains why Saadi became Saadi. His father says, “Oh my dearest son, it would have been much better for you to fall asleep too and not speak behind other people like this.” It’s not what I do for myself, my religion, and my country that gives me worth. It is what I do for others that gives me value. And it is in this sense that the word “other” looses its meaning and the whole world becomes one.

Favorite Persian poet, writer, or novelist?


Why do you read?

“Read” was the first word that God said to Muhammad. It is the word that started the whole of Islam. Time and place are our prisons. Through reading, we talk with people in distant lands and in times that are not our own. Remember this from Emily?

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

But in another important respect, the question is unanswerable, because it is impossible to say how worse I would have been if it hadn’t been for reading.

Which has given me the world.

8 Responses to Mirror of the World

  1. Colleen says:

    Beautiful! I can’t stop smiling now.

  2. Alireza Taghdarreh says:

    Hello, Colleen.

    From my days as a soldier in the Iraq-Iran war I remember a scene: Iraqi planes were bombing a small village in Iran’s Kurdistan heavily. The whole earth was shaking under our feet. A very young child was standing in the middle of the street screaming and crying loudly. He was horrified and unable to move. Then an extremely old man with a bent back approached the child, picked him up and whispered: “Magger, magger,” meaning “don’t cry” in Kurdish. The old man’s feeble voice was lost in the deafening noise of the battle and the anti-air craft guns.

    That child has been screaming and crying in my mind for more than two decades now. Nothing has ever been able to silence his screams in me Today your “smile” was. I am glad you smiled.

    From the other side of the earth, Ali

    • Valya says:

      Ali, I really enjoyed your answers and musings. Thank you.

      I have made a note to read Saadi’s Gulistan at the next opportunity, and I am so pleased to have “met” you on this site.

      • Alireza Taghdarreh says:

        Pleasure is all mine, Valya. I have been enjoying your site immensely for the past few days. I am so thankful to my brother, Kevin for his site where I am meeting good friends like you. Kevin has shown us that books and their authors can bring our hearts and minds together in a beautiful harmony. Just like the stars that lead sailors through the oceans to new lands.

        I am so very glad to see you want to read Golistan. “Gol” in Persian means “flower” and “istan” is a suffix of place used even today. Afghanistan, for example, means a place where “Afghans” live.

        They say that Saadi, in Golistan, talks of the world as it is. But Saadi has a nother book called “Bustan” which is said to be his version of the world the way he dreamed it to be.


  3. Colleen says:

    Ali, that’s a terrible thing to live with. Yet, you see so much beauty anyway. You are a rare gem.

    • Alireza Taghdarreh says:

      Thank you, Colleen for all your kind words.

      The trick to my survival is that I did not hate back – something I learned from Hafiz and Rumi’s Masnavi. In fact, my whole country and culture have survived with these great men and their works.

      Speaking of the gem reminds me of a story Persian mystics tell about the origin of the creation. They believe that the prophet David once asked God: “Why did you create?” And he answered: “I was a hidden treasure (or gem) and loved to be revealed.” Then these mystics say that if it had not been for love nothing would have been created by God at all. Therefore, love is the gem put in the box of the universe. As long as we are able to love, we carry the gem and are them gem ourselves.


  4. spacedlaw says:

    I love that quote by Montaigne.
    Wonderful interview, Ali. I wonder if the French translation of the “Divan” might be any good…
    Thanks, Kevin.

    • Alireza Taghdarreh says:

      Hello, spacedlaw.

      Thank you for the kind words. A minute of pure, honest friendship is equal to a whole life long of enduring friendship. You know time does not exist among friends. Through Kevin’s blog we have experienced that sacred moment of friendship.

      I, too, love the quote very much. To me Kevin is a dervish, Persian mystic without even knowing it. Perhaps I was a little too harsh in my judgement about translations of Hafiz. French is such a beautiful language. I am sure Hafiz himself would have enjoyed the sound of your beautiful language.

      I must tell you that I love the wonderful story of The Little Prince as much as Hafiz. I do not have any friends in France. I know place does not exist among friends either, but it would have been wonderful if we could write to each other. I would have told you more about the miracle of Hafiz.

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