Chapter SEVEN

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bells, samovar ba_es and a myriad of little household articles. The furnace was at the corner of the shop. They used to place the brass scraps and pieces in special containers and stretch them into the furnace, which was kept burning brightly by leather bellows which were pushed backwards and forwards by a child. I found this fascinating and used to stand and watch them for hours. Mr Karim and his father were very kind to me. He once made me a toy gun out of brass, which I still have in Tabriz; it was a most valuable present for a child in those days.
After working for six months in the chemist shop I did not become a doctor as I had originally intended, but at least I had learned how to read the names of drugs in the Latin alphabet! This helped me to learn English in the following year after taking the examination of sixth-year elementary level.
Instead, I started my secondary education at Nizami School, which was situated between Amir Khiz and Davachi districts. I was excited at going to a new school: I was going to see new faces, new rooms, a new yard, new teachers - a whole new world. I was full of enthusiasm to discover what a state school would be like, as I was attending one for the first time.
I found it to be much better organized than my previous schools and the students more serious and disciplined. The teachers were all well qualified. We had excellent teachers in Persian, history, mathematics and English, but I did not like our Arabic teacher, who sat and read his university books and expected everybody to be quiet. In fact by good fortune I was already well versed in Arabic; I had learned it at Mirza Ibrahim's maktab and through private tuition. Another teacher who frightened us was the one who taught Persian. He was very well dressed and smart but rather strict and dry. In his class we were forbidden to speak Azerbaijani - our mother tongue.
The competition within our class was very intense. Although I managed to come third among 35-40 students, I nevertheless decided to leave the school and study at night-school so that I could try to pass two years' exams in one year.
This was not the only reason why I left a school and fellow students which I liked: what I did not like was the sense of suppression and suffocation of creative work and independent thought. Some teachers, particularly the Arabic and Persian ones, treated us like children. Of course we were children - but their attitude did not encourage the development of either the mind or the personality. I had already acquired a sense of independence and appreciated the opportunity for creative thinking - this perhaps others had not experienced. Consequently I preferred to study on my own, although there were more risks involved. If I passed the examination in the following June I would be one year ahead of my fellow students; if I failed then I would have fallen one year behind.

Nizami Ganjavi, the poet,

Nizami School was called after a great Azerbaijani national poet - Nizami Ganjavi. Nizami Ganjavi (his real name was Ilyas ibn-Yusuf), a great poet and thinker from what is now Soviet Azerbaijan, was born in Ganja in 1141, where he lived all his life and where he died in 1209. His most famous works, which are a worthy contribution to world literature, are five long poems, of 30,000 couplets, known as the Khamsa (five books). "There is not a house in Iran," wrote Sa'id Nafisi (the famous Persian writer and critic of the present century) "where books of Sa'di and Hafiz can not be found and the Khamsa of Nizami would not be among them. Every old and young Persian-speaking person knows these books from elementary school."
Nizami was not a court poet and he criticised those who were in the service of the rich and powerful and extolled their masters' virtues for money. However, Nizami himself was obliged to dedicate his poems to rulers and eminent people, driven to this by poverty and the need to find patronage. One of his poems that I remember from childhood and read in school is "The Story of Sultan Sanjar" (who died in 1157) and "The Old Woman", which begins:

A poor old woman was harassed,
And came to Sultan Sanjar to complain:
She said: "0 Sultan, I have not seen any justice in you, All through the years I have seen oppression from you. A drunken officer came to my street,
Kicked, knocked me down,
He dragged me, innocent, out of my house,
Pulling my hair as if he wanted to kill me.
He yelled: 'You hunch-backed hag, tell me
Who killed a person at your house?