Jun 4, 2016

The White Silk Dress – reflecting on the life of Táhirih (The Pure One) - by Marzieh Gail

The body lies crushed into a well, with rocks over it, somewhere near the center of Tihran. Buildings have gone up around it, and traffic passes along the road near where the garden was. Buses push donkeys to one side, automobiles from across the world graze the camels' packs, carriages rock by. Toward sunset men scoop up water from a stream and fling it into the road to lay the dust. And the body is there, crushed into the ground, and men come and go, and think it is hidden and forgotten.

Beauty in women is a relative thing. Take Layli, for instance, whose lover Majnun had to go away into the desert when she left him, because he could no longer bear the faces of others; whereupon the animals came, and sat around him in a circle, and mourned with him, as any number of poets and painters will tell you - even Layli was not beautiful. Sa'di describes how one of the kings of Arabia reasoned with Majnun in vain, and how finally "It came into the king's heart to look upon the beauty of Layli, that he might see the face that had wrought such ruin. He bade them seek through the tribes of Arabia and they found her and brought her to stand in the courtyard before him. The king looked at her; he saw a woman dark of skin and slight of body, and he thought little of her, for the meanest servant in his harem was fairer than she. Majnun read the king's mind, and he said, 'O king, you must look upon Layli through the eyes of Majnun, till the inner beauty of her may be manifest.’” Beauty depends on the eyes that see it. At all events we know that Tahirih was beautiful according to the thought of her time.

Perhaps she opened her mirror-case one day – the eight-sided case with a lacquer nightingale singing on it to a lacquer rose - and looked inside, and thought how no record of her features had been made to send into the future. She probably knew that age would never scrawl over the face, to cancel the beauty of it, because she was one of those who die young. But perhaps, kneeling on the floor by the long window, her book laid aside, the mirror before her - she thought how her face would vanish, just as Layi's had, and Shirin's, and all the others. So that she slid open her pen-case, and took out the reed pen, and holding the paper in her palm, wrote the brief self-portrait that we have of her: "Small black mole at the edge of the lip - A black lock of hair by either cheek -" she wrote; and the wooden pen creaked as she drove it over the paper.