Parvin’s Life in Brief
Parvin, aka Rakhshandeh, was born in March 17th, 1907, in Tabriz. Her father was Yoossof Etessami, aka Etessamolmolk, son of Mirza Ebrahim Mostofi, & her mother Akhtarolmolook, daughter of Abdolhossein Bakhshayeshi, aka Ghavamoddoleh, aka Shoori –one of the last poets of the Qajar era. With her father elected as a Tabriz MP in the 2nd Parliament, her family moved to Tehran in 1914. She learnt Arabic & Persian at home while going to elementary school in Tehran. Being a soul mate to her dad –for all his life-, & while being no older than 6 or 7, she participated in his father’s literary & scientific house parties with high profile intellectual guests such as Malekoshoara Bahar, Aliakbar Dehkhoda, Nasrollah Taghavi & Prince Afsar. Despite her young age, she was familiarised with ideas of manliness, politics, critique & illumination & this laid the foundation for development of huge talent & potential in her. She wrote her first poems at the age of 8 & this absolutely surprised Taghavi. At 11, she already knew the works of great poets such as Nasser Khosro, Anvari, Rumi and Nezami. She even commented on their poetry & when 14, her father got her poem titled “O Little Bird” published in Bahar magazine.
In about 1921, she went to the American Bethel Iran High School –founded by the American missionaries in Tehran in 1874- & graduated under the guidance of ladies such as McHenry, Kelsey Shrek, Young and Chase. The principal, Ms Schuler, described Parvin a very eager learner & revealed Parvin’s correspondence with an American girl friend, Helen Collins. It is said that Parvin kept writing to her friend all her life. Schuler describes Parvin like: “Parvin was already a knowledgeable person when she entered the American school, but her natural modesty was so strong that she showed herself very eager for learning any accessible new subject.”
A major event was Parvin’s speech at the school’s graduation party, titled Women & History. The speech is known as one of the most eloquent women’s rights statements in Iran’s contemporary history. This shows her full command & awareness of the situation of women in her era. In the speech, she reviews the situation of women in the West & the East & speaks of the oppression imposed on women throughout centuries. The following are parts of her speech:
“…eventually after centuries of agony, women managed to establish their intellectual & literary rights & thus got closer to their true centre. This was the era where the grand concepts of woman & mother were realised & the meaning of the two words that’s the foundation of survival & promotion of humanity, appeared for the first time. This was about Europe. But in the East, the rising spot of religions & civilisations…things weren’t like that. The caravan of happiness left this stop recently & the architect of civilisation turned away from these lands…During this period, the conditions of Eastern women were dark & sad everywhere, filled with agony & pain, imprisonment & slavery. Although lectures have been addressed & books written aplenty to cure this social disease, but the only cure for the East’s chronic disease is education. That is true education for both men & women from all layers of societies…”
She adds in another part of the speech that:
“…Today’s Europe owes a lot to Iran’s ancient civilisation. Despite its glory & centuries-long supremacy over the world, Iran has been affected by all the intense problems of the East & is now looking for its missing identity & lucky omen…Let’s hope for the recreation of the soul of virtuosity in the nation by the hard work of scientists & intellectual figures & education of Iranian women that would lead us to important social reforms. That’s how the background for true education will be formed & the bird of luck will open its wings over the land of Cyrus & Darius.”
After reading out this speech & in the same party, Parvin read her latest poem titled “Sapling of Dream” to the audience. The ever shy & calm girl shouts out this line of her poem:
Why women do not benefit from their own rights?
The poem was so against the situation reining over the Iranian society of the time that in 1935, Parvin’s father decided against including it in Parvin Divan’s first print.
In 1925, she was invited to the Court to tutor the Queen & her children & read out Iran’s history to Reza Shah, but she refuses the offer.
In 1934, she married her father’s cousin, Fazlollah Arta (Homayoonfall) who was chief of Kermanshah’s Police Station. They moved to Kermanshah four months later. But in August 1935, she officially ended her marriage on their return to Tehran. A disproportionate marriage with Arta’s military spirit & Parvin’s delicate & free soul. Her reaction to the divorce was writing a poem beginning like this:
“O flower; what did you experience of sitting in the flower garden?
What other than reproach & maliciousness of the thorn?”
After the divorce, in order to make her feel better & find a bigger audience, her father decided to publish her divan. However, her poetry were already known in literary gatherings, some of her poems published in Bahar magazine or Dehkhoda’s Amsal Hekam –which referred to her poems on numerous occasions- & Hashtroodi’s book titled “Greatest Poems” –that published her work with a lot of admiration. But her divan’s 1935 release with a preface from Bahar magazine was a hugely well-received literary event; to the point that Saeid Nafissi introduced it in Iran newspaper & the Ministry of Knowledge awarded Parvin a “scientific” medal; a medal we hear Parvin refused to accept.
But let’s see what Malekoshoara Bahar said of his admire for Parvin:
“In Iran, the source of literature & culture, seeing excellent men poets wouldn’t surprise anyone, but for a woman now to have such taste & talent & write so deep & well-thought poems is such a rare thing. It’s very surprising & demands utmost admiration & respect.”
This huge public & social reception made Parvin leave her house & her soul’s seclusion & experience her first presence in a serious business atmosphere. So she picked the university & library atmosphere which suited her more & started working as a librarian in May 1936. But her tendency towards seclusion didn’t leave her & after only 9 months, she left her job in 1937. Although her father’s illness had intensified at the time & considering the close nature of their relationship, it could be that she decided to stay home & take better care of her father. Yoossof Etessami dies the next winter & leaves a deep cut in his only daughter’s soul, so deep that one could clearly feel it in the poem she wrote on her father’s death:
“O father, the axe that the angel of death hit you with…
Was the axe that ruined me…”
Parvin lasted merely four years after quitting her job at university & his father’s death in 1937; we know not so much of her activities in the four years prior to her death in 1941.
We just know that she kept corresponding with Soroor Mahkameh Mohasses & often received or visited Simin Behbahani’s family. Ms Soroor Mahkameh Mohasses described Parvin as good-hearted, good-thinking, pure-hearted, fine-tempered, nice, a modest friend, loyal & honest. Qualities that can be clearly seen in her work & the letters she wrote to Ms Mohasses. She was asked by the Ministry of Knowledge to write a piece in tribute of Saadi to celebrate his now 700 year old creation of the legendary Golestan & Boostan divans. Zarrinkoob describes those years as a bitter & sad time in Parvin’s life.
In March 23rd, 1941, Parvin fell ill with typhoid fever with no previous history & died 16 days later on April 5th. She was buried next to her father, Etessamolmolk, in their familial tomb in the courtyard of Massoomeh Shrine.
A death that only took her body & never her true existence; as her style of thinking lives through her poetry.