poupeh missaghi from “Flowers in Bloom an UnBordered Encyclopedia” پامچال / Pamtchal / Primrose

            She, my mother, is named after the flower Primrose, or more correctly after its Persian name پامچال / Pamtchal, a name not that common in my mother tongue, Persian, the same way she, her life story, is not common. Or that is how I like to think about it. I say, “mother tongue,” to only immediately have a vision of mom’s Persian handwriting, simple and basic, similar to a child’s handwriting in elementary school, and remember that she only studied Persian up to third grade before being sent to a boarding school in Switzerland for four years to return to Tehran but to continue to study at a French school. As a child I found it fascinating that my mother had another language besides Persian, a language she sometimes used to speak to her father, my grandfather, with whom we lived, making French their language, private to the two of them, a language neither of them ever spoke to or taught us the kids so we did not pick it up, though I did eventually begin to learn it in my early twenties when I started my undergraduate studies in translation. This privacy of language was one aspect of the special bond my mother had with her father, a bond whose origins demands a story of its own told at length at its own time, but to not leave you, my dear reader, hanging, here is the short version of it, at least how it has been told in the family, the myth that it has become. The story goes that when my mother was born, my grandmother, her mother, made a demand of my grandfather, the details of which are not revealed or clear, while she was still in the hospital, threatening him that if he did not fulfill her wishes she would abandon him and the baby. He did not, and so the baby, my mother, was sent back home with the driver. And my mother’s mother left. As you see this anecdote does not make much sense and has many gaps in it, but no one in the family speaks about it in more detail and I have not gotten any clarification the few times I asked about it, and so these few lines of narrative remain to be the story of my mother’s beginnings and that of her close relationship to her father, my grandfather, a man of many mysteries of whom I’m still in awe to this day. But let’s go back to the girl who arrived in the world and in the house and was named پامچال , transliterated as Pamtchal, which for you equals to Primrose, though one of the first lessons you are taught as a translator-in-training is to not translate proper names, which is a rule that holds up only until it does not, depending on the context of the name and the role it plays in the source text, the original one, as well as the function and purpose of the target text, the text in translation. The not-to-be-translated name, Pamtchal, which I understand might not be easy for you to pronounce but I hope you give yourself the trouble to practice pronouncing properly rather than to dismiss or butcher, as unfortunately is the case with many non-American names, was used less often in our familial settings and instead was replaced with the shortened form Pamy, pronounced with a long /aa/ sound not an /a/ sound. In my teenage years, I was adamant to call my mother by this shortened name instead of calling her mom or by her full name, perhaps as part of my teenager self’s hopes to move away from the hierarchical child-mother relationship toward being on a par with her, performing independence while remaining close and intimate. I have yet to hear of another Iranian girl or woman named پامچال  / Pamtchal, but the word itself and the flower it represents did of course exist beyond the walls of our house long before my mother’s birth. The first instance of it that I personally remember as part of the larger experience of the Iranian life goes back to my own childhood years and a TV series called گل پامچال  , Gol-e Pamtchal, or The Primrose Flower. I type these two titles as equivalents, but I am baffled at how they feel different in my body. The English is informational, factual, while the Persian is accompanied by music, the one playing at the beginning of the series’ episodes, a song that before the airing of the series I took to primarily belong to my mom and our family, believing that a friend of my grandfather had written the lyrics and composed the music just for her, but in truth while my grandfather and other family members did sing it to my mom, the song had an older history and the lyrics were written by Seyyed Jafar Mehrdad and the song was performed for the first time in 1951 before my mother was born. There is, however, a connection here between the private and the public of the song, which I learn when I ask mom about it while writing this essay, and it is that the song was played every Friday, our day of the weekend in Iran, from the national public radio in the late 1950s because my grandfather had made a request from a friend who worked in the broadcasting company. Over the years, the song continued its life in various versions in the public sphere, until decades later, it turned once again into a popular song present in many households around the country through the series Gol-e Pamtchal. In the first draft of this essay, I wrote that the series ran on TV in the 1980s, during the years of the Iran-Iraq war, which started when I was three and lasted for eight years, though it reached the capital city of Tehran where we lived only in its later years; I wrote that the series ran on one of the few existing state-run broadcasting channels during those childhood years of war and electricity shutdowns and rationalized coupons for basic resources such as gasoline and milk. I wrote these words because that is how I remembered the events, the war and my family watching the series together to be simultaneous, but then I went on the fact-checking route and found out that the series actually went on air in 1991, that is three years after the war came to an end. And this is interesting to me, my dear reader, not because, obviously, it reveals the unreliability of memory, but because it makes me see how the series, with its fictional story of the war and the hardships of its survivors, seeped out of the frame of the magical box of the TV to allow a continuation, in our imagination, of the war and all that it entailed years after the war had actually ended on the ground, enmeshing the post-war time with the time of the war, extending that connection all the way to this day many decades later in my body and psyche. The series was about a young girl, played by a novice actress, Setareh Jafari, who at the time of the broadcasting was twelve years old, only two years younger than me, who, according to the director Mohammad Talebi, like the character she played, was a war refugee from the southern provinces, whose family had lost all they had in the war and moved to the capital, though, in the series, her character ends up in the north of the country at the shores of the Caspian Sea. And it is here in the north, in the forests of one of the provinces by this largest lake in the world, so large to make it be called a sea rather than a lake, in Gilan province, that wild primroses grow in the middle of the winter to signal the arrival of spring. And it is from this province that my maternal ancestors come from. My mother’s great grandfather, that is her grandmother’s father, حکیم صبوری / Hakim Sabouri, was theالاطباء    مدیر/ Modir al-Atteba of the city of Rasht, the capital of Gilan province, a title that means he was the chief doctor of the city of Rasht, a city known for its progressive social movements including ones for women’s rights, thus historically boasting to its strong women and openminded culture, though it has also been, not surprising for the Iranian patriarchal culture, often been represented, especially through jokes, as a city whose men are unmanly, not man enough to defend their women’s and their families’ and their culture’s chastity and dignity. Of this ancestor, there was a portrait, an old-style photograph of a man in profile in black and white, the background color of the photograph turning the yellow of the passage of time, hanging in my grandfather’s medical office, as he too was a doctor, a gastroenterologist, one of the best in the country capital Tehran, whose office was simply in our house, or rather his house, because our family of four, my father, mother, and we the two kids, were the ones who lived in his house not the other way around, an office that didn’t even have an official sign but brought patients in from all over the country, patients who would travel and sit around for hours to be seen by the doctor “whose hand” they believed “brought recovery,” the phrase being a literal translation of a Persian idiom describing a skilled doctor who can heal patients in ways others can’t, and I remember that while I was growing up, the word on the street, or around our house, was that my grandfather could, without even the need for x-rays and tests, diagnose and cure ailments that other doctors had failed to. And so I guess it is safe to say that my grandfather was indeed a worthy successor to this ancestor حکیم صبوری / Hakim Sabouri. The word Hakim translates to doctor or physician, though there is yet another layer of meaning to it, as it is a title mainly used for doctors in the old days, or if used today, solely for alternative medicine practitioners who practice the ancient Persian medicine belonging to the world of ابن سینا / Ibn Sina, or as you call him, Avicenna, a name that has come to life through a mispronunciation/mistranslation process that the page on him on Wikipedia calls a “a Latin corruption,” defined on another Wikipedia page as “Latinisation (or Latinization) of names, also known as onomastic Latinisation, [which] is the practice of rendering a non-Latin name in a modern Latin style.” The word حکیم  / hakim holds one more layer of meaning beyond the temporal one mentioned, a layer that comes from its being in Arabic in the conjugation form فعیل  , which is used to make صفت مشبهه  or adjectives that are constant qualities for a person; for example, in this case, حکیم / hakim, created from the root letters ح ک م / h k m of the Arabic verb  حکم, means that the person is one who always has wisdom, thus making the doctor more than a doctor, makes him a man of wisdom, sharing that adjective with God, as Hakim is also one of the names of the monolith God in Islam, meaning The All-Wise, which, according to an internet page about the name, is repeated thirty-three times in the Quran. So now that we are back on the subject of names, let us, my dear reader, go back to the name we started with, or rather its English equivalent, Primrose, well not exactly the name but the signifier the name is taken from, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “any of a genus (Primula of the family Primulaceae, the primrose family) of perennial herbs with large tufted basal leaves and showy variously colored flowers,” and comes from the “Middle English primerose, from Anglo-French, from prime first + rose rose,” one that is documented to have been first used in the 15th century. As a name, and the piece of information I’m going to share below is honestly one that belongs more to the realm of trivia knowledge not wisdom, so I wonder what purpose it serves anyone and whether you would even want to read it, but anyway, I’m just going to leave it here for you to do whatever you desire to do with it. According to Ancestry website, citing the Dictionary of American Family Names (2nd Edition, 2022), as a family name, Primrose is a Scottish “habitational name from the lands of Primrose (Fife). The placename is probably of Celtic origin containing Pictish or Gaelic ros ‘wooded promontory’ with an uncertain first element,” while in English, it is a “nickname from the name of a flower Old French primerole altered in English and Scots to -rose.” But perhaps more interesting to you, if you are into pop culture and all that, is the information that the first name Primrose became popular in 2015 following Hunger Game’s character Primrose Everdeen. According to a Slate article on the meanings of the names of the series’ characters, the characters who are named after “plants or other earthy items” are the ones “from the poor, depleted districts,” even though primrose is historically considered to be “the king’s cure-all for its medicinal uses.” I can’t make any claims about the cure-all aspect of this statement, but following a conversation with a colleague about what I was working on at one of our faculty writing sessions in the library during the winter break which is not really a break because it is the time you do the work of research and writing that you need to do to keep your work of teaching that enables you to do the work of writing, I’m told that Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) is suggested as a supplement for menopause, a conversation that leads the two of us to talk about hot flashes and bodily changes and the lack of medical research and support for pre-, post-, and menopausal women, and I share with her the title of the book I’m reading, Flash Count Diary, Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life, by Darcey Steinke, which was recommended to me by another lovely colleague and writer during a conversation we had after her book launch in the Greenlights Bookstore in Fort Greene Brooklyn a few years ago, a book that, my dear reader, if you live in a female body and are in the middle years of your life, I highly recommend to you, though when those middle years are and when the symptoms of menopause hit you and what those symptoms are vary from one individual to another, but I recommend it anyway for when you find yourself in those years of your life, which for me happened early, the same way my mom’s did, in her forties, right after the death of her father, my grandfather. Though I can recommend the book, I cannot recommend EPO, as I’m not a doctor, just making sure the disclaimer is here, but I can report that WebMD lists among Evening Primrose’s health benefits alleviating Premenstrual Syndrome and providing Menopausal relief, and I want to confess here that I personally am tempted to try the oil to ease down my own constant hot flashes that appear out of nowhere and disappear the same way they have appeared. But let’s move on from this conversation on menopause as I’ve been told many times that it is not a topic to be discussed in public, though this is a position I find not surprising but very displeasing if not problematic. Anyway, moving on. I need to add here that Evening Primrose and primrose, despite their name similarities in English (this is not the case in Persian as the latter is called گل مغربی  / Gol-e Maghrebi or Western Flower which is completely different from گل پامچال), the two flowers are not of the same family or even of the same order and also look quite different from one another. Now let’s just go back to the more personal stories related to the flower and the name that are the subject of this entry. On a wall in my parents’ apartment in Tehran, there is a framed handwritten calligraphy of a poem entitled “The primrose flower.” The poem, dating back to 1970, is dedicated to my grandfather and is about my mother, starting with the line, “نوگل بُستان نامی پامچال نازنین / همچو گل اندر گلستان است و با گل همنشین   ” / “The new blossom of the Namy garden, our beloved Pamtchal / She is like a flower in a flower garden, sitting next to a flower,” ending with the line “شو خموش ای فانیا در وصف حُسن پامچال / کی ز کلک تو برآید وصف آن نور دو عین ” / “Be silent, oh you the mortal, in describing Pamtchal’s virtues / How can your pen describe the light of the two eyes?” The poem is signed as “Dedicated by Badri Tondari, known as Fani [Mortal], to the beloved light of the eyes Ms. Pamtchal, daughter of Dr. Nader Namy.” This is the extent of information I have about the woman composing it and penning it in Persian calligraphy to share with you. But what I can share is that as I type these words, the song گل پامچال  , Gol-e Pamtchal, is playing on my Spotify Liked Songs playlist, the singer Naser Masoudi singing “   گل پامچال، گل پامچال، بیرون بیا، بیرون بیا، فصل بهاران . . .” / “Primrose, primrose, come out, come out, it’s time for spring . . .” in Gilaki language which is the language of the Gilan province, a language of which I know nothing really, except that I carry a memory of its rhythms and tones in my body from when my grandfather spoke it on the phone with some of his Gilani friends and colleagues, along with just one phrase from the language “تی قربان بشم من ” / “Ti ghorban besham man,” the closest translation of which may be “I love you,” but that is not really the translation as the phrase is used in a much wider range of contexts and relationships and could imply other meanings too. This expression of love reminds me that many years ago, when I went to a painting class, whose instructor’s name evades me now though not her image and not some of the details of her apartment at which she held the classes, during the phase I was learning to paint with pastel, one of the first paintings I did was of a clay box full of primroses on a surface of snow and I believe, though my memory might be playing me tricks, I gifted that, framed, to my mother, which based on the season of primroses and the snow, should have been for my parents’ wedding anniversary, or maybe it was just a gift per se with no particular reason or maybe it was gifted to her much later for her birthday in summer. The painting is still hanging on a wall in my parents’ apartment in Tehran, on one end of the kitchen next to the living room/TV room, while on the other end of the kitchen where the family dining table is in a foyer connected to the kitchen hangs another pastel painting I did as a gift to my father of a set of porcelain dinnerware with other flower patterns, a set that was designed and produced by a company my father founded and ran for a while. My dear reader, allow me to share with you one more personal memory about primroses before I begin to wrap up this rambling of mine. Many years ago, for a party whose occasion I can no longer remember, one of the last parties my ex-husband and I threw at my childhood house, the house that appeared earlier in this piece, where we often threw our parties because it was much nicer and bigger than our own apartment, I designed a centerpiece with several small pots of primroses arranged in a big copper tray that belonged to my mother’s grandmother, surrounding the pots with snow collected from the courtyard and placing between them several candles, creating a centerpiece that turned out gorgeous and appears in some photographs from that party which I have not looked at for a long time now. And perhaps this is as good a place as any for me to move on to the last bit about primroses I want to share with you, to end this essay on a note that is closer to your culture, my beloved reader in the English language, lest I be accused of missing an important piece of information about the flowers that relates to your beloved writer Shakespeare. According to librarian Mareike Doleschal on Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust’s website, Shakespeare mentions primroses seven times in his work, first time in Hamlet where he coins the phrase “primrose path,” which, according to Doleschal, stands for “a path strewn with flowers,” and means a “path of pleasure, indulgence, or the easy route to life,” a path of sins that leads to hell. The flower, however, based on other sources, has in English folklore “a long associated history with fairies” and has thus been nicknamed “fairy cups,” leading people to believe that if they ate them, they would see fairies. So, my beloved reader, I’ll leave you now with all these stories and bits and pieces of information, and it is upon you, or rather your memory, to pick and choose what you want to remember the next time you find yourself in the presence of the beautiful primrose flower.

poupeh missaghi is a writer, translator, and editor. Her debut book trans(re)lating house one was published in 2020 and her second book Sound Museum is forthcoming in 2024 (Coffee House Press). Her most recent translation In the Streets of Tehran, a book of witness narrative about the current Woman Life Freedom uprising in Iran, was published by Bonnier Books, UK, in October 2023. She also has another novel in translation forthcoming in 2024. An assistant professor of literary arts and studies at the University of Denver and a faculty mentor at Pacific Northwest College of Art MFA, she is currently based in Denver, Colorado.