[यह एक दूसरी कहानी है, जीने और मरने की ही है.. या कहें, जीये जाने की वाजिब पहचान पाने की है.. और यह भी यहूदी मूल की है.. ज़माने, ज़मानों पहले इराक में बसे, आरामैक ज़ुबान बोलने वाले एक यहूदी देहात में अपनी पहचान की तलाश में निकले एक नौजवान , एरियल सबार, की कहानी है.. कहानी इसके बाद शुरु होगी, यह उस कहानी की किताब की भूमिका है..]
I am the keeper of my family’s stories. I am the guardian of its honor. I am the defender of its traditions. As the first-born son of a Kurdish father, these, they tell me, are my duties. And yet even before my birth I resisted. Our first clash — really more of a proxy battle — was over my name. My father wanted to call me Aram, after the swath of ancient Syria where the first Aramaic-speaking tribes dwelt in the second millennium B.C. A son named Aram would be a thread through three thousand years of history, uncoiling through Israel and Kurdistan back to a patch of land between the Habur and Euphrates rivers where my father’s native language first graced the lips of man. A son named Aram would pass this awesome birthright to his own son, and that son to his, on and on down the line, like princes in a fairy tale.
This may have been my father’s reasoning. But it was not my mother’s. She seemed to understand me even before I was born, because she didn’t much care for Aram. As an American she knew the cruelty of children to kids with weird names. Aram, she told my father, was a nonstarter.
And so even before I drew a breath, I had landed my first blow.
Ours was a clash of civilizations, writ small. He was ancient Kurdistan. I was 1980s L.A.
He grew up in a dusty town in northern Iraq, in a crowded mud-brick shack without electricity or plumbing. I grew up in a white stucco ranch house in West Los Angeles, on a leafy street guarded by private police cruisers marked BEL-AIR PATROL.
Our move to Los Angeles in 1972, when I was a year old and he was hired as a professor at UCLA, did not discernibly increase my father’s awareness of modernity. He bought suits off the bargain rack at J. C. Penney, in pastel plaids that designers had intended for the golf course, then wore them cluelessly to campus faculty meetings. I bought bermudas and T-shirts at Santa Monica surf shops and wore them like a uniform, even on winter visits to my mother’s family in Connecticut.
His hair was a froth of curls that he cut himself with a 50-cent razor comb. I had my mom take me to Beverly Hills salons and sculpted my hair with gobs of KMS gel. My father listened to Kurdish dirges on an off-brand tape recorder whose batteries he lashed in place with rubber bands. I got behind my rock drum set and kept time with bootleg recordings of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
My father spent the day in his home office in a threadbare bathrobe, inscribing index cards with cryptic notations in Aramaic. I spent the day in the backyard with my skateboarder friends, hammering together a quarter-pipe. His accented English was a five-car pileup of malapropisms and mispronunciations. Mine, a smooth California vernacular, tinkling with grace notes like “rad,”“lame,” and “mellow.” (“Mellow,” the verb, as in, “Mellow, dude.”)
When we collided, it wasn’t pretty. I threw tantrums and unleashed hailstorms of four-letter words. He stewed privately over how any son could behave that way toward his father, then consoled himself with the hypothesis that this was how children were in America.
Mostly, though, I kept my distance. He lived in his world, I in mine.
I can’t remember the timing exactly, but at some point, as a teenager, I even stopped calling him Abba or Dad. He was just “Yona.” He was the odd-looking, funny-talking man with strange grooming habits who lived with us and who may or may not have been my father, depending on who was asking.
Soon enough it didn’t matter. I went away to New England for college and got a job with a daily newspaper. I lived for the big story — nerve-jangling, caffeine-fueled pieces about cops shot in the streets, lawmakers caught with their hands in the till, factories spewing illegal waste into rivers.
My father holed up in his home office and, with his sons off to college, burrowed deeper into his studies of the language and folklore of his own obscure tribe: the Jews of Kurdistan. There were days when I wondered whether there had been a mix-up in the hospital’s delivery room. Maybe a real Aram, one worthy of the name, anyway, was out there somewhere, being raised by a Porsche-driving Hollywood-agent dad who wished he could get through to his quiet son, if only he could pry the boy from that dog-eared copy of Linguistic Peculiarities in Aramaic Magic Bowl Texts.
The sense that I might have gotten my father wrong — and that I might actually be his son — came slowly. A turning point was a chilly night in December 2002, when my wife gave birth to our first child, a boy with fine dark hair and eyes like softly burning lanterns. Would Seth break with me as I had with my own father? Would he, too, think he had nothing to learn and his father, nothing to teach?
“Who are you?” Seth, with those eyes, seemed to be asking, as his mother deposited him into my arms that cold night.
I was thirty-one years old, but I had no answer.
Making things right with my father, and my son, would take work. I lacked the big-heartedness of, say, Barney the Dinosaur or even Dr. Phil. I was defensive. I didn’t have it in me to just go home, ask my father’s forgiveness, and then embrace through tears as some studio audience burst into applause.
So I did the thing that felt most natural: I reached for a reporter’s notepad. If I dug far enough, asked enough questions, I thought I might find the girders that linked his world to mine.
My father had staked his life on the notion that the past mattered more than anything. His people, the Jews of Kurdistan, were the world’s oldest Jewish diaspora. Earthy, hardworking, and deeply superstitious, they had lived among Gentiles in isolated mountain villages for nearly 2,700 years but never abandoned their ancient tongue: Aramaic. Aramaic had been the lingua franca, or common language, of the Near East for two thousand years. Jesus spoke it. Parts of the Bible were inked in it. Three Mesopotamian empires used it as their official language. But by the time of my father’s birth, in 1938, it was all but dead. After Islamic armies conquered the region in the seventh century, Middle Eastern Jews switched to the Arabic of their Muslim neighbors. Aramaic clung to life in just one place: on the lips of Jews, and some Christians, in Kurdistan.
And so the past lived in and through my father’s people. Language was their lifeline to a time and place that no longer was.
My father believed that his past anchored him. Without a tether to our ancestors, we were lost, particularly there in L.A.’s suburban desert. That belief helped vault him to the top of his field as a professor of Neo-Aramaic, the fancy name for his language’s terminal phase, its death rattle. His efforts to save his mother tongue won him promotions into the highest tier of professors at UCLA, a level reserved for those with international reputations for major advances in their field. His life’s work was a Jewish Neo-Aramaic-to-English dictionary, published in 2002, the first of its kind, a gilded graveyard for dying words.
The journal Mediterranean Language Review called the dictionary “the culminating point of more than three decades of uninterrupted linguistic activity. . . . Considering that the Jewish Neo-Aramaic dialects are on the verge of extinction, as a result of massive emigration of the Kurdistani Jews to Israel at the beginning of the 1950s, the author’s activity becomes crucial for recording a linguistic and cultural reality which will soon disappear from the face of the earth,” the reviewer wrote. “How wonderful it would be if all the endangered languages of the world could boast such a devoted and so highly qualified native to preserve them from oblivion.” Over the years, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, and the Sorbonne, among other elite universities the world over, invited him to lecture.
Academics weren’t his only admirers. Because we lived near Hollywood, film and television producers sometimes dropped a line. They were looking, they often said, for a man who spoke the language of Jesus. My father tried to help. When the makers of the movie The Celestine Prophecy asked him to translate “nuclear fusion” into Aramaic, my father responded, a little apologetically, that Aramaic’s linguistic development preceded nuclear science.
“Make something up,” the producer nudged.
So my father approximated. “How about ‘seed mix’?” he said. Seed, like nucleus, he explained. Mix, for fusion.
“That’s a take,” the producer said.
For the 1977 movie Oh, God! he inked the Aramaic quiz with which George Burns, in the title role, proves His bona fides to a panel of skeptical clergy. More recently, for an episode of the HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm, he helped an actor learn the Aramaic for “My foot! My foot!”
“Recite it slowly,” the producer coached. “Like you’ve stepped on, say, a nail and are in pain.”
The Hollywood callers never offered my father much money, and in his innocent way, he never bargained for more. He was mostly just happy that here, in Los Angeles, light years from his hometown in Kurdistan, someone — anyone — wanted to speak his language.
Who is my father? How did he wind up so far from home? I wrote this book in part to answer those questions. I wanted to conjure the gulfs of geography and language he crossed on his way from the hills of Kurdistan to the highways of Los Angeles. But I also had other, bigger questions: What is the value of our past? When we carry our languages and stories from one generation to the next, from one country to another, what exactly do we gain?
For many Jewish Kurds of my father’s generation, the answer was little. Stigmatized in Israel as back-country rubes, many lost touch with their culture, seeing no use in passing it to their children. Who could blame them? Israel was forging a new national identity on European ideals, and the old country was a millstone best left behind. For complicated reasons, however, my father couldn’t let go. For him, the past felt safe, like a hiding place. He found that if handled carefully, if studied in the right angle of light, the past could carry you to new worlds.
Shunning my father and his strange looks and funny accent seemed smart when I was a boy. But what if I had been wrong? What if the past could remake you? What if it could redeem?
In my father’s obsession with his mother tongue, I had already glimpsed this: If you knew which levers to pull, you could stop time just long enough to save the things you loved most.