Faces Under the Masks,or Why the Animal Characters Are More *Useful
By :Mohammad Tolouei
At our starting point ,perhaps we should approach and refer to the family of
the dramatist "Bijan Mofid" to find out how his eyes had been sharpened for
chosing the animal-like characters for his cast,and further to that,we should
go to the marionettes,the story-telling or narrations that were read from the
Persian epic,Shah Nameh of Firdowsi,and to the tradition of theatrical nature
that was handed down to Mofid's family,the relationship he had with Gholam
Hossein Khan or to certain literary works of two influential Iranian writers
of his days :Parvin Dowlat Abadi and Mehdi Azari Yazdi,and finally,to the
acquaintance of the playwright with Donn La Fonne at the newly-established
Cultural center for the Intellectual Promotion of Children and the Young ,
usually called Kanoon.
For the purpose of analogy,we ought to give some examples of the Non-Iranian
literary works too, (including only those that have already been translated
into Persian) such as: "Animal Farm" by G.Orwell,Kashtankai of A.Chekov or even
Rhinoceros of E. Unisco in my opinion.Yet we may simply trace the trend back to
its origins in the ancient narrative memory of the Indo-european folks ,that is,
to "Kalila and Demnah" and the Eastern tradition of creating animal characters
which were related to the time when the fables had secured certian intermediate
functions other than mere story-telling,to wit,explaining the real world,giving
instructions or preserving and hadning down folk traditions and rites.
Of course,the " Kerteka Damenka" of Indian origin was transformed into "Kalila
and Demana" in its Pahlevi and Arabic versions though through being annexed to
some additions in its Arabic/Persian chapters such as:
"Bab-ol-Manasak vas-Safe" and " Bab-ol Ibn al-malak vas- Sahabe".
As a result of the translation trend,in time,the active and vivid animals of
the book,(for example those present in the chapter:The Lion and the Cow, )
which originally possessed Indian features were gradually transmuted into dull,
static and inert creatures in their Persian/Arabic versions .The inactive
situation so evolved,contributed somehow to discard these creatures and pushed
them aside from the core or the inner context so that they were only able to
appear and have persistence in the fables ever since.
Fortunately enough, most of these entities have persisted so far and are present
here and there,though rather typified ,in the fairy tales or in those stories that
are whispered at the bedside during the snowy nights.Here they are:
The Tricky Fox,The Lion King,The Tale-Bearer Crow.
They are,of course, nothing more than mere subsidiary characters of the cast though.
Here,prior to our giving an account or interpretation of the two plays of Mofid,
to wit,"Shahre Ghesse",(The City of the Stories), and "The Moon and the Panther"
as manifestation of his trial to bring the active status of the animals back to
them, we should make an attempt to demonstrate the main differences between the
active and moralist characters that had been appearing in "Kalila and Demna" and
those animal characters that were created by Mofid for the cast of his plays.
Their differences simply lie in their sex and morality.
The other side of the Mask of Morality
Is "Siva",the Hindu God,a godess or a god? Sometimes it dances and shows her
feminine body,but at the other times,there is an iron-claded trunk,fierce in the
its look and ready to destruct and shed blood.The hermaphrodite characteristics of
the Hindu gods do neither make for their relativistic views of a world of bisexual
nature nor for their tendency towards a particular sex..
It seems as if the sexes were the only selection criteria of the Nature in the
pre-moralist period in those distant days.Enormous power of the hands of gods,
(when Zeus does not have a masculine and formidable presence as he gains later
time and Aphrodite lacks any degree of fascination,all these features were but
the consequences of man's moralities and the process of civilization.
Once upon a time,before the days that moralities had been dividing the sex,(or
rather, for constructing a dialectical relationship between the two, neither
being prior nor posterior to the other),man might have been fortunate enough to
jog across the fields and enjoy his civil freedom,and perhaps,should have been
so gifted and capable as to understand the discourse of the doves and wolves even.
When a story was told by The Lion as a narrator,then the it appeared as a pre-
existing being in opposition to the man present beside it but not an inferior or
a superior being.This priority in status,also associated with the lack of sex
should have been almost transformable,a rabbit was devoured sometimes, and a
lion could possibly look at its reflection in the pond as a rival.
Of course all these were certain significant reproductions of human elements or
of his temperaments.
Later on,the man himself became a substitute and the stories of these creations
that were related to the animals,were gradually replaced by some natural phenomena
and worship of the Heavenly bodies.And as the animals were totemized in the long
run,they began to depart all the realms of the stories and went along.And then
everything happenedto man.
(I appears that the point of departure was found and hit,we do have the dramatic
metamorphosis of the elephant in Shahre-Ghesse which is comparable to the change
from a beast into a civilized being,as occurred in the myth of Gilgamesh and in the
experience of Enkido(.This digging into the past may probably be a way to compare the circumstances of
The Unknown Story Tellers of Kalileh and Demneh" to that of Bijan Mofid. The moralities had almost served as the intersecting point of the world of the
two texts.And had the lack of the sex and posteriority of these animal characters
ever endorsed their functions as the unsnubbish preachers,then, they might be in
the capacity of reminding, as in Mofid's plays,the entirty of forgotten moralities
for being psychologically unexamined and since their social status does not affect
their bahavior.For a simple fact,these animals had not been rejected by the audience
as they were the sole speakers of the truth.
THE BROKEN SYMBOLSThere are major differences between the animals created by Mofid and those of
"Kelileh and Demneh and those are the symbolistic functions of such animals that
belong to an era of which B.Mofid produces his documents and which coincide with
the symbols of some other beings.There are the allegories of the virtual world.
The monkey is the symbol of malevolence,flattery,mimicry,ugliness,detriment,
pilfering,lust,sensuality and hatred.But Mofid is obliged either to pay deference to some of these attributes (which
sometimes seem to be paradoxial)or modify them,so in any of the options he is
confronted with certain typical and pre-fabricated formats or casts.
Meanwhile Mofid applies diversified methods in his endeavors for manupulation of
these symbolistic figures.He sometimes follows a more exact line as it prevails :
like the Parrot,in Shahre-Ghesse,or something both creates something new in his
concillating between the pre-suppositions and characterization,like the Donkey,
in the same play and even modifies them completely,such as the Moon in "the Moon
and the Panther".
We may not simply reach a significant conclusion by classyfying all these lines
of deference and modyfing defiance or even arrive at the point to know whether
the playwright wanted to get rid of all the cliche or not.As a matter of course
he abandoned the cliche as much as he used them and therefor the characters he
created possess both features :social and symbolic as well. One may give references to his interviews but I wonder what effects his words
may have upon our judgements.Certainly enough some other conclusion may be drawn
and that is the use of common and ordinary animals as he did not select them among
such fabulous mythical creatures:Homa,Shire-Dal,(a monster with lion's body and
bird's claw)and the phoenix. Even those animals that live outside his geographical domain were discarded
from the cast.We wonder to attribute these discretions to the respect to the
Iranian audience or to his ideas about the requirements that were fulfilled by
creating pure genuine Iranian plays.
Men without WomenTo the same extent that any sex is inert in "Kalileh and Demeneh" it is as
equally influential in his plays:"Shahr-e-Ghesse" and "The moon and the Panther".
Evidently " Auntie the Cockroach " and "The Moon" are both dissociable so that
the first one characterizes an "Ethereal Female " and the other an "Earthly Harlot".
The Auntie Cockroach can make a living only by her sexual features in a place
dominated by the masculine and the "Ethereal Moon" remains too far to be reached
in the heavens under which " the Panther" longs for her in his cries. So,when I argued that the sex had already been employed as a selection criteria
by the Sanskrit narrators,I should also admit that, it had eventually become a
delicate tool in the hands of Mofid in order to dramatize his plays just in the
same manner.The persuading women who have promoted the "Cinema Noire" were almost
transformed into "Aunti the Cockroach" who was wearing mini-skirts,but at this
point I need to make use of some sociological devices to enable me to explain her
behaviour. Finally,Let's keep a respectful distance from considering "the Auntie" as a
representation of the spirit belonging to the Iranian women of the old days,the
Qajar Period, who were residing in Harems,and also specificly avoid to reduce the
folk to some prototypes and/or to Harlots,then there would be chance for the
"Auntie the Cockroach" to revive and prevail as a modified version of an old folk
character,fairly dramatized by the playwright and finally who is released from the
dominant shadow of the man she was going to be united in the city of Hamedan.
Therefor,the independent personality had bestowed to the Aunti the Cockroach by
Mofid though may have some sensual traces of being persuative but still remains
unique and matchless in the masculine literature of the day and signifies Mofid's
trial in maintaining equality in the matters pertaining to sex. *(Literally the word "mofid" may be meant as useful )