Sohrab, the All Alone

Waiter tells of Sohrab Sepehri
By Jaber Tavazoei

Sohrab Sepehri, one of Iran's most prominent poets in the contemporary era, spent at least two or three months a year in his birthplace, Kashan, at Café Sharbati. Seifollah Abbasi Moqaddam was a waiter who worked in the café when Sohrab spent his days in his hangout in the west-central city in the 60s. During his stay, Seifollah catered for Sohrab and enjoyed his company. Sohrab even did him a painting which Seifollah has preserved over the years.
What follows is an interview with Seifollah, now a diner owner in Kashan, about those days. His recollections are valuable so far as they are pure and unfiltered, and reflect Sohrab's personality and life as a poet and a painter who lived alone and no one knew him in the city.

-What brought you to Café Sharbati?
Seifollah: I was 12 at that time. An acquaintance of my family was the café owner's relative who introduced me to the café. After that, I started my work and stayed here for almost 20 consecutive years.

-So the café was open until the late 80s?
S: Yes. Mr. Sharbati was a well-respected figure in the city. His café was the most beautiful spot in Kashan at that time. It was run for almost 55 years before it was shuttered by some unknown individuals who did not want to place to run normally.
-How did people view the café?
S: Well, the café was a hangout for many artists and filmmakers who came over to the city to make films and see places. It was also used as the location of many films prior to and after the Revolution.

-Was the café also a guesthouse for those who wished to stay overnight?
S: Yes, but not for the homeless.

-When did you first meet Sohrab?
S: He was a frequent customer of the café. He stayed there two, three or more months a year. He was often on a trip. Sohrab came to Kashan for recreation only. He was always alone and never married. Maybe he knew about his cancer and didn't want to ruin someone else's life.

-Did he smoke?
S: No, I never saw him do so. Neither did I see him drink. On the contrary, there were instances that I saw him pray in his room in the café. He was so complicated.

-Did you know what he did for a living then?
S: No one knew in Kashan at that time. He came to be known as a prominent poet only after the Revolution. Some times some students would come over to see him in the café and take pictures with him. People in the city said he was crazy or something.

-How come?
S: He acted strangely. He would overreact to the picking of a tree leaf or killing of an animal.

-Did you go out with Sohrab at all?
S: No. I used to stay up talking with him into the wee small hours. I felt it hard to figure out what he said. It was later on that I began to realize what he spoke about.

-Like what?
S: He was too emotional; very emotional. He said that even bad people should be given a chance.

-Did you know Sohrab was a poet and had written books?
S: No, not at that time. His books rose to prominent after the Revolution. He always bought grocery from the same shop that we purchased our things from. Once the owner of the shop asked me who that hirsute guy was who drove a strange car. (Sohrab had a Jeep which was right-wheeled unlike other cars in Iran). People mostly regarded him as a crazy painter.

-Did he have a sage to follow?
S: Yes, there was this elderly man of about 75 years of age. Sohrab had great respect for him.

-How did you finally learn that he was a poet?
S: It was no sooner than after the Revolution. A guy came over to the café to see him and told us about Sohrab and his talent in poetry.

-What would you see in his room when you went there?
S: I once went to his room and he asked me strange questions; "Are you in love," he asked me once. "No," I said. I didn’t know what he meant by such questions. "Will you promise to keep a painting I will do for you?" he asked. "I will," said I and he did me a painting which I now have it in my library.

-Did he have any political viewpoints to talk to you about?
S: No, he always refrained from answering my questions about political issues of that time. I didn’t know why but whenever I asked him a political question he tried to change the subject.

-Did he read newspapers?
S: No, not much. He read books instead. His books were all written in foreign languages. His desk was covered with piles of books. He never read books in Persian. I didn’t understand his language pretty well.

-Any final words about Sohrab?
S: No one understood Sohrab when he was alive. He was a close friend of Drs Madihi and Filsoufi, but they never mentioned him in their lectures in conferences and seminars.

Translated by: Abbas Hajihashemi

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