The Refugee’s Internal Exile

The video came as a link in an e-mail, the frivolous kind that weboholic relatives forward liberally. I was about to delete it when my eyes caught the subject heading: Your grandparents here!!!! It was a fundraising plea for a site that claimed to be an “unprecedented archive.” Click here to donate flashed at one end of the letter, click here to enter at the other. Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings had been playing in the background, which proved to be the perfect soundtrack for what was to come. And so I did what I advise everyone against: I clicked on a link in a random e-mail. A headstone appeared. On its uppermost edge, a Star of David was inscribed, under it a few lines of Hebrew, followed by Persian:

The death of the late paradise-bound Khodadad Hakakian, son of Meiron the 12th of Bahman, 1348 May he rest in peace

It took a few moments till I found my virtual bearings: the scene showed Tehran’s Jewish cemetery, Beheshtieh, where I had never been, and the headstone belonged to my paternal grandfather, who had died on February 1, 1969, and whom I had never met. The archive was, in fact, a repository of headstones photographed for the faraway relatives who can no longer visit their dead. The details of the image were scant, and yet, with eyes blurred by tears, I studied them. Dried leaves and dead grass lined the edges of the slab—cracked in some places, chipped in others. More than fifty years since it was first laid, this stone had endured, the last trace of the Hakakians in the land that had rejected them.