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Women’s Best Friend


School Counselors: Clichéd and Useless?




Women’s Best Friend

By Sidewalk

Originally posted on

Born in 1899 to a pious family, Alamtaj Qaemmaqami is better known by her pen name, Zhaleh. Her father was the great grandson of a notable prime minister and a man of letters. Zhaleh studied under the maktab system but picked up other books and pen on her own. Her taste for poetry and literature showed through early on. At the age of sixteen, due to financial problems, her family arranged for her marriage to a military-minded, illiterate man of forty-something. Nothing in her life could prepare her for this marriage. There was no common ground between husband and wife. She could hide her feelings in front of her husband, but poetry served as her vehicle to express them on paper.

His dark face two shining eyes

Like two stars in pitch black nights

His whiskers on my skin

Spikes piercing the soft flesh.

With hennaed beard at midnight,

How else to say it: A frightful sight.

He is the man and I am the woman, indeed,

A woman is a wretched plaything.  


The marriage did not last long and resulted in a separation that took Zhaleh away from her only son, poet and writer Pezhman Bakhtiari, for 27 years. Her parents died before her separation, and she had little choice but to return to the family home in the city of Farahan, under the guardianship of a brother who was given to drinking and smoking. Some of her collections of poems have survived, but she burned many during those years. “What would’ve happened, mother, if I didn’t get married,” she asks rhetorically in one poem, “was I such a heavy burden, a pile of bones, that could bend father’s back?”  


Late literary critic and historian Gholamhosein Yusefi writes of her work: “Zhaleh’s poetic language is alive and animated at the same time that it is robust, lucid, and masterly” *


What makes Zhaleh’s poetry unique, however, is its relationship with everyday objects. During her long years in solitude, she spoke not only to her mirror, but also to her comb, sewing machine, and her samovar. “Diamonds are a woman’s best friends,” you may think, but Zhaleh took her relationship with home appliances to another level. Here is how she speaks to her coal-burning samovar.


My dearest soul mate

My companion, my samovar.

It seem like you are burning inside,

In your heart is it the flame that seers me.

Have you not learned how to shed tears

From my watery eyes?

You caroler of stories

Come sit next to my bed.

Stay merry and give me mirth

You murmuring samovar of mine.


The Azmayesh billboard in this picture seems to be appealing to this sense of womanly romance. There have been other adverts that try to present home appliances as things desirable. Last year, one billboard declared a vacuum cleaner “beautiful, powerful, and attractive.” But the billboard ad here is startling for both its crude design and the superimposition of a washing machine on a jeweled ring. The kind of imagination that can make the two kindred is a mystery. Perhaps Zhaleh could have explained to us the appeal of such an ad had she lived to see it. She died in 1951.


* Cheshmeh Roshan, Q. Yusefi: Elmi, Autumn 1369, p. 426


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