Wings and Words : Rezwan Razani's Persian Language Adventures
By Darius Kadivar

Rezwan Razani is an entertaining, irreverent and thought-provoking writer, filmmaker and thinker. Born in the USA to an Iranian Father and American Mother, she grew up in Shiraz, Iran. That's where we met for the first time at the age of 6 or 7 in third grade at the Shiraz International Community School (S.I.C.S). After the revolution, we hadn't seen each other for years. The only contact I had was through emails, and visits to her satirical (yet sincere) website: - It's a creative website dedicated to promoting an etat d'esprit - a lot of iconoclastic mayhem with a humorous tone.

Juju the Cage-Bird, movie still

I was in Los Angeles this past month for the premiere of The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam by Kayvan Mashayekh: read my review of that film here and this link will take you to my article on the history of Hollywood's depiction of Omar Khayyam:

During my trip, I had a chance to visit with Rezwan and catch up on our lives and talk about the good old days of a childhood spent in Iran. I also got the treat of seeing her short film, Juju the Cage-Bird, a mixture of stop-motion animation and live action.

Rezwan Razani at the Premier of "The Keeper : The Legend of Omar Khayyam" and that's Pop Idol Andy (background) speaking to a Fan ;0)

The movie is unforgettable. If you get the chance to see Juju the Cage-bird you will understand. (The film is not available to the public. "Qabel nadareh", she says. "It was an experimental film. I have to fix it. Namak kam dAreh. The music rights need to be cleared or the sound track needs to be re-mastered." I encourage her to do this as soon as possible, because this charming film should be made available to a wider audience). "Life's a Cage and Then You Fly" is her motto" well that of Juju. It was made for a film class at Cornell University. It was such a critical and popular hit that it is shown regularly to film students at Cornell.

Rezwan describes the philosophy behind Juju as follows:

The story of Juju was inspired by the poet Rumi, who asked "How should the cage-bird know about the air" It supposes gloomily, "I have no wings." To which the Western bred Juju responds "Oh, yeah? Well not if I'm a Techno cage-bird!" - so Juju simply retrofits the cage with wings and flies off - in the cage - on a series of adventures. But then one day, Juju sets the cage to autopilot... Juju poses many deep questions about the nature of freedom in a world of barriers, limitations, technological promise and dependencies. But Juju isn't just another morphin' power ranger robo-creature. Juju is a classic metaphor for our times. Despite the freedom that comes from the techno-lust and cage retrofit, Juju still does not know about the air, and "supposes gloomily I have no wings." The story of Juju is inspiring, funny and philosophical. It shows you there is a time to be technological, and a time to be spiritual, and a time to go out on the faith of your own limitations and not hide from them" Visit Juju's web page at

I had known Rezwan as a kid for being witty, spiritual and with a great taste for literature. A kind of Laura Ingalls of our times, I thought. Time has proven I was correct in my assessment. For someone who wanted to be an engineer at Berkeley but decided it was not her thing, she chose the right path, following her muse. (Note: She has a B.S. in Environmental Sciences from U.C. Berkeley. She also has an M.R.P. in City and Regional Planning from Cornell but she says she pursued these to "inform [her] writing of Redemptive Environmental Science Fiction" - some of which can be found at

A fan of Xena, Warrior Woman, she collects film props such as spears and sword replicas which decorate her house. She uses the spears as curtain rods. Very chic, yet threatening. It subtly haunts the t'Arof dynamic at her house ("BefarmAid, chAi" she says, and how can you refuse looking at those spears?)

Speaking of t'Arof, one of her many cultural projects includes the infamous t'Arof Persian language magnet kit. She left a comfortable job at Warner Bros to launch her own company selling Persian (a.k.a. Farsi) word magnets with English translation and transliteration on the back. "Use them to Bond with the Persian language like never before! Exercise your Creativity with the Standard (motedAvel), Courtship (xAstegAri), and Pleasantries (t'Arof) kits." Available at

Now I have to confess that Persian is my second language or should I say the third after French and certainly the hardest to learn, I felt. I still recall the scary ritual dictees given to me every Wednesday afternoon by my regretted Farsi teacher Mr. K. The half an hour dictee would often exceed two to three hours. "It's Sandali with a saad not a sin Dariush Khan." after which Mr. K. with a sadistic grin would ask me to work harder for the next Wednsday. Harder!? I would think - what will that be?

Left to right Rezwan RAZANI, author Darius KADIVAR and sister
Sylvie KADIVAR at the movie premier of ?The Keeper : The
Legend of Omar Khayyam?

Why should it be hard to learn a language when it can be fun? Well my childhood prayers seem to have been answered 26 years later thanks to Rezwan's magnetic determination. This is a fun and educational way of learning a language as well as our Persian expressions. And why not a fun way of re-inventing it? A Culture dies when it fails to reinvent itself. I don't know which famous guy said that but I concur.

In addition to the " bird in a cage that retrofits the cage " metaphor as seen in "Juju the Cage-Bird", Rezwan's work is marked by another bird metaphor : Simorq. "At Ajabanzaban we want to get simorganized" (link: ) she says. Taking off from Farideddin Attar's "Conference of the Birds", she has has extended the Simorq myth to relate to cultural diversity and cooperation. Looking around her website, you see that this person wants to promote empowerment, cultural cooperation, and free thinking for everyone. Her writing shows you "fun new ways to enjoy and exploit your own culture!" It shows you what a wonderful medium language can be and how accessible it is to anyone, and how it can be used to open up mental blocks, how it can be used by each person to represent their unique self. Like she says: "The goal is to find your own voice, so that you can speak YOU-ish in either English or Persian."

For Iranians like myself who are caught between two cultures, speaking Farsi and English has always been a dilemma. I think this is even more true for the second generation of Iranians in the Diaspora who are confused by a rich heritage that they don't know how to communicate in or use to their own benefit. My father's generation belonged to the upper class western-educated Iranians before the revolution of 1979. I recall with amusement how my father's colleagues used to mix English Medical or Engineering terms and Farsi. In other words "Gholombeh Solombi" words to sound smart. Even our late Shah used to do that when giving an interview to Persian Media which often annoyed intellectuals.

This national sport was ended with the 1979 Revolution for better or for worse but I have always thought that the lack of command of our language by our rulers and the pre-Iranian revolution generation was due to a real frustration, a complex, so to speak, that our language was not as trendy as English. I think that this is also due to the fact that we were often discouraged by an education which promoted "Hard Work" and maybe not enough Fun Play. Well Rezwan Razani's Persian Magnets certainly strike at that dilemma. Of course, she says, there is much more to be done by all of us out here to change the relationship of the average Iranian-American with their language from embarrassed neglect to playful engagement.

Well, I'm actually Iranian-French-American, but I see what she means. I need to banish those nightmares of Mr. K's dictee and jump into playing with Persian without fear ! The words are smaller than me! Can't wait to see Ajabzaban in a French-Persian Version Rez. So Keep up the good work and may Luck be with you and may you keep on Flying like Juju.