Mehranguise Rabbani Afnan

Mehr: love, kindness
Anguise: mainspring, source of

The second of the two daughters of Mirza Hadi Shirazi (Afnan) and Zia Khanum, (the eldest daughter of the Master) was educated in Haifa, Paris and London, and grew up to be an attractive, fun-loving young lady of charm and wit who loved life and sought to live it to the full. Her bright dark eyes, shining with humour and vitality, were the most attractive features of her face and set her apart from her more serious, sedate sister and female cousins.

She was the youngest sister of Shoghi Effendi. He had reluctantly accepted that his eldest sister, Rouhanguise, had married Nayer Afnan, but when Mehranguise sought to marry Nayer Afnan’s youngest brother, Hassan Afnan, he balked at the idea. In an effort to offset that, he sought to bring his position and influence to bear by practicing the traditional age-old custom of arranging the marriages of his siblings and cousins. He therefore ordained that his sister Mehranguise should marry their cousin, Monib Shahid (a full-fledged doctor practicing and teaching at the American University Hospital in Beirut) and who was the eldest son of Mirza Jalal and Rouha Khanum; and that his brother Hussein should marry Zahra, Monib’s sister. Needless to say, neither of the four named were interested. However, Mirza Jalal and Rouha Khanum were all in favour, since they were greatly disturbed by the icy ‘froideur’ that had set in with their relations with Shoghi Effendi, and they thought that these marriages might breach the divide which, as the Persian saying goes, caused their ‘saddles to be askew.’ That order and that dream, however, remained unrealised.

This time, though, Shoghi Effendi had overstepped the mark. He could, and later did, order people to leave home and livelihood and move to other countries and towns, and Baha’is either obeyed or disobeyed, at the risk of expulsion from the community. However, telling siblings and cousins of his own generation, simply because he was the Guardian of the Faith, to marry and spend their lives with people they were not interested in – no matter how good or worthy they were – seemed to be going too far. Nor had he set the example himself. According to the wishes of the Master, his grandfather, he was supposed to marry his cousin Maryam, the beautiful and talented daughter of Rouha Khanun. He, however, had set his eyes on Mary Maxwell, and the wishes of his grandfather were conveniently forgotten, aided and abetted by nothing less than the cancer from which Maryam came to suffer while a student at the Sorbonne. With that as his ally, he waited until she was declared incurable to go ahead and marry the woman he loved.

I very well remember the room that my aunt Mehranguise occupied in the Master’s house at No. 7 Persian St. She was not one to sit and twiddle her thumbs. She assiduously studied German because she had very good German Jewish friends who encouraged her to do so, and she was often busy knitting things for me and my younger sister Maliheh. She loved to travel and whenever circumstances permitted, did so. I very well recall the trip she and my mother took to Paris just before the second World War taking me along with them. Since they were planning to stay for several months they put me in school and thus laid the foundations of the French I eventually learnt to speak. They too, made very good use of their time in Paris, going to numerous concerts and opera performances, attending lectures and of course, going round the shops. I fondly remember a dressing gown that my mother had bought on that trip. It was cornflower blue in colour had the softest marabout feathers for sleeves, coming down to the elbow. Over the years my mother rarely wore it, but years later, when, as a teenager, I wanted to feel elegant I would wear it and prance around in front of the full- length mirror in our bedroom! But I never saw it again after we left Haifa for Beirut in 1948, when the Arab Israeli dispute was at its height. All our household furniture and belongings in Haifa were taken to our house in Bahji (adjoining the Shrine of Baha’u’llah) which had originally been part of the home of my grandfather Sayyed Ali Afnan and his wife Forough Khanum,
(the daughter of Baha’u’llah). During our absence, thanks to Mansoor, the Guardian’s henchman, the house was broken into and looted and which, according to a surveyor friend who saw the house soon after, looked as if a hurricane had paid a visit.*

But to return to my aunt. After the marriage of Shoghi Effedi’s eldest sister Rouhanguise (my mother) to my father Nayer Afnan – a marriage he did not favour, nor did he forbid – Mehranguise and my father’s youngest brother Hassan decided that they wanted to get married. But first they had to get the consent of