Life in a letter
Such has been the life of the pre-Revolutionary Iranian
January 21, 2005
Dedicated to the memory of Shirin Bakhtiar,
Jahanshah Javid's mother.
My eyes are only half open. The strong coffee I
just took hasn't reached my brain yet and my muscles seem to
have a mind of their
I check my messages on the Internet and respond to a few. In
one e-mail I'm informed about a
new article in the
Iranian.com. I usually delete those messages, but something about
this one motivates me to read it. Is it the phrase, "Dear
Mom," which I never had a chance to use? Or, could it be
the "Besmellah-e-Rahman-e-Rahim", which again, I've
never begun my writing with? I click on the link and submerge
into a life that sounds familiar, yet it was never mine. I am
conscious of how little I know about such a life.
The depth of this sorrow I feel makes me wonder about the
pain a mother must feel upon receiving such a letter. Moved
by what seems to be a few pages out of volumes, I am compelled
to write about it, right now, and before my second cup of coffee.
letter in all its peculiarity takes me to a phase in
my childhood. The familiar yellow hue of the paper with blue
lines across the page takes me back to my school days. The thin
notebooks marked "Forty pages, including the cover";
the clear Bic ball-point pen that sometimes bled and smudged
the pocket of my denim uniform, my pencils with their chewed-up
ends. I remember my home-works, how I spent entire evenings to
carefully write them just to see the teacher carelessly cross
each page with a red pen the next morning.
Written--no doubt, with a ball-point Bic -- the young writer
ignores the lines and sends his spontaneous message. The only
tries his hand at a calligraphy attempt is the heading, "Besmellah-e-Rahman-e-Rahim"
-- a sacred phrase often misused for all sorts of ungodly acts.
In his introduction of the article, he concludes that he is a
messed-up moron. I'm curious to know what causes such
a self destructive comment. Furthermore, as I read his harsh
comments about what the Islamic Revolution has done to his birth
country, I'm wondering where he reached the turning
point. I feel his frustration and can't help but compare the
hardships he has endured with the easy life my own children have
experienced. It astounds me to find out he has emerged the better
There is a certain drive, a thirst for life, in
him that seems to be missing from the lives and minds of the
Perhaps hardship does make for a stronger character. I don't
see a messed-up moron at all. Instead, I see a unique form
emerge from a shapeless mound.
Indeed, such has been the life of the pre-Revolutionary Iranian
letter could have been written by any one of them.
Its path could be reversed -- for many a young people left
their mother at home in pursuit of a life in the free world.
Even the baby is one among many who was deprived from the joy
having her permissive grandmother around. Regardless of the
the story remains as one and the pain is the same.
What happened to this generation should have not
only messed-up their minds, but sent them all to a mental asylum.
how they survived!
In a society where strong family ties were the only means to
overcome the many existing obstacles and bring about a semblance
of sanity, these bonds were broken ruthlessly through war,
fear and distrust. A wave of strong propaganda managed to brainwash
the young and push them into behavioral modes entirely foreign
to their generation. At a time in their lives where laughter
and joy was their birth right, they were forced to pray like
monks, practice abstinence, and mourn the loss of lives. To
their natural needs, they married and had babies while still
children themselves. To add insult to their injury, there were
few jobs available and what was there happened to require yet
The only remaining means of connection were letters on yellowing
paper written in a bleeding ball-point Bic. It were as if through
these letters they managed to come up for air each time they
were about to drown. Through the simple packages of baby clothes
and dried food, mothers and children exchanged their devotions
before the chance would be lost forever. But most importantly,
it was their strong characters that took most of them ashore
before the harsh waves had swept them away.
I saw a life in this simple letter. No, let me rephrase that,
I found traces of many lives in it. The effortless words carried
an incredible weight. Look at the young man who struggles between
a shaky job, a questionable marriage and a newborn, and yet,
what are his immediate plans? He is going to fix a leak in
his father's home. I wonder how many of the privileged youth
can handle one such day.
I am reminded of a question I heard over and over during my
last visit to Iran. "Do you live on the other side?" Something
in that simple question sounded as if they meant, "Are
you among the lucky ones spared from this pain?"
Not only is this author not a moron, neither are the authors
of a million more such letters. These men and women have lost
their youth in the harsh current of a storm and experienced
dark times that history is made of. They are the unnamed heroes.
are indeed the metal that has seen unbearable heat and been
pounded more than its share. Such an unfair treatment that
can only be
justified if one takes a moment to appreciate the end result.
They have every right to be angry at the world. I only wish
they would stop being angry at themselves.