Excerpt from Saideh Pakravan’s “The Arrest of Hoveyda” (Blind Owl Press, 1998). The following is a fictional account from Ebrahim Moradi (playwright; died in Paris a few years after the revolution). It is one of five accounts loosely based on events and characters surrounding the events which led to the fall of the Pahlavi monarchy in 1979.
I had just been released from jail when I was blackmailed into taking part in these meetings. In fact, I was told it was that or else. I don’t think the Shah was aware of that, or even knew I had recently been in jail. He knew of my existence — I was well-known — and I thought he wanted to add legitimacy to the newly-granted freedoms by having someone like me participate in his sessions.
I soon realized, though, that they were not held for propaganda purposes and were not to be publicized but, on the contrary, to remain quite private, almost secret. Actually, he wanted to hear the views of an intellectual. That I should live to see the day! God knows he had tried hard enough to stifle us. He had even coined a word for us, or had it attributed to him, a play on the first syllable of the word intellectual. In Persian, it’s pronounced an, which means shit. He substituted a synonym, goh, and called us gohtellectuals. Nice. Gives you a sense of the man’s way of thinking.
My own motives for accepting — apart from blackmail by the Savak, but that organization had lost its intimatory power by then — were ambiguous and I haven’t sorted them out. I don’t suppose I ever will now. When you wait too long to analyze feelings and events in your life, new layers settle on them and become too thick to be sifted. Part of it, naturally enough, was plain curiosity. Also, I like extraordinary situations, and this certainly was one. No writer can refuse that. I know I couldn’t. Something unexpected happened, though, which I hadn’t bargained for.
I don’t know if I’m ashamed to admit it or not, but the fact is I realized I didn’t hate the Shah half as much as I thought I did. At first I resented being in his presence. After seeing in him the personification of evil for so many years, I now had to sit down with him to discuss the political situation that he had created and I had suffered from. But from the outset he charmed me, he even fascinated me, this bone-thin man with the penetrating eyes and the soft voice.
The irony of it all is that, for a high-profile political opponent – and occasional political prisoner — I’d never been politically minded, not even remotely interested in politics. How could you be? There were no politics in Iran. Unless you were part of the urban guerilla or something and gunned down American colonels — an act which I always found grotesque. I don’t think you ever achieve anything by gunning down people. I would never use in one of my plays people like the Mujahidin — Mujahidins as they’re called in the West, in a grammatically incorrect double plural. Extremes or stereotypes may exist in life; in literature they’re not believable, and I’m into literature.
All I ever wanted was to be allowed to write in peace, but the Savak didn’t see it that way. They thought I was a subversive element. Although I weighed every word I wrote and constantly censored myself, you can’t think of everything. A character in one of stories would say: “Remember that newspaper, the one that came out at the beginning of the Constitutionalist movement?” — referring to the 1906 uprising when reformists and liberals forced a Constitution out of the Qajar king. Right away, the Savak would haul me in.
“So you think the Constitution is not respected?” they’d yell. Totally paranoid. I tried to explain, though past experience had taught me my efforts were doomed.
“I never meant that,” I’d say. “This is about something else entirely.”
The inane dialogue, if you can call it that, would then gain momentum. “Then you think that the Constitution is respected in this country?”
You can only push a man so far. “Frankly, brother,” I’d say. “No. I don’t think it is.”
That would get me three months. No indictment, no trial. Three months in a filthy cell, being interrogated and slapped around from time to time. You slobber, and you plead, and you’re defiant, in turn. Gradually, you hardly remember who you are. You’re too often woken up in the middle of the night by an asshole asking asshole questions and putting out his cigarette on the back of your hand.
You throw up and wonder how people like that can exist, then you blessedly fade out. Then the asshole slaps you awake and has another go at literary criticism. Because basically, that’s what he’s doing: yapping about your plays, telling you he doesn’t like the way you write. You sit there, your torn lip pissing blood like some cheap thriller, and you’re finding the whole thing absurd, but this is one book you can’t close. Then one day you’re told you can go. Just like that. No explanation given. How many times did this happen? I’ve lost count…
Nowadays, of course, we always complain and say nobody is interested in Iran, atrocities are committed by the Islamic Republic and never reflected anywhere, but it’s simply not true. Of the — what is it? Two hundred odd countries in the world? — few are discussed and analyzed as often as Iran. We have the widest possible media coverage and we certainly deserve it for our innate sense of the dramatic, the spectacular and the unexpected. Imagine belonging to a little country nobody ever talks about, Tunisia or some such place.
I’ll always remember the first time I saw the Shah. A slight, thin man, he sat on a plush loveseat with gilded legs and overstuffed cushions. Surroundings in marked contrast, I thought inevitably, to the jails where he kept the opponents of the regime. He vaguely lifted a hand in acknowledgment and indicated a chair.
He said a few complimentary words about one of my plays and added, “You’re a talented man,” clearly regretting that I hadn’t put my talent to better use. He reminded me of the monarch in The King is Dying by Ionesco — which I’m sure he’d never heard of — holding the last of his power, the last of his kingdom, in his closed fist.
If you don’t know how the people think, you cannot rule over them. Iranians are interesting people. Pragmatic and at the same time poets, total dreamers. You can learn so much by simply observing them. Of course, if you have only contempt for them, as the Shah did, you don’t observe, which is a shame. Cut yourself off from the source and you’re dead.
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