I read an article posted by Siamack Baniameri [“Once there was a legend“], there were a few remarks I could not let pass. Judging from the comments there, I gathered Siamack is an old and well-respected friend of Iranian.com. So I reread the article, just to make sure that I had read it right. And hey, I had read it right. Yes, Gholamreza Takhti was saluted, praised, and acknowledged as a legendary pahlavan. But, the author writes, he had emerged against all the odds, “In a country full of lies, deception, hypocrisy, drug addicts and…,” and despite all this, emerged pure and self-sacrificing…
Truthfully, wrestling is not one of my favorite sports, it is a little messy for my taste, and the idea of two semi-naked, sweaty men twisting around each other never appealed to me. To make it worse, I should admit that my technical knowledge of this sport does not go further than some generalities. However, I know its cultural value, its place in Iranian culture, and its relevance to Iranian life. But while reviewing Marcello Di Cintio Poets and Pahlevans, I learned a lot more about this sport, its technique as well as its social and cultural value. The author, a young Canadian poet and a semi-professional wrestler, makes two tripsto Iran to record various local techniques of wrestling. In this quest, he stumbles over a poet’s grave next to almost every wrestling pit, in remote villages of Iran, which functions as a shrine, or, better to say, a temple for oracles for the locals as well as domestic tourists. While describing the local techniques of how these naked muscle-men twist around into each other’s legs and arm pits (yech!), he places them against the background of the sublime poetry of the poet who is buried a few steps further under a tree, next to a rock or below a waterfall. I have no doubt that Siamack’s remarks, and Jahanshah Khan Javid’s comments would not have bothered me if I did not know what little I do know. Therefore, I, very humbly, can not resist informing both of them of how they are wrong on a few counts.
First is Siamack’s depiction of Iran. No, my friend, Iran is not full of liars and drug addicts and people whose main occupation is to deceive, nor did Takhti appear as an angel from heaven. Iran is populated by seventy-five million people with all ranges of culture and education. There are plenty of them who lie, cheat, deceive, steal, abuse, and much more besides. But their existence is merely an accident to Iranianculture and society, i.e. they do not characterize our society. Our good parents never encouraged or trained us to lie or cheat and never provided us freely with drugs or alcohol. The existence of any of the above abnormalities and maladies is not essentiallyIranian. Was the misappropriation, lying, cheating, deceiving etc., etc., which took place right here under our nose, in broad day light, by our administration which was in office by our trust, enough for you to see that these maladies had nothing to do with any nationality, culture, heritage, or genes? Was it enoughto tell you that it could happen anywhere in the world?
Besides, Takhti did not emerge as an exception to the norm. He indeed was the by-product of our Iranian culture, and the Iranian norm, where we all are raised to be Takhtis. The above-mentioned virtues we praised in Takhti not only are aspects of, or definition of the world “pahlavan”, but are the merits desired for any Iranian, though many could not muster them all.
Upsetting as this comment was, the other one did have a reverse effect. I noticed that I’m not the only one who has something to learn about this sport. I have Siamack and Jahanshah for company. No, Jahanshah, wrestling is not the game of “zoor” (strength), it is the art and skill of keeping ones balance, which is a core tenet of the Iranian culture. We have a magnificent document to testify on my claim and that is the Shahnameh. Maintaining one’s balance is the key issue to Iranian art, (particularly Iranian miniatures, and my favorite example for anything Iranian), science and our culture in general. Iranian medicine is based on keeping the balance between cold and warm in one hand, and the four elements in the other. The notion of Iranian tragedy is not the same as the Greek, merely the fall of the hero from the summit of his life by his fault or some cosmic chance, but when the balance of life and society is upset by his action or intentions. Rostam and Sohrab is a magnificent example of this, whereas our hero Rostam undergoes monumental suffering to maintain the hierarchy of the society as it ought to be.
In our history and our folkloric tales, many pahlavans, with high moral standards, have exemplified the necessity of maintaining this balance, and Takhti was one of them. Ironically enough, his tragic suicide (yes, it was suicide, and SAVAK had nothing to do with it, despite the rumors) was the direct result of imbalance, where our pahlavan could not maintain the balance in his personal life outside of wrestling pit.
Well, let us all keep the balance. Acknowledging Takhti should not cost us, the Iranians, so much as to become a culture of “lie, deception,cheating, drugs and zoor.” Neither do we need to compromise his popularity, his grand soul, his athletic merits or his javanmardi, morovat, and fotovat,(chivalry and valiance are only weak English approximations of these words) if we talk about his failure. As a matter of fact, I have heard of a very good documentary made about Takhti’s life, which by the producer’s consent is kept from public access to protect his reputation. In my humble judgment, Takhti was such a great man that his life, in the hands of a good playwright, can produce an everlasting tragedy in the same line of Sisyphus, or Oedipus.