Tuesday, June 6, 2017

2622. Short Story: The Two Times Zaadi Cried

By Kamran Nayeri, June 6, 2017

The Iranian rock and roll group the Black Cats was a favorite of the youth in the 1960s. Photo: Kaveh Farrokh. 



Tehranpars District of Tehran, July 13, 1980

The Execution

It was a warm summer night and I had just sat down with my parents for dinner when I was shocked to see Zaadi on the national TV news!  There could be no mistake. It was Zaadi (pronounced ZĀ-dee) with his imposing face: A squared jaw; big, round, piercing eyes with long eyelashes; broad eyebrows; a boxer nose by birth; large meaty lips that looked at if they were sending off a kiss when he drew on a cigarette; soft, shiny, light brown hair with a dash of it hanging over his forehead.  The long table he was sitting behind hid his shorter than the average muscular body and strong and quick legs that he put to good use in high school soccer games. 

I knew immediately this was not good news.  As if to confirm my worse fears a bearded, solemn looking man sitting next to him began to speak: “This is Colonel Farroukhzad Jahangiri who was the leading air force pilot in the Nuzhih coup plot that was nipped in the bud by the ever-alert Islamic Revolution forces…. He and other renegade air force pilots planned to hijack F-4 and F-5 fighter-bomber jets from Nuzhih air force base near Hamedan to attack targets in Tehran and elsewhere in the country. Their primary mission was to attack the residence of Imam Khomeini in Jamaran to martyr the leader of the Islamic Revolution…”  At that point, he turned to Zaadi as if demanding a confirmation and receiving no response, adding: “Did you not think that after such a hideous crime you could never land anywhere in Iran without being lynched by the Muslim Nation?” 

As the camera rolled back to Zaadi’s face I saw a river of tears rushing down his cheeks.   Always being the tough guy, I had only seen him cry once fifteen years earlier when we were in the eleventh grade. 

Within the next few days, on Khomeini’s direct orders many of the military participants in the coup plot were executed.  Zaadi was among the first group that was placed in front of the firing squad.  

*     *     *

The Nuzhih coup plot turned out to be the most significant coup attempt to overthrow the Islamic Republic and to bring back as much as the pre-1979 order to Iran as possible.   Its leaders were drawn from the remnants of the Shah’s armed forces, the pillar of his dictatorial regime.  They reached out to and received support from Shahpour Bakhtiar, the last appointed prime minister of the Shah’s regime who had escaped to Paris just before the February 1979 revolution, to organize a counter-revolutionary group.  As the leader of the very small secular nationalist Iran Party, Bakhtiar enjoyed a measure of respectability in the eyes of a section of the Westernized middle classes that were uncomfortable both with the Shah’s dictatorial rule and with the clerical Islamic Republic regime that followed but most of all feared the anti-capitalist dynamics unleashed by the working masses organizations and mobilizations that led to or ensued from the February 1979 revolution.  But the military leaders of the Nuzhih coup plot harbored no liberal illusions and were outright monarchists.  They wanted Bakhtiar’s support to give their militarist plot a liberal cover to gain as much support as possible.  Once signed onto the coup plot, the “liberal” Bakhtiar reached out to the regional dictators who also feared the Iranian revolution, including in the Saudis and Saddam Hussein.  While there is no hard evidence that the Americans and Israelis were involved—it would be difficult to imagine that they sat outside the most significant coup plot against the Iranian revolution.  

*     *    *

As planned for some time, the morning after I found out about saw Zaadi's involvement in the coup I flew to Brussels to attend a much anticipated political meeting of the leadership of the Fourth International to discuss the crisis in the Iranian Trotskyist movement.  When the plane circled over Tehran so I see the Alborz mountain range and the snow-capped Damavand mountain, I imagined myself back in that neighborhood in the Narmak district of Tehran where I had met and befriended Zaadi. 


Narmak District of Tehran, Summer of 1964-December 1969

The Ring Leader

I first met Zaadi in the summer of 1964.  After three years living in the southern town of Borazjan my family had returned to our house in Narmak.  Borazjan was a small out of the way town of 5,000 about 70 kilometers north of the port of Bushehr by the Persian Gulf. To reach Borazjan, minibusses and trucks had to navigate treacherous narrow mountainous dirt roads famed for sending many travelers to their death often because of failing brake system.  Borazjan was notable for its prison and its hot and muggy climate.  The 70-year-old prison used to be a caravanserai and it housed prisoners political and non-political often for life.  Prisoners and government employees were sent there for hardship, except the government employees received bonuses for serving in bad climate. 

The reason my parents became early settlers of Narmak was the 1952 campaign by the nationalist Mohammad Mossadegh’s government to raise funds, including by selling public land to state employees, to resist the British imposed embargo in response to the nationalization the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.  In August 1953, the CIA and MI6 overthrew Mossadegh’s government and reinstalled Mohammad Reza Shah who ruled as the pro-Western dictator until the 1979 revolution. My father who was a young civilian employee of Shahrbani (National Police) was offered 600 square meters at four tomans per square meter, a bargain at the time.  Over the years, I witnessed them borrow and build the house piece by piece. Thus, Narmak, at the time a largely barren area to the northeast of Tehran, named after a small village in the north most part of it, was originally settled by lower and middle-income government employees. 

Zaadi’s father was a colonel in the army who drove a 1957 Chevrolet.  Those days there were very few families that had a car.  Zaadi’s family had the nicest house in the neighborhood that had a large painted iron gate to allow them to park the Chevy inside. Those days, houses were mostly built with brick and mortar surrounded by tall walls and an iron gate for entry.  In part, the high walls were due to Islamic norms to place women away from the evil eyes of men.  But both the walls and the iron or wooden gates also were built to discourage thieves who occasionally raided homes.  To make up for the arid climate, most homes had a garden and often a small pond that occasionally was populated with goldfish.  

Zaddi had an older brother and sister and a younger sister. His brother worked at the Customs Agency, known for being a good place to pocket bribes. He wore tailor-made stylish two-piece suits, shiny or not shiny shoes depending on the latest fashion, and always wore dark sunglasses. We never saw his eyes.  Zaadi bragged about the wild parties and steamy sex life his brother enjoyed. Zaadi’s older sister was a fine arts student at the Tehran University. I liked her a lot because she treated us as if we were adults and her equal. Zaadi’s younger sister who was also in high school and had blonde hair and very light skin. I never met his mother.  Zaadi himself consciously cultivated a Western persona.  He spoke about the latest European fashion, knew of music bands in England and the U.S. and hummed some of their songs to the rest of us. He turned me on to “rock and roll” music.  Because of his influence, I had my mother buy fustian cloth of latest fashion for me that I took the tailor Zaadi recommended to make me a new suit each Noruz.  I also followed Zaadi’s lead in buying my shoes.  When I was a small child a cobbler named Majid who had a tiny shop made my shoes for me. He placed my small feet on a piece of cardboard and with a pencil drew a line around them.  In a week or so he would have my shoes ready for me to try on. Invariably, he had to make minor adjustments and the shoes often had the same style. But they fit me perfectly. By the time I was a teenager, Majid was out of his job as factory made shoes dominated the market.  Many handicrafts were lost after the 1960s industrialization began. 

Through Zaadi I met Ebbi and Bahman who both lived on the same street as him.  Ebbi was thin and tall but showed an unfortunate early thinning of hair at the top of his skull of which he was embarrassed. Zaadi called him Ebbi the Bald (Ebbi garreh).  Ebbi’s family were traditional Muslims. His father who I never saw was an old man who worked in the Tehran’s big bazaar, although I never learned what he did there.  All Ebbi's siblings were grown ups and had left home already.  Ebbi himself was neither traditional nor a practicing Muslim.  He combed his hair after the Beatles’ style except it accentuated his growing baldness.  But he figured it was fashionable and people wouldn’t see his thinning hair as he was so tall. He wore jeans and acted as modern as he could, including by wearing dark sunglasses even when it was getting dark. Perhaps because of Ebbi’s modern ways his mother, an old woman by our standards who he affectionately called Aziz (Dear), intensely disliked us as a bad influence on her son. We were all tried our best to avoid Aziz. 

Bahman was short and stocky with closely cut, dense, curly black hair and very bright dark eyes.  Because his family was from Ardabil, Azerbaijan, Zaadi called him Bahman the Turk (Bahman turke).  His father worked in a nearby storefront real estate office with sparse, old furniture.  Bahman was so intimidated by his father that he couldn't leave the house to join the rest of us when he was at home.  Zaadi’s father was also intimidating to him but in a different way.  One day when we were standing by Zaadi’s house and Zaadi was smoking a cigarette his father surprised us. Zaadi placed the still-burning cigarette in the pocket of his jacket as his father exchanged a few words with the rest of us.  By the time he left the cigarette had burned a hole Zaadi’s jacket.  Zaadi called his father the Magnificent Bald (Gareh ba obohat).  He adored him but also feared him. 

Even at age 16, Ebbi and Bahman needed a close shave each day. Zaadi’s beard was mostly in his chin and mine was still too soft and sparse to need attention even though both of us had electric shavers.

Hanging Out

There was not a whole lot for teenage boys to do in Narmak. An arid land, it would turn green in patches when it rained which was not often or when some authority allowed pumping out water from the well in Narmak village to the north.  The water then would flow southwards down the slope that began on the heels of the Alborz mountain range into many trenches in various neighborhoods.  By these occasional streams, out planted seedlings, young sycamore trees had grown to provide much-appreciated shade.   Sparse native plants were mostly low to the ground.  Shepherds who took their herd of goats grazing through Narmak partly fed them dumped newspapers due to a lack of enough vegetation. Of birds, sparrows, finches, swallows, doves, pigeons, crows and vultures were common. But there was a paucity of mammals except for rodents and feral dogs and cats.  Insects, and occasionally butterflies visited, especially in home gardens.  Although Narmak was a planned future district of Tehran, some plots were subdivided by the owners and sold for a profit making for variously shaped and sized homes scattered among unbuilt plots. Planned squares, circles and streets were yet to be built.  The only paved road was the main thorough way called unimaginatively Simetri (30-meterwide road) that was carved north to south in the middle of the Narmak connecting it to the paved Tehran-no road that ended in the Fawzieh Circle to the west and the Aab-Ali that tool travelers to mountainside villages that served as summer resort for Tehranis and the northern and eastern providences.  The Circle was named after Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt who became the first Queen to the Shah.  Soon, he divorced her for infertility. Red double-decker buses and Mercedes 180, 190 and 220 owner-driven taxicabs carried residents to Fawzieh Circle for one rial for the buses and five rials for the cabs. 

So the four of us spent the summer of 1964 hanging out outside of one our houses where there were shade and access to facilities at home.  Most of our time was spent to pulling each other's leg.  In this, as most other things, Zaadi was the ring leader.  Often, it was the Islamic traditionalism of Ebbi’s family or the Turkish heritage of Bahman’s that Zaadi picked on.  Unbeknown to us, the 1960s and 1970s were the decades of spreading of capitalist modernity in Iran and the peculiar Fars (Persian) chauvinism that was supposed to be its Iranian cultural form. In reality, it served the Pahlavi monarchy that was in conflict with the religious hierarchy and secular socialist ideology.  In 1963, the Shah initiated his White Revolution to undermine his opponents to the left and right.  Ayatollah Khomeini who was a rising cleric became the chief religious opponent of the White Revolution objecting strongly to the proposed women’s right to vote and land reform.  He was roundly defeated and exiled and the peculiar form of capitalist modernization proceeded until 1979.  To provide ideological support for the monarchy, the Pahlavi dynasty had from the beginning relied on Fars chauvinism that still claims Iranians are Persians going back to the Persian empire of  2,500 ago.  Of course, the Persian empire was never purely Persian as it covered a vast territory that included many ethnic and religious groups. Modern Iran has also been a multiethnic, multilingual, and multi-religious country.  Part of the Fars chauvinist campaign was to single out the largest national minority, the Azerbaijanis, for crude jokes, calling them stupid (Turk-e khar).  Because the monarchy had pretentious to nobility, in fact, it was not, there was a disdain for peasants and day laborers from the villages (dahati or ghorbati).  In the 1960s, it was not uncommon for relatively well-off families to have a servant who was typically from the countryside.  Thus, anyone who was not up with the “modern norms” was a dahati, a peasant. Zaadi was the instigator of Fars chauvinism and anti-peasant and anti-day laborer behavior among us.  When the bread man on his bicycle went by Zaadi would call out kooni (faggot) making the bread man think someone is calling him for bread (nooni, the breadman).  When the poor man would stop and look back we turned the other way giggling.  When Zaadi picked on Ebbi or Bahman they played along to fit in better with the prevailing culture.  

We also played games: arm-wrestling, pull-up and push-up competitions, and volleyball.  I was no match for any of them. In fact, in volleyball whichever team had me would serve first as a bonus.  Among fancier games was billiard that Zaadi taught us.  The billiard hall was in an air-conditioned basement with several large billiard tables and a couple of foosball tables. Strangely, while Zaadi was often the best in competitive games and part of his high school soccer team he was sometimes beaten in foosball.   

Another cooler spot to spend the entire day away from home was the privately-owned and operated Zomoroad swimming pool near Tehranpars, an even newer district of Tehran to the east of Narmak.  It was difficult to get to but not for teenage boys who did not mind getting burned by Tehran’s summer sun.  We walked on dirt roads for about an hour to get to the pool and back,  But we joked and carried on, sometimes stopping for an ice cream treat by Half-Hose (Seven Ponds) Circle opposite on the movie house. 

Zaadi was the best swimmer among us. He was the only one who knew how to dive.  I did not dare to jump from the dive perhaps because being myopic and without my glasses, the water seemed to be too far away!  But Bahman was brave and dived often hitting the water surface with his stomach causing a splash.  Still, it was great fun and a great way to spend a hot summer day.  Whatever swimming I know now is due to those early learning-by-doing experiences.  

Of course, we did most things teenage boys do to become a man. Smoking cigarettes was one of them.  The first time I smelled a Winston it was like a perfume.  When Zaadi, Bahman and Ebbi smoked, I felt they are drawing into their lungs smell of perfume and that made them high.   When I smoked my first cigarette, Zaadi urged me to inhale deeply. That It quickly made me dizzy and sick in the stomach.  But eventually, I got used to the poison.  The reason I and perhaps the rest of the boys smoked was to appeal to the girls by looking more mature of age.  This was most on display when we smoked the most unusual foreign brands, like Camel filterless, in theaters before the movie started or during the intermission.  Going to the movies was a big pastime among modern and younger urban Iranians.  The movie houses themselves looked like the New York Broadway theaters built to convey a sense of elegance. They served sandwiches, pastries, and cold and hot drinks.  People spent about half-an-hour before the movie started and about fifteen minutes during the intermission, talking together, eating, drinking, and smoking.  We also smoked when waiting in line for the city bus to go to school or to come back home to charm the girls.

Zaadi also urged us to drink. One day when we were alone at his house he brought in his father’s Johnny Walker so we can taste it. He then added some water to the bottle to make up for what we had sipped.  We did not have the funds to buy Johnny Walker. One day we all pitched in our pocket money and bought a bottle of Khorshid (Sun), the cheapest aragh, the Iranian raisin vodka. We all got sick drinking it. 

Rock and Roll

As I spent my early childhood at home with my mother who listened to the radio while she worked I developed a taste for the popular Iranian music of the 1950s. Zaadi introduced us to “rock and roll”—or what we called “rock and roll.” That is, leading  English bands from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to The Animals and the Yardbirds.  Ebbi and even less so Bahman were not as much a fan. But I fell for it immediately.  My mother, who always responded positively to my wishes, bought me a Teppaz 45 rpm player. Those records had a single song on each side.  The first record I bought had two of the Beatles “Girl” and “No reply.” I had set up the record player with “No reply” side up ready to play and turned the volume up. Each morning when I woke up, I would turn on the record player and the Beatles blasted the house with: "This happened once before. I came to your door. No reply..."  Unsurprisingly this became a source of friction between my parents as my father hated “rock and roll” especially “No Reply!”

Nonetheless, my room became a gathering place for the boys. My mother was most tolerant of us and as long as we remained relatively quiet and polite my father did not object either.  We also gathered each Saturday night at 9 to listen to the top ten singles for the week on Radio Tehran, a public station.

Zaadi who knew more English and claimed to have a voice like Eric Bordun sang along The House of the Rising Sun and really impressed us.  He also liked to sing along  (I Can Get No) Satisfaction with Mike Jagger.  

About a year into our friendship two others joined our group. The first was a first-year college student from Arak who attended the Science and Technology College in the northern part of Narmak.  His name was Reza Chegini but Zaadi called him Agha Reza Chegonegi (How is Mr. Reza) or simply ghorbati (someone from the countryside).  Reza never really became a part of our group partly because of the age difference but also perhaps he was intimidated by our chauvinistic behavior. Poor guy even tried to impress us by a trip to Italy from which he returned with a photo taken next to an Italian girl. The other guy was Hossein who was of the same age as us and the only male in his household, as his father had died young, so he was treated as the man of the household. Hossein's eyesight was poorer than mine.   He was a chain smoker with tarred teeth.  He did not look healthy.  But he was perhaps the only one among us with some actual musical talent. He could play on kitchen pots to make them sound like drums giving Zaadi's desire to be a rock singer some musical backing.  

One of our wishes was to dance to the rock and roll songs we loved so much.  But gender segregation made this almost impossible.  So after talking to my mother and sister who was two years younger than me, we throw a rock and roll party. I invited my friends and my sister invited hers and my mother also served as hostess to make sure all was for fun only.  We had a ball! 

Love or Sex

The Iranian social mores of the 1960s denied teenagers sexuality and at the same time tried to limit our conception of it.  Teenage boys and girls were segregated by school and there was no publicly supported venue for them to mix.  Sex was not discussed, hence no parental or school sex education.  The socially accepted rule was to postpone sex until marriage, hence the sanctity of virginity.  In fact, one way to force young women into prostitution was to deflower them by a cunning lover and future pimp. 

Being a patriarchal society, parents often turned a blind eye to sexual adventures of their sons.  Some teenage boys in Tehran of the 1960s visited the city’s red district, shahre-no (New City). Despite its name, Shahre-no was a walled-off slum where women who were one way or another coerced into prostitution lived and worked under the watchful eyes of their pimps and the police.  Islamic zealots destroyed Shahre-no after the 1979 revolution and drove the entire criminal enterprise underground throughout the ever-growing city landscape.  While despicable, Shahre-no still provided a home for the sex workers and some measure of protection for them and their clients against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  In such a “moral society” the sex workers are utterly oppressed and exploited women in bondage to their pimps and the police who live off their labor and continually replenished the supply of new, young women through all the dirty tricks in the book. 

When we were in the last year of high school and all of us were studying for the fearsome standardized countrywide final exam before graduation, one night Zaadi with Hossein, Ebbi and Bahman came after me.  When I responded to their call, they said they are heading to Shahre-no to help them better focus on their studies!  They asked me to go along.  When we got on our way, it became clear that they came for me because they did not have enough money for themselves.  Shahre-no was on the opposite side of Tehran, to the southwest.  To save our collective stash of money, we walked most of the way.  Once we got there, Zaadi and Hossein made a deal with a woman they knew for all five of us.  When it was my turn to go inside, I was shaking inside. I could not bring myself to engage the woman who laid naked on her bed. After a few minutes of trying, the woman who knew better told me in a kind voice: “Don’t worry. It happens to a lot of men. I will not tell any of your friends.” I was heartbroken over her situation and glad to go back home as quickly as possible.

For the majority of teenagers, those days masturbation sometimes with a guilty conscious was the only form of sex before marriage.

Just as our sexuality was distorted so was our notion of romantic love which was debased from its sexual aspect which supposedly turned it into lust.  I learned about love from the Iranian folktales that my grandmother and mother told me when I was a child and from Farsi translations of European romance novels.  In these accounts, romantic love was like a lightning that stroke suddenly and deeply and it was entirely devoid of lust. 

Due to gender segregation, some of us found a sexual partner or romantic love among the members of our extended family.  Zaadi and Farzeen, his cousin on the mother side, were a prime example.  Farzeen’s family lived in Tehranpars, a newer district of Tehran to the east of Narmak.  Zaadi sometimes talked to me in private about his love for Farzeen who was about the same age.  Because they were cousins, they could talk on the telephone from time to time. But they had to do it watching over their shoulders to ensure their parents didn’t get any idea of their romantic feeling.  Falling in love and marrying a cousin was and still is not at all unusual in Iran. But Zaadi was a troublemaker and the lovers feared with some justification that Farzeen’s parents would certainly object to them pursuing it.  Once in a while, when the situation in Farzeen’s house allowed, Zaadi would rent a motorcycle and ride to Tehranpars to see Farzeen.  Once he took me along and I got to see Farzeen who was standing on the balcony overlooking the garden of their two-story house.  She was thin, of average height with long black hair as she waved at us.  

High School

Zaadi was a year older than me but somehow we ended up going through the last four years of high school together.  In the summer of 1964, on Zaadi’s urging, I registered for the ninth grade at Hadaf High School no. 3.  In the 1950s, Ahmad Birashk and others established Hadaf Educational Group to provide superior high school education using the modern methodology and employing well-qualified teachers.  There were four Hadaf high schools with no. 2 being for girls.  In practice, Hadaf high schools provided such things as laboratories with one or two microscopes, tools for dissecting some poor frogs, a chemistry lab where we saw base and acid interactions, a handicraft program, which was intended to develop our skills but we ended up having our final project done by professional carpenters or metalworkers outside, and enhanced sports facilities.  The latter included ping-pong tables, a basketball court, and a soccer team. There was also a vendor at the school that sold sandwiches, soft drinks, and ice cream during breaks. Some of our teachers were also university professors.  I had excellent chemistry, English and literature teachers. But even these excellent teachers probably were not as motivated as we hoped.  One day when I bought some snack from the vendor outside the school I found them wrapped in my own English homework handed out to the teacher for grading! 

Despite its pretentious to modern educational methods, the school still followed a disciplinarian approach to education.  Our assistant principal who was also the soccer team coach sometimes beat up troublemaking students in front of other students to set an example.  Although I was studious and made good grades, I was physically punished twice. In ninth grade, the calligraphy teacher who also taught us Arabic and Quran placed a pencil between my two fingers and pushed them towards each other. A form of torture carried out in broad daylight. In my senior year, somebody made a rude noise and students laughed.  The students in the row in front of me ducked their heads to hide their laughter exposing my wide open smile to the angry teacher Mr. Samiee, a professor of literature at Tehran University. As he rushed towards me he recited a revised version of a well-known poem: “Jesus is dying of frailty…Are you being raised as an ass?”  And slapped me in the face hard enough for me to see stars.  There was no recourse for any such abuse. 

Of course, Zaadi was treated much worse as he hanged out with the athletes who were also troublemakers and laggards as students.  They sat in the back of the classroom making trouble. In truth, Zaadi was very smart and applied himself to subjects he liked. He excelled in English and, of course, sports.  His group of friends at school, all athletes were popular kids.  I hang out with the more studious classmates.  There was a tiny group of schoolmates who were interested in political issues and brought to school Ferdosi magazine which published articles about the Vietnam war and Palestinian struggle as well as literary squabbles among the Iranian intellectuals. My own interest was in the sciences. 

A Broken Heart

We were in the eleventh grade that one-night Zaadi called me. He seemed very upset and I asked him to come over. He sat on my bed when he arrived still looking very upset as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. When I asked what was wrong, instead of a response he turned his face away from me burying it in the pillow on my bed and began to weep uncontrollably.  That was the first time I saw Zaadi cry. I placed my hand on his shoulder and when he calmed down a little I heard him say:  “They have promised Farzeen to a suitor.”  

Clearly, there was nothing a teenager in eleventh grade could do to stop this cruelty. Clearly, Farzeen’s parent wanted to wed their daughter to a grown man with a good job and good prospect.  Even in his own mind, Zaadi had no alternative to offer Farzeen, her parents or even his own parents.  Gradually, as the pain was internalized Zaadi seemed resigned to letting go of Farzeen.  And so it seemed was with Farzeen.  She married her suitor soon after. 

At about the same time, my family moved to a large rented apartment in Koye Kallad neighborhood of Narmak, next to my aunt’s house, one bus stop to the North. The move was the result of my parents' calculation that if they rented our house to Mr. Soltani who wanted to establish a private school, they could benefit from the differential in the rent they received and the rent they paid.  It turned out that Mr. Soltani himself was a day dreamer: his school project was a money loser and he did not pay his rent.  After a few year, my parents had to evict him and sell the house at a loss.  Monetary matters aside, my childhood house was lost in the process and with it all that reminded me of precious moments I spent growing up. 

 After the move, my contact with the old neighborhood friends dwindled.  Although Zaadi and I were classmates in twelve grade, we hung out with different groups of schoolmates. 

In June 1968, we all graduated from high school.  Ebbi had already signed up to become a Homafar, airplane technician with the air force.  But the others had no clear plan. None was considering going to college which was an impossibility for a great majority of the high school graduates. Only a small minority of high school graduates were able to pass the entrance examination that afforded them a place in one of the public colleges. Most more attractive fields such as medicine and engineering were almost impossible for all but the best students.  Others studied in fields they really did not like or did not provide a secure employment once they graduated from college.  

On January 8, 1969, after a battle to convince my father, I left Iran to study physics at the University of Texas at Austin.  The choice of college was because an older cousin who was just graduating from there.  He sent me an application form and I followed up receiving an admission necessary to secure a student visa. My parents bought me a one-way ticket and sold a small piece of land to give me $900 that, as it turned out, paid for one semester of English as a Second Language at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and room and board.

The cultural shock was huge as I quickly became immersed in the ongoing youth radicalization in the U.S.  The Iranian students were the most politically active foreign students organizing and campaigning against the Shah’s dictatorship. By 1971, I recognized myself as a socialist and a student of Karl Marx.  By 1974, I was the fifteenth member of the organized Iranian Trotskyists in the U.S.  The 1979 Iranian revolution surprised everyone and I found myself in Tehran 10 days before the February 11 mass insurrection that brought down the American-back Shah’s dictatorship.   

The Gisha neighborhood of Tehran, April 1979

Towards the end of my studies at U.T. Austin, I received a letter from Zaadi with a photo of him in the Iranian air force uniform standing under a large framed poster of the Shah in his military uniform. In that letter, Zaadi explained that after I left Iran he decided to become an air force fighter jet pilot. He passed all the necessary test and training in Iran and was then sent to the American air base in Pakistan for further training.  It delighted me that Zaadi had found a way forward in his life and that he was happy and back in touch with me.  At the same time, I feared that our paths have diverged.  I wrote him back expressing my joy and hope that maybe we meet again soon. 

Soon after graduation, I left Austin for Cambridge, Massachusetts in May 1974 and returned to Amarillo, Texas, to get married to my college love on April 9, 1975. When I was in Cambridge, I received another letter from Zaadi that he will be at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas training for F-4 Phantom fighters. Perhaps we could see each other, he suggested.  Of course, that was not possible because of my open opposition to the Shah's regime. Zaadi received his training and returned to Iran.

After my return to Tehran on February 1, 1979, I was preoccupied with the revolutionary activities and mass mobilizations that never ceased and with the affairs of the Iranian Trotskyist movement that was regrouping and coming to terms with being transplanted inside Iran.  In April I received a message from my parents that Zaadi had called and left them his phone number.  I called him back immediately and made plans to meet him at his house in the upscale Gisha neighborhood of Tehran. 

When I ringed the bell of the large iron gate, Zaadi buzzed me inside.  I walked through the garden and passed the fish pond.  In a shady spot next to the pond there was Zaadi sitting on a wooden platform covered with a Persian rug in front of him a wood charcoal stove (manghal) with an opium pipe.  Around him, there were bowls of fruits, sweets, and nuts.  He was ready to greet me.  We embraced. He offered me tea and we sat down talking for about an hour. 

Zaadi’s eyes were bright and happy when he told me the big news. He and Farzeen were now married living in that house together. Farzeen was pregnant with their child.  Zaadi’s fortune changed when Farzeen and her former husband agreed to divorce after an unhappy 10-year old loveless marriage. There were no children.  Soon after, Zaadi and Farzeen renewed their love and married about a year earlier.  Farzeen was out of the house on some business so I did not get to meet and congratulate her. But I embraced Zaadi with moist eyes.  Their love had triumphed against all odds.

Over a few puffs of opium and a few sips of whiskey for the good old times sake, Zaadi and I also talked about the revolution.  I quickly understood that our views are the world apart.  Zaadi saw the collapse of the monarchy as a severe blow Iran hatched by foreign powers. Needless to say, it was also a blow to his self-image.  The very ghorbati and dahati masses, have revolted against the modernizing monarchy and handed the power to Ayatollah Khomeini.  He identified the revolution with Shai clerics who were trying to squash it. Raising his voice Zaadi protested: “I do not want an ayatollah to tell my wife how to dress.”  While I too opposed the imposition of the Islamic Republic and certainly opposed the ongoing assault on the civil and democratic rights, I knew how different Zaadi’s point of departure was from my own.  His was rooted in the Fars chauvinist Pahlavi dynasty ideology the demeaned the working people, including those who were Fars.  He was not only upset with the rise of Khomeini but even more so with the fact that millions of ordinary people defeated the Shah regime and his military of which he was a part.  It was a personal defeat as much as a political defeat. 

We said goodbye as two old friends. I wished Zaadi and Fazeen the best.  As if to anticipate the future I urged him to be careful.  When I stepped outside the house I felt like I am leaving my teenage memories behind and wished to give all my energies to a future for Iran and the world where generations of prejudices we had accumulated can be washed away. 

Tehran, July 14, 1980

As the plane headed for the west towards Europe, what I thought was Narmak faded from the view. Looking into the vast blue sky ahead, I pondered who was responsible for Zaadi’s and Farzeen’s tragedy.  Was it the firing squad and Khomeini who personally ordered the executions? Or the coup leaders who recruited Zaadi knowing full well of the dangers to him? Or the Shah’s regime who created the conditions that Zaadi absorbed as the golden rule? Or the American and British imperialism who reinstalled the Shah denying Iranians of a liberal bourgois regime? Or the accumulation of cultural norms that oppress us and set us on the path to annihilation? 

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