Based on a true story.
By Behrouz Bahmani
San Ramon, California, USA
As many know, shortly after the revolution in February 1979, freedom to leave the country was severely curtailed. Touted by the then fledgling government as a necessary measure to protect the immense flight of critical capital, it soon became clear that the motives were not always absent of petty political vendettas.
People, usually of some prominence and notoriety and with known ties to the previous regime of the Shah were added to a growing Mamnou-ol-Khorouj (Exit Restricted) list.
One man whose name appeared on the list was Mokhtar Khan.
Having been educated in Germany in the fifties, he had returned in the late sixties to claim his inherited position as leader of his tribal clan of famous horsemen in the southwestern region of Iran.
Nestled in the hidden alpine valleys of the Zagros mountains, he began to implement some of the agricultural, animal breeding, and urban planning techniques he had studied in college on the rangelands and remote peasant villages which had belonged to his family for a hundred years.
Soon his stables, herds, and farms were flourishing and his villages were models of development having luxuries such as schools, self sufficient generators and pumps producing electricity and piped water to every house in the village.
He became known and eventually, and unfortunately, gained the notice of the ruling class, and ultimately came the dreaded doom of a royal visit. The Shah was to come to see the man who had molded a bit of perfection.
On the fateful day of the visit, the Shah himself landed a Bell 214 Huey on the simple but expansive gardens of the main house in which Mokhtar Khan lived. Mokhtar Khan greeted him with reserved, but not the typically patronizing, respect, which was all too more often.
The two men stood silently across from each other, the Shah removed the Ray-Ban aviators from his eyes and looked into the face of Mokhtar Khan. The Shah's policy had been one of zero tolerance for the many tribes which inhabited Iran, and he and his secret police had always been cautiously concerned with the ready looks of defiance with which the tribes had given his rule. He looked for it now as he looked into Mokhtar Khan's eyes. It was there all right.
Mokhtar Khan broke the silence by curtly welcoming his majesty to his unworthy home and offered to begin the tour, as had been strongly encouraged by the advance cadre of royal protocol secretaries the day before. The Shah thanked him for his hospitality and ever the avid horseman, requested he be shown the stables first.
Mokhtar Khan easily agreed and began his tour of his cherished steeds. It was an impressive sight to behold. Fifty of the most beautiful animals ever assembeled were paraded one-by-one, by trembling peasant handlers, in front of the Shah. The usually reserved Shah was visibly beaming as each horse, one more beautiful than the next was brought before him. When the last horse named Eqbal (Good Luck) was brought in, a noticable hush fell over the congregation.
Eqbal was a shiny red-chestnut stallion with long black hair. He had shiny black eyes which flashed brightly in the smallest light. He was unusually tall and had been the result of a successful cross between an Arabian and one of the more hardy and surefooted Iranian horses.
The Shah was clearly smitten. He summoned one of the secretaries and whispered something in his ear. The Shah looked up, complimented the stable and horses and asked Mokhtar Khan to continue with the tour.
The rest of the tour went qickly as the Shah was clearly bored with the intricate drip-irrigation systems, hybrid seedling projects, and the steps taken to provide the villagers with modern urban facilities and schools. And soon, in the same dusty cloud, and as quickly as he had arrived, he was gone.
Within a few days, one of the secretaries returned to the house and requested a meeting with Mokhtar Khan. "His Royal Majesty was extremely pleased with the work you have done here and in gratitude has graciously agreed to accept the horse, Eqbal to the royal stables in Tehran."
Mokhtar Khans face went white, then red, then returned to its tanned color. He knew this game. "Please accept and relay my sincerest apologies to His Majesty, however, Eqbal has been sent to the summer pastures to stud and will not be returning until the fall. I would consider it a great honor if His Royal Majesty would accept any one of my other horses until Eqbal has returned."
The Secretary visibly angered, made the polite acceptance and with the proper goodbyes, left.
That night Mokhtar Khan went out to the stables and stopped at the stall where Eqbal was busy making short order of the sweet alfalfa in his feedbag. He snorted and stomped as his master approached. His eyes flashed. Mokhtar Khan gently stroked Eqbals face and looked into the animals eyes. "Never!"
Years went by. Eventually the Shah left Iran soon to die, the Mamnou-ol-Khorooj list-making began and Mokhtar Khan's world, along with everyone elses on the list began to tumble. Disgruntled peasants made accusations that Mokhtar Khan once gave the Shah a horse, and the great scramble for a piece of the Pahlavi pie began.
Mokhtar Khan realized that he would be thrown over and began to slowly and quietly liquidate his assets. He was a rich man. However, because he had now made the list, he could not attract obvious attention by selling off all that he owned. The only asset he could conceivably use was the stable.
Slowly, one horse here, another there, he began to sell of his prized animals, all save one. Although Eqbal had long since passed his prime, he was still considered to be the most valuable and sought after animal for breeding.
When the final horse was sold and the money securely transferred to accounts in Germany, Mokhtar Khan made his decision to leave. Early one morning he walked calmly into the stable where only Eqbal now stood, placed the handmade English saddle in the small of Eqbals back and swung up and onto his old friend. He walked him out of the stable and out of the farm and began his long journey west, never to return.
Three days later, shortly after sunrise, he arrived tired and hungry at a village on the Iran-Iraq border. He dismounted, walked into the small tea-house at the edge of the village, bought some tea, bread, goats cheese and honey. He ate and rested. An hour later he rose up and mounted up onto Eqbal again and started toward the border crossing.
He stopped dead in his tracks as to his horror he saw that what he had previously seen, on his trip there weeks ago, as a small two-man guardhouse, had been transformed into 30 men equipped with a tank! It seemed that the fire-fights common to Iraqi and Iranian soldiers across the border, had escalated and it was clear that the times had dictated there would soon be more than tea brewing in the tiny village.
Mokhtar Khan turned slowly away from the border crossing and began to walk Eqbal slowly away. He would have to try further down the valley. Suddenly a sharp call by one of the soldiers stopped him. He turned Eqbal around and looked at the border gate.
It was the usual border gate made of a wooden pole balanced on the heavy end on a pin, the smaller end resting in between a slot cut into a pole which had been driven into the ground. The barrier lay about four feet off the ground across the dirt road leading into no man's land and Iraq.
Mokhtar Khan's eyes flashed the same as Eqbal's and before he knew it he had snapped his heels into the horses ribs. Eqbal lunged towards the gate and within a few seconds was galloping at full speed. The soldiers stood frozen as the huge horse and rider rapidly came at them. As he approached the jump, one of the soldiers managed to free himself and unshoulder his G3 assault rifle. As Eqbal and Mokhtar Khan cleared the gate, he unloaded several rounds somewhere near the flying mass of man and horse.
The crackle of gunfire seemed to release the remainder of the soldiers from their spell and soon bullets were fizzing past as Mokhtar Khan and Eqbal bore down on the last hurdle on the Iraqi side. As they sailed over the gate, the hail of bullets slowed, and as the whishing sounds were all but gone, and he thought they were safe, Mokhtar Khan thought he heard a muffled thump and felt a short quick vibration behind his knee. He ignored it and squeezed his ankles into Eqbal's sides to keep up the speed.
One hour later they arrived at the Iraqi village where Mokhtar Khan had arranged for a truck, trailer and driver to be waiting to take them to Basreh, in southern Iraq, where they would eventually fly out to Germany. As they rode into the village, Mokhtar Khan felt Eqbal stumble and catch himself.
It was only when he dropped off of his back and walked around his horse that he noticed the sticky red streak running from Eqbals side towards the blood-matted tail, and which now pooled quickly in the dust under his heaving belly. Eqbal dropped slowly to his knees, then, with a final flash of his eyes, bid farewell to his master, and with hooves clawing at the sky, fell over onto his great side and stopped.
Tears filled his eyes as Mokhtar Khan was ushered into the waiting car and driven off toward Basreh. As he drove away, the realization of having lost all he had worked for, his selfishness and pride in not granting the Shah his horse, were in the end overshadowed and humbled by the incredible sacrifice made by such a magnificent creature.
Today Mokhtar Khan lives in a small rural town outside of Munich, Germany. He lives a tranquil and quiet life filled with reading and gardening. He takes walks through the nearby farmland, where horses occasionally play.