UrText: Like so many Iranians, Cyrus Samii came to America to further his education. A year into his studies at Princeton, the Iranian Revolution and the ensuing war with Iraq effectively precluded any return. Samii finished his degree in economics, took a master's in town planning at Columbia, and pursued a career in Santa Fe. When the eight-and-a-half year war finally ended, he went back home. When he realized he could no longer live there, he returned to a career in town planning, and set pen to paper. He has been writing ever since. First, articles on architectural history, “Tehran and Trocadero,” “Alborz School: A Lesson in Architecture,” “Columns and Capitals in the Streets of Tehran,” and now, The Blue Flower of Forgetfulness. A second novel is in the works >>>
I’m no longer quite sure if le petit pouce left a trail of breadcrumbs or if he broke branches along the way. If Hansel and Gretel offered the witch a twisted twig or a chicken bone. Was it the door at the end of the hall that was forbidden to Blackbeard’s wives, or the one from which a key dangled? Were the moon and the stars to be found in the tail of the fiery stallion, or in its mane? Did the words amatal nastre bring forth the dragon’s breath, or send sentries into restless slumber? There are any number of ways to remember oft-repeated tales.
The way I remember it, when we returned from our studies, the nation had not been ready for us. And when the revolution happened, we were not ready for it. We were industrialists, entrepreneurs, doctors and architects, statisticians, adjustors, and comptrollers. We were idealists who had clothed a nation with Barak clothes and Bella shoes, washed a nation with Darugar soap and a nation’s laundry with Snow and with Sea detergents. We had never been politicians, that particular avenue had been closed to us.
We had been in universities in Kansas and Kentucky when a nation took to the streets to support a populist Prime Minister who believed in Iran, a Parliamentary system, and that monarchs should govern and not rule. But he also believed that Iranians, not the British, should own the resources beneath Iranian soil. He believed in nationalizing the oil industry. For that he was ousted.
In the turmoil that ensued we were never quite sure of the facts. Had we known for sure that Mossadegh had been supplanted by a coup conceived by the grandson of an American president, we never would have devoted our lives to building a nation where coups could be staged, Shahs instated and removed, governments changed, injustices perpetrated at the whim of even a great nation thousands of miles away.
We had always known our kings and prime ministers could be changed at the will of a Lord Curzon, a Lord Sykes, or a Winston Churchill (3rd son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough). But never a Roosevelt and an Eisenhower. We believed, as so many before us, that during our own brief lifetimes we were witnessing the dawning of a new era, that the stars were finally aligned. There could be no doubt- it met with every term and condition of the prophecies, signs and premonitions. We had seen the clouds move across the moon, noted the shift in the tides of power, and knew that we were part of the dawning of a new and wonderful American age. An age when the weak and oppressed of the world would be heard and we would encounter justice in this world.
Years later, after this age turned out to be like all that had come before it, after all the sordid facts came out, Firouz took great exception with the full-length portrait of Eisenhower on the turn of the stair of the Columbia University Library. Going so far as to write a letter to the Chancellor explaining how that very library housed the documents that established in no uncertain terms why a portrait of Ike, even in civilian clothes, was a disgrace to an institution devoted to higher ideals.
Roy Mottahedeh, a man who taught at Princeton and Harvard, but never at Columbia, a man whose father left Iran behind forever, tells a story Firouz transcribed in a crooked hand in one of his numerous black books. The story of the mullah who, somewhat late on his way to prayer, is splashed by a dog relieving itself. Knowing dogs to be impure, and not wanting to be further delayed by going home to change his clothes, the mullah refuses to look directly at the animal, and consoles himself, “God willing it’s a goat.”
There was no need for marginal notes to understand the meaning of that passage- just the bare outline of our lives. We returned from our studies in the United States, in Britain, in France, in Germany, not looking the dog directly in the eye. Not abandoning our paths, not changing out of our pin-striped suits, we went back convincing ourselves that it was not a dog. It was a donkey, a mule, a camel, a very small camel. “It was not relieving itself at all.” Or, “It was relieving itself but it did not splash on me.” “There really was no splash- this is a wine stain from last night’s dinner party, it’s not even wet. Here, touch it and see. No, I assure you, touch it. It’s just a wine stain.”
By the seventies we had to acknowledge that we had been betrayed. We knew how we had been manipulated. We knew who Kermit Roosevelt was and what he had done. We knew we had been bought and sold.
But we believed, against all the evidence, that while Iranian kings and prime ministers had been purchased in the past, things had changed, the stars were now aligned. We were a force to be contended with, a nation with a voice, and the voice of an entire nation could not be silenced. They could not bribe, bully, trick, or cajole an entire nation. They could not fool an entire nation. They could never squeeze an entire nation. Though they could buy the big people, they could never buy all the little people of the world. We believed that this time we would take fate into our own hands, that we would oust the king who had been foisted on us all those years ago. We would exercise the beautiful principles of self-determination we had learned so thoroughly, we had believed in so fervently.
We walked because we knew he was not the one we had chosen. His father was not the one we had chosen. We knew it instinctively, and later we took the time to search the archives at Kew Gardens, to document through forgotten correspondence, check stubs and memoranda what every man on the street had suspected for years- that Reza Shah had been installed by the British. We would also go through the Dulles brothers’ papers to establish that Reza Shah’s son had been reinstated by the CIA. But we had already known that more than instinctively by the Seventies. And knowing that, we took to the streets to remove a king who had been placed on the throne by someone else. We took to the streets to demand a ruler of our own choosing. After twenty-five years of the Shah’s reinstated reign we took to the streets, finally putting to use that part of our hearts, that part of our souls we had removed and left in a drawer all those years ago, when we failed to look things squarely in the eye.
But we were technocrats, not politicians. We were contractors, doctors, and writers. And when it came right down to it, we were outmanoeuvred. We were marginalized by a clergy that had itself been outmanoeuvred and marginalized once or twice over the course of the past hundred years, and knew enough not to let it happen again. Swept away by euphoria, believing that finally we could create the Great Society to which we had always aspired, we walked the streets and we lost.
I’m sure others will tell the story differently, with different heroes and different villains, and certainly with other beginnings. As I said, I am no longer quite sure if it was a trail of pebbles or gumdrops, breadcrumbs or broken branches. All I remember for sure is the ending.
The Blue Flower of Forgetfulness
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