Bombay "Blind Owl"

A new translation of Sadegh Hedayat's classic work


Bombay "Blind Owl"
by Naveed Noori

Sadegh Hedayat published the Blind Owl in Bombay 75 years ago. Although DP Costello translated the Blind Owl into English in 1957, a work that is still available in print, it has significant problems. Costello was not well-versed in Iranian culture and he first learned Persian in France at the age of 40, thus his mastery of Persian is open to question. Importantly, his translation buries Persian cultural references and symbolism, along with the nuances of Hedayat’s pen. The work Costello produced is a very fluent and enjoyable read, yet it is a far cry from the original. This current translation, published in conjunction with the Sadegh Hedayat Foundation, is the first English translation to use the definitive Bombay edition (Hedayat’s handwritten text), and is the only available English translation by a native Persian and English speaker.

The aim of this translation is to provide an accurate and updated translation based on the definitive Bombay edition. My method began with a translation very close to the original Persian to preserve each sentence and its meaning. Next, repetitive proofreading and editing were undertaken to improve the flow and bring the text closer to the center. The result is the retention of untranslatable Persian words (with footnotes), the use of atypical English words and phrases to convey the Persian, and the use of the dash as it appears in the Bombay edition. The Introduction to this edition contains a detailed textual analysis and description of the translation method. I recommend reading this translation if you have never read the original Persian. Even for those who have read the Persian, the extensive footnotes provide deeper understanding of this masterpiece. You may be surprised at what you have missed.

* A portion of all sales go to the Sadegh Hedayat Foundation.
* Naveed Noori’s novel Dakhmeh


In life there are wounds that, like leprosy, silently scrape at and consume the soul, in solitude—This agony can not be revealed to anyone, because they generally tend to group this incomprehensible suffering with strange and otherwise rare events, and if one speaks or writes about it, then people, by way of popular perception and their own beliefs, receive it with a doubtful and mocking smile—because man has still found no cure for this and the only available medicine is amnesia by means of wine and artificial sleep brought on by opium and other narcotics.—But alas, the effects of these medicines are at best temporary and, instead of providing relief, after a while only add to the intensity of the pain—Will there be a day when someone discovers the secrets of these supernatural events, that reflection of the shadow of the soul that manifests itself between awakening and sleep, in a state of purgatory and unconsciousness?

I am only going to relate one of these events which I myself experienced, and which moved me to such a degree that I shall never forget it, and its ominous mark shall fill my life with poison for as long as I am alive, from the day of creation to that place which is beyond the understanding of man.—I wrote “poison,” but I wanted to say that I have always and will always bear its mark that was branded with a hot iron.

I will attempt to write all that I remember, all that remains in my mind from the interconnections between the events, maybe I can come to a general judgment about it—No, perhaps it is for reassurance, or essentially so that I can believe it myself—because for me it absolutely does not matter if others believe it or not, my only fear is that I will die tomorrow and still not know myself—for in the course of my life experiences I came to this understanding that there existed a dreadful chasm between myself and others, and I understood that as much as possible one should remain inaudible, as much as possible I should keep my thoughts to myself, and if now I have decided to write, it is only to introduce myself to my shadow—a bent shadow on the wall, and it is as if the more I write, it devours it with an even greater appetite—It is for him that I wish to carry out an experiment: to see if we can come to know each other better—because from the time that I cut myself off from others, I have wanted to know myself better.

Empty thoughts!—That may be, but they torture me more than any reality—Are these people who look similar to me, that on the surface have the same needs and wants as myself, are they not here for me to be deceived? Are they not just a handful of shadows that were created for the purpose of deceiving and mocking me? Is not all that I feel, see and ponder completely illusory, far from reality?

I only write for my shadow that, in front of the lamp, is cast on the wall, I must introduce myself to him.


In this debased and wretched world, full of destitution and want, for the first time I thought that a beam of sunshine had shone upon my life—But alas, this was not a beam of sunshine, it was a flicker of light, a shooting star that appeared before me in the form of a woman, or an angel, and in the flash of that one moment, in that one second, I saw all the misfortunes of my own life and stood amazed at their magnitude and splendor, and into the whirlpool of darkness into which it should have vanished, it again vanished—no, I was not able to hold on to this ray of light.

It has been three months—no, two months and four days since I lost track of her, but the memento of her bewitching eyes, of the enticing sparkle of her eyes, has always remained with me—How could I ever forget that someone who is so intricately tied to my own life?

No, I shall never utter her name, for she, with her ethereal, slim and shadowy limbs, with her two large wondrous and shining eyes, behind which my life slowly and painfully liquefied and burned, she no longer belongs to this brutal and wretched world—no, I must not defile her name with earthly things.

After her, I completely withdrew from the company of man, the company of the fortunate and the fools, and in order to forget I sought refuge in opium and wine—The entire day my life used to and continues to pass between the four walls of my room—my entire life has passed between four walls.

The entire day my work consisted of painting on pen case covers—I spent all of my time painting on pen case covers, drinking wine and smoking opium, and I chose the absurd job of painting on pen case covers in order to stupefy myself, in order to kill time.

As luck would have it, my house is located outside the city, in a quiet and peaceful place, far from the commotion and clamor of people's lives—its borders are completely distinct and it is surrounded by ruins. Only from the other side of the ditch do the dilapidated mud houses appear and the city begin—I do not know what tasteless or mad man from time immemorial built this house; when I close my eyes I not only see all of its nooks and crannies, but I also feel their entire weight upon my shoulders—a house that could only have been painted on ancient pen cases.

I have to write down all of this to make sure I have not been in error myself, I have to explain all of this to my shadow that is cast on the wall—Yes, previously there was only one thing that was left that made me happy—between the four walls of my room I painted on pen cases and passed the time with this absurd diversion, but after I saw those two eyes, after I saw her, the meaning and the worth of any movement or action left my mind—but what is strange, what is unbelievable, is that I do not know why, from the beginning, all the scenes of my paintings appeared exactly the same: I always painted a hunched-over old man that looked like a Hindu yogi, wearing a cloak with a turban wrapped around his head, squatting underneath a cypress tree, who,  with an astonished look, placed the index finger of his left hand to his lips—In front of him a damsel in a long black dress, bent over, was offering him a morning glory flower—for between them there was a small stream—had I seen this scene before or did it appear before me in a dream? I do not know. The only thing I am certain of is that I always ended up painting the same subject and the same scene, my hand involuntarily painted this scene, and stranger still, there were customers interested in this subject and, through my uncle, I even sent these pen cases to India where he would sell them and send the money back to me.

This scene seemed to me at once both familiar and distant, I can not exactly recall—I have just remembered this—I said I have to write down my memories—but this incident happened much later and has nothing to do with this, and it was because of this incident that I put aside my paintbrush—two months ago—no two months and four days have gone by. It was the thirteenth day of Norooz. The entire populace had swooped down upon the countryside—I had closed the window of my room in order to paint without interruption. It was dusk, I was engrossed in painting when suddenly the door opened and my uncle entered—that is to say, he himself told me he was my uncle, I had never seen him before, he had been on a faraway journey since the beginning of my childhood, perhaps he was the captain of a ship—I imagined he had some business dealing with me because I heard he was a merchant as well—In any case my uncle was a hunched-over old man with an Indian turban on his head, wearing a tattered yellow robe with a shawl wrapped around his face, his hairy chest visible underneath his open collar—you could count, one by one, the hairs of his beard that stuck out from underneath his shawl, he had a harelip and red, festering eyelids. He had a remote and comical similarity to myself, as if my image had been cast upon ayine-ye deq—I always imagined that my father looked like this. As soon as he entered, he went to the corner of the room and squatted—It occurred to me that I should offer him something—I lit the lamp, went into the dark closet of my room and searched all around to see if I could find something—even if I knew there was nothing in the house as I did not have any opium or wine left—Suddenly my gaze turned to the top shelf—perhaps it was a revelation, I saw that a flask of old wine that I had inherited—maybe they made this wine for the commemoration of my birth—was on the top shelf, never had I entertained such a notion, I had completely forgotten that there was such a thing in the house—In order to reach the top shelf, I stood on top of the stool but as I reached for the flask my gaze suddenly shifted to the small vent that led to the outside—In the field behind my room, I saw a hunched-over old man sitting underneath a cypress tree, and a damsel—no, a celestial angel was standing in front of him, slightly bent over, offering a bruised morning glory to him with her right hand, meanwhile, the old man was chewing the fingernail of his left index finger.

The damsel was right in front of me, but it seemed as if she was completely unaware of her surroundings; she looked without having looked, an involuntary smile was frozen on her lips, as if she was thinking about someone who was not there—It was from there that—those terrifying and enchanting eyes that seemed to bitterly mock one, those restless, wondrous, threatening and promising eyes of hers, and my lifeblood fell onto those meaningful and shiny globes and was absorbed into their depths—this mesmerizing looking glass pulled at my entire being to the point where the mind of man becomes feeble—slanted Turkoman eyes that had a supernatural and intoxicating brightness, which attracted and frightened one at the same time; it was as if, with her eyes, she had seen supernatural and frightening scenes that not everyone could see—prominent cheeks, a high forehead, slender eyebrows that were conjoined, full-bodied lips that were half open, lips that seemed to have just separated from a long, warm kiss, but still insatiable. Her black tousled hair covered the edges of her moonlit face and one of its tresses hung over her temple—The delicacy of her limbs and heedlessness of her ethereal movements spoke of her frailty and impermanence, only a Hindu temple dancer could have had the same graceful movements as she. Her sad expression and her joy filled with sorrow, all of these showed that she was not like ordinary people, for certain her beauty was not pedestrian, she appeared before me as having stepped out of an opium-laced paradise.


cyrous moradi

Morvari Canon

by cyrous moradi on

Hedayat was born on 17th February 1903 in Tehran. Current year is his 110th birth anniversary . Kindly read my article " Toup Morvai" for this occasion . Here. Soon.

Ari Siletz

Prefer Costello

by Ari Siletz on

By providing a closer literal translation of Blind Owl, Mr. Noori has
done a service to academics who are not fluent enough in Persian to read the original. But--Mr. Noori seems to agree--Costello has better preserved this novel
as a work of art.

Compare the exerpt above with Costello's below:

"There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like

a kind of canker.

It is impossible to convey a just idea of the agony which this

disease can inflict. In general, people are apt to relegate such

inconceivable sufferings to the category of the incredible. Any

mention of them in conversation or in writing is considered

in the light of current beliefs, the individual’s personal beliefs

in particular, and tends to provoke a smile of incredulity and

derision. The reason for this incomprehension is that mankind

has not yet discovered a cure for this disease. Relief from it is

to be found only in the oblivion brought about by wine and in

the artificial sleep induced by opium and similar narcotics. Alas,

the effects of such medicines are only temporary. After a certain
point, instead of alleviating the pain, they only intensify it."


Note that "Alas" doesn't quite work for "afsoos" in either translation, but I suppose idiomatic words can't be shoehorned in translation.

iraj khan

I Read the first paragraph

by iraj khan on

from the excerpts.

(hopefully, I will get a chance to read the rest of it)

Mr Noori had done a good job of translating this little gem of Iranian storytelling.