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Arash Hejazi’s interview with his shadow

“If I have decided that I should write, It is only because I should introduce myself to my shadow–a shadow which rests in a stooped position on the wall, and which appears to be voraciously swallowing all that I write down.” from The Blind Owl, by Sadeq Hedayat.

I am having a very sincere and straightforward interview with my shadow, or he is interviewing me; the excuse being the imminent release of my memoirs, the Gaze of the Gazelle. This is neither stunt or satire; but an attempt to organize my never-ending internal monologue and controversies. I’m trying to gain the courage to ask myself the questions I have always had in the back of my mind, but never dared to answer. No interviewer in the world could find out about these darkest corners of my mind and ask the relevant questions, so the task is up to me. Why made it public, I want witnesses, so I can’t deceive myself. This is going to be a very long interview, in my attempt to rediscover myself.

An interview with my shadow, or my shadow’s interview with me


Q: You are only forty. Isn’t it too early to write your memoirs?

A: A phase in my life is over. Yes, it might be too early, or not. I’m one of those people who, unlike many others, wish they could live forever. I have never had a death wish. But on 25
But I couldn’t live in the purgatory, nor could I give up my past. A man without a past is a man without feet, and without feet, how can you walk towards your future? You can crawl, maybe, as the mind, this brutal sponsor of the journey, will not equip you with wheelchairs.

I wrote my memoirs, so I could always remember, and even if my memories started to fade, there would be people who would read my memoirs, and there could be a few, who would keep my memories, which are the memories of a generation, alive. Then I could move on. I could start living again, without the fear of losing the past. I could enjoy my surroundings, the new way of life, the new language, traditions, or the modernity.

Q: But REALLY? Is this the only reason you wrote them?

A: I was sad. I was extremely sad. I had to do something. I thought if I went through everything again, I might find something that would help me keep going on. I was lost. I had to go back to the beginning, to see where I could find my Ariadne’s thread again.

Q: And did you find it?

A: I definitely did.

Q: And what was it that helped you?

A: Rocky Balboa.

Q: Rocky, Silvester Stallone?

A: Yes.

Q: How?!

A: It was the first smuggled film I saw on the video-player we bought from the black market. I was 15, and I had lost my way then, too.

Q: And how did Rocky help you?

A: It might sound ridiculous. After reading tons of high-bro literature and pearls of wisdom, Rocky was the only one who really helped me. I watched and watched, I don’t know how many times. I became angry that Apollo won the match on points, although Rocky had fought so hard, until I discovered the truth. It wasn’t the winning itself that Rocky was after. Not being knocked out for one more round was his ambition. That was what I had to do. I had to make sure that I wasn’t going to be knocked out. What happened after wasn’t important.

Q: Ok, so you dug into your past on a self-rediscovery journey. But why do you think the world needed to know about your journey?

A: It wasn’t only my story. It was the story of my generation.

Q: And who made you the representative of your generation?

A: No one. But I had the means to tell the story. I could write, I could get it published. When the my current agent approached me, I was half way through the book, and then I thought, ok, the world had seen the videos, the news headlines, and photos coming out of Iran during the protests, they had been shocked by the eyes of Neda staring into the camera just before she died, but they never had the chance to really understand what was happening there. What was it that took those young men and women into the streets, ready to give up their lives. It wasn’t just because of the rigged election. There was a story behind those eyes, and I felt compelled to write about it, and I felt that I owed Neda to tell the story of our generation.

Q: And you thought you were the right person to do it?

A: Yes. I believe in myself. I love writing and no one can stop me from writing. After speaking up about Neda, the government of Iran seized my assets, shot down my publishing house in Iran, banned my books, prosecuted me, and tried to accuse me of treason. But they couldn’t stop me from speaking up. They couldn’t stop me from writing. And I had to make sure that I wasn’t going to be knocked out in this round. The rest was up to the publishers. If they liked my book, they would go for it. If not, at least I hadn’t been knocked out and I was ready for the next round.

Q: But tell me the real reason.

A: Why don’t you stop repeating the same question over and over again?! I told you the reason.

Q: Yes you did. But what’s the real reason for someone at forty, sitting down and writing about his past.

A: OK, I was bleeding. I was wounded. The bullet that pierced Neda’s chest took her life away, but ripped my life apart. She stared into my eyes and died. She couldn’t say anything. But it was as if she was telling me: ‘Do something!’ and I couldn’t do anything. Those eyes are following me wherever I go. Those eyes keep my heart bleeding. I lied when I said that memories fade away. Some don’t. A few years ago I saw the film Memento by Christopher Nolan. There, Guy Pearce has lost his short-term memory after a blow to his head, during an attack on himself and his wife, during which his wife is killed. The last thing he remembers is the look on her wife’s face, while life is slipping away from her body. From then on, his brain cannot keep short-term memories, so time does not pass from the horrible moment. The memory doesn’t fade away, so he can’t heal.
I couldn’t heal. The memory of those eyes did not leave me. They haunted me, asking me to ‘do something’. I spoke up about her, thinking that she will leave me. I talked to BBC, The Times and other media, when I realised that the Iranian government was trying to conceal her death and then blame it on foreign service. But she still didn’t leave me. I had to do something else, or else I would have bled to death myself. So I wrote, and when I wrote, I felt better, and the eyes became kinder, and the bleeding stopped whenever I resumed writing. She wanted me to tell her story, the story of the generation, she wanted me to tell how it came to that moment… I wrote, because I was in pain, and telling the story eased the pain.

Q: What do you miss most about your homeland?

A lot of things. The desert for one thing. I miss the burning sun and the yellow sands, I miss watching the horizon and spotless blue sky, where I felt I was part of a magic. Where at nights you felt that you could reach the stars just by lifting your hand. An the mountain as well. There are not mountains in England. The view of the mountains reaching the heavens, with all the mystical and mythical lore surrounding the Mountains Alborz, I felt that I was a mythical hero myself. The mountain alborz is the home of the legend of Arash the Archer, the abode of Mithra, the Iranian God of light and promises, and wher the prophet-king Kay Khusro disappeared. Paradoxically, it is also where the embodiment of evil on Earth in Iranian myths, King Zahak, is chained, waiting for his time to be released and devour the world. I miss Alborz a lot.

There other things that I miss, the feeling that I belonged to a society. Here in exile, I am living with the society, but I don’t feel I belong to it. It is like watching a fascinating 3D movie, but no matter how hard you and the producers try to give you a real-life experience, you are not part of the cast or crew, you are a visitor. I miss the feeling of being one of the living cells in a society.

I miss the Iranian jokes as well, I must say. The darkest humour in the world.

Q: This is too cliche. Isn’t there an original thing you miss?

Well, that’s how I fee. the family and friends?

Q: You don’t need to be an exile to miss your family and friends.

I suppose you are right.  Let me see… To be fair, I was a successful author in Iran. I miss my readers, although they still write to me all the time. I miss the Tehran Book Fair, but the government destroyed  the spirit of it a couple of years before I was forced into exile. I think the most important think I miss, is the joy of living in Iran. It’s a fascinating country, and most importantly, you can never know what to expect from your tomorrow. It’s quite different here; everything is predicted, everything is planned for. In the West you live in a democracy, but are ruled by the norms of the society. In Iran you live under a tyranny, but you have all the freedom to push the boundries. You become much more courageous in Iran, and therefore you experience the true essence of human feelings: fear, joy, hope. I have yet to rediscover these feelings here in exile.