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Like The Wind I Go, a memoir of Iran, America, my struggle to freedom.

By

Loved it! 😍

The big price paid for freedom by an educated, liberal-minded Iranian and the compelling story behind it.

Synopsis

“Am I where I’m supposed to be?” I asked myself in 1978 in Tehran, wedged between ancient traditions of the east and infused Western promises. Like the Wind I Go is the story of my journey in search of freedom, amidst a revolution.

This book by Irani-origin author Vahid Imani narrates his internal and external struggles against the shackles imposed by society, religion, culture, etc. on personal freedom before the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Born in Tehran, Iran, he grew up during a time of increasing political instability and unrest. The last Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, wasn’t a favored leader. He wasn’t able to rule successfully because he didn’t enjoy the support of the majority. While some were loyal to him, he had many opponents. At the time when the book begins, we witness open confrontations between the loyalists and the opponents. The military was in charge of law-and-order. They crushed protests and uprisings using force leading to bloody deaths of many civilians on the streets of the city, almost daily. In addition, the police did away with anyone perceived as not being favorable to the shah’s rule under various pretexts, and the situation was deteriorating by the day. The author, being an educated and liberal-minded nonconformist, planned to flee from the country before they discovered and punished/killed him.


In a larger sense, this book isn’t merely about a freedom lover’s escape from oppressive Iran—when you read it, you’ll discover it’s a book about the pursuit of true individual freedom, both from fetters in and outside of us.


The book has a good storyline, but unfortunately, I found too many grammatical errors in it. This is the lone reason I found it a bit disappointing.


Being a book about human freedom, I recommend it to all freedom lovers, particularly those that are oppressed under various forms of autocracy across the globe. It may also be for you if you have/had connections with Iran or you would like to glimpse the political climate in that country before the 1978-79 Iranian revolution that saw the end of the Pahlavi dynasty’s rule and the installation of Ayatollah Khomeini as ruler.

Reviewed by

An engineer and part-time IT Consultant based in Bangalore, India. Part-time copy editor/reviewer. An IEEE Senior Member. Deep thinker and innovator. Highly analytical, clear, accurate, and thorough. Nearly 35 book reviews published to date-15 on Reedsy and 20 on Online BookClub.

Synopsis

“Am I where I’m supposed to be?” I asked myself in 1978 in Tehran, wedged between ancient traditions of the east and infused Western promises. Like the Wind I Go is the story of my journey in search of freedom, amidst a revolution.

The Pursuit of Happiness


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

--The Declaration of Independence of the thirteen united States of America (July 4, 1776)

 

 



The phone rang. I sprang up automatically, causing the kitchen chair to slide against the floor with a loud screech. In 1978 in Tehran, my family had just one landline in our house, and that big, black rotary phone was our major link to the outside world. Every time it rang, we all jumped for it.

My mother, who sat at the table with me, pushed her chair back and rushed toward the phone also. She told me to sit down and finish my lunch. A typical Middle Eastern mother, she was always worried about what I ate and how much I ate.

Her attempt to keep me in the kitchen was too late. I had beat her out of the starting gate and was already in the living room, where the phone sat proudly on a white, curved metal telephone console table with a dark brown cushioned seat. I didn’t want her to answer the phone. She had a bad habit of cutting my friends short or asking them to call back later. This was getting old and unbearable for me, already a man of twenty-one and not needing her intervention. Nevertheless, in our house, she was the telephone tsar, among other things.

“Hello?” my mouthful of food garbled my words.

The voice on the other side of the phone belonged to my father. He asked me not to respond to his words. He didn’t want my mother to know about what he was going to tell me. I cunningly acknowledged his wish and pretended it was a neighbor.

My mother didn’t care about my intention of withholding the caller’s identity. “Who is it, Vahid?” she pressed.

I didn’t acknowledge her and continued to listen to my father. The receiver felt heavy after hearing what he had to say.

My hand slowly placed the receiver back onto its cradle. My eyes stayed fixed on the phone, while Mother stood next to me, wringing her slender hands and repeatedly asking me who it was and what had transpired.

There was no way I was going to tell her. I grabbed my house key from the hook near the door and left the room without looking at her.

She whined, her authoritarian tone switching to pleading as she followed me, asking me where I was going.

I mumbled something like, “I’ll be back soon,” and shut the heavy metal door behind me with a loud bang.

Iran had become a tumultuous and unstable place to live. The people’s efforts to attain freedom from the shah, the king-dictator, had gained momentum. For thousands of years Iran had been led by tyrant kings. In 1906, a people’s uprising moved the political system a small step toward democratization by changing it from an absolute dictatorship to a constitutional monarchy. However, the change remained mostly superficial and kings continued ruling as dictators. Attempts by many brave people to gain a democratic system of government failed. Nevertheless, the political wind changed significantly around 1977, and dissident movements had picked up steam. Unrest and turmoil had prevailed. News of deaths and disappearances of friends and relatives were a regular, weekly event. The telephone ringing had become synonymous to unsettling news. Some people believed that we were on the verge of a revolution. But I didn’t.

In the past, the shah’s government had suppressed many uprisings and attempts at changing the government to a more democratic form. For me, there was not enough evidence of a revolution. My guess was that the shah’s generals would soon tire of people’s demonstrations and would heavy-handedly end the dissent.

A large crowd had gathered in front of my destination, the local lumberyard at the end of our short street. Two police cars were parked there. The front entrance was not guarded, but for some reason, most people gathered outside of the business. Not many had ventured inside.

I had walked past this lumberyard thousands of times before. But that day, for the first time, I set foot inside the large warehouse. The exceptionally high ceilings combined with the dim lighting, cool inside air, and sweet smell of fresh-cut wood gave the warehouse a dark and eerie atmosphere.

A few men from the neighborhood stood in the middle of the warehouse watching the police. Somebody pointed his finger to the far corner of the ceiling and whispered to the man next to him. My eyes followed to where he was pointing.

There in the corner of the warehouse, up high near the ceiling, a body dangled, swinging gently.

A chill went up my spine and I stepped back a few meters. I had never seen a person dead by hanging or any other means. My head felt funny, like I was about to lose my balance. I leaned against the nearby wall and looked up again. An onlooker next to me whispered that the deceased, Akbar agha, was a nice, quiet man.

My eyes were fixed on the man’s lifeless body. It rocked ever so slightly. Two policemen had climbed up into the rafters and were crawling on a narrow wooden beam toward the dead man. I shivered again.

Akbar agha was an acquaintance of my father’s, and once he had mentioned that Akbar was a religious man. In Islam, suicide is forbidden—so could this really be a suicide? Or?

Suddenly, death felt closer to me than ever before. I kept my lips together, sealed against the possibility of secret police and informers, who were everywhere, reporting any suspicious activities or any negative comments about the regime. So even though my mind wanted to stick around and learn more, my roiling stomach forced me out of the warehouse and back to the relative security of my home.

On my walk back, I thought about Akbar agha’s suspicious demise and how it added yet another mystery to the recent occurrences and inexplicable disappearances or deaths of people we knew. Yes, these times were turbulent, and a sense of change was everywhere. People were fed up, and more and more braved the streets in long and sometimes violent demonstrations. This was my world, but not my destiny. I was convinced that karma had a different call on me.

Then I thought of my father. How well does he know Akbar agha? How about Akbar agha’s wife, his children? And could my father be in danger too? Oh God! A tremble slithered up my spine and I ran the rest of the way home.

Up until three years ago, my father was a charcoal distributor with a large, dark warehouse. When I was twelve years old, he bought and added a six-room house next door to his warehouse. The empty rooms in the back of that house were used as a storage area. If anything happened to him in any of those rooms, it would go undiscovered for days! I remembered the large pile of charcoal in his warehouse. Just like a tall black mountain, it was the dream of any kid to climb up, and then slide down on the small pieces of dark charcoal. Once a week a large truck with a hydraulic lift came and dumped a mountain of new charcoal into his warehouse yard. I was lucky to sit behind the wheel of some of the trucks and pretend I was driving them. Sometimes the driver allowed me to honk the loud horn. And the donkey rides! Yes! Often vendors showed up with their donkeys to buy charcoal, and I got to ride those donkeys whenever I was there.

When I burst through the front door, panting, my mother asked many questions. I answered them to the best of my ability. She said she didn’t know the man well. Nevertheless, he was a neighbor.

She went to the kitchen and reheated my unfinished lunch. The aroma of her Persian cooking filled the house. It enticed to my growling stomach, which had settled down some. I washed my hands and splashed cold water on my face, hoping to rinse away the images from the warehouse, and sat again at the table.

The moment she placed the food in front of me, the phone rang again. The same game started once more. My rush to the living room won me the phone receiver one more time.

This time the voice on the other end of the line belonged to Farhad, my best friend from high school. I hadn’t heard from him in a long time. He had basically disappeared on me about a year prior. On the phone, he mentioned that he was in Tehran for two days with some free time. I seized the opportunity and asked if he could accompany me to my afternoon mission, a visit to the Higher Education Ministry for processing my request to study abroad.

He agreed, but with a touch of reluctance in his voice.

Mother had eavesdropped, as usual, and made a pejorative comment about my friend. She immediately followed up with an order to go back and finish my lunch, trailed with a comment about the importance of good hot meals for skinny boys like me.

Every time she called me a boy, my resentment toward her flared. Would I ever become a man in her eyes?

On my return to the kitchen she drilled me about what Farhad was after. She wasn’t fond of him, and thought that he wasted my time.

My nod, and the stuffing of my mouth with food, kept her quiet momentarily. Then I employed my usual solution to avoid her never-ending inquiries by hustling downstairs to my room in the basement. The make-shift bedroom occupied half of the small underground area. My living space was separated from the stored junk by a heavy curtain. The room was barely furnished on purpose, of course. It was to remind me of the hellhole I was in. There was nothing in that room that gave me a sense of belonging or enticed me to stay. In fact, I could say the same thing about the whole country.

On my way out of the house, my mother blocked me in the upstairs hallway. My attempt to evade her was unsuccessful. She shoved a big, rolled-up sandwich into my chest. “God protect you, my son. Stay out of trouble. The streets are dangerous these days!”

I nodded, grabbed the sandwich and proceeded to exit. She wasn’t satisfied with her earlier comment, and she shouted on my way out the door to stay out of the soldiers’ ways and to not engage them.

A few steps down the street from our house, a beggar was sitting on the ground hitting his metal plate with a spoon-his way of asking for help. I dropped the sandwich into his plate, and walked briskly toward Farhad’s apartment.

In June, a month prior, my graduation from college had brought me closer to grasping my life’s dream of leaving the country. During the past four years, I had planned, strategized, and carefully lined-up supporters to assist me in getting out of Iran. Ever since childhood, Western societies, their cultures, their ideas and way of life were relentlessly pumped into my mind. Every cartoon, the majority of TV programs, shows, movies, most music, and other forms of modern communication were promoting the glories of the Western world. It was during my high school years when I realized that my life as an independent individual would begin after high school graduation. The West was where I wanted to live my adult life. Perhaps, at first, it was all the razzle-dazzle that the Western world promoted. All the happy endings of the American stories, all the fantastic, brave endeavors that westerners would take, from Flash Gordon to Lost in Space and Star Trek. Not all the entertainment imports were necessarily from America. Iran imported plenty of European shows during the sixties and seventies as well.

My knowledge of the Western world during my adolescent years was augmented by reading translated literature such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne and Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Reinforcement came through association with my cousins’ friends from Europe who traveled to Iran during summers, and my American teachers at the Iran/America Society language school.

Yet it was during the college years that I realized my wings were clipped in Iran. My intellect, my sense of adventure, my self-expression, even my imagination were all impeded by a set of political, cultural, and religious chains. It had become suffocating. I felt as if fate had trapped me in a storm in the middle of an ocean.

During 1977 and 1978, the whole country went into turmoil. Strong new political winds created heavy social swells, and the unrest made my life even more unbearable. Being in the midst of it all was exuberating, yet unsettling. In those years, people in Iran tasted the sweetness of populous power and learned that once united, the power of the masses could actually supersede modern weaponry. The shah’s powerful security forces were faced with strong challenges by a mass of unarmed civilians. The government had become reactionary to the persistent, continuous, and forward-moving mass demonstrations. People were demanding changes. Daring attempts were made by a captive nation to break the chains of oppression and dictatorship that had suffocated her for millennia.

But my shackles were multitude. Traditions, and unwritten rules of customs and rituals were holding me down, keeping me from the future I had imagined for myself. I knew refusing to submit to those rules while living in Iran would be the end of me— becoming socially banished at best or imprisonment with torture at worse. I had to get away, far away, before I drowned.

Farhad’s place was about twenty minutes walking distance from my house. Our relationship had been strained in the past couple of years. My mind contemplated our upcoming encounter. I rehearsed my conversation with him over and over on my way to his place with the hope of getting to the bottom of his recent strange behavior.

He stayed at his mother’s apartment on the fourth floor of a commercial building on a busy street. My climb of four flights of stairs ended with me panting at his doorstep. Soon after I knocked, he opened the door, slid himself out of the doorway, and immediately shut the door behind him, quite in contrast to the Persian practice of hospitality.

I extended my hand for a friendly handshake and was ready for the possibility of the customary two kisses, one for each cheek. He shook my hand with his usual strong grip and proceeded to descend from the stairs without delay.

Farhad had always kept his body in a good shape with a daily, regular workout regimen. I could see his muscle tone was still good, his biceps prominent. His height of a hundred-seventy-five centimeters was considered slightly taller than average. His dark hair had been recently cut. Pretty much the same Farhad. Yet …

“We’re going to have to take a bus,” I said as I rushed to keep up with him flying down the stairs. “My car is in the shop again.”

He asked about the purpose of going to the Higher Education Ministry as we entered the busy street. Walking toward the bus stop I raised my voice to be heard over the loud traffic noise. “The Higher Education Ministry’s clearance is required in order to attend graduate school abroad.”

The look of surprise on his face was unmistakable. I reminded him that my plans had not changed for the past four years, as he should have remembered. The process was very involved and comprised of many steps.

“You shouldn’t leave,” he said, interrupting my explanation.

Surprised by his comment, I was about to ask him for clarification when our bus appeared out of the black smoke of exhaust fumes, and the rumbling engine of the previous bus.

We ran toward the bus and waved our hands, gesturing to the driver to wait for us. The bus stopped and a few people exited, but the driver immediately pulled the lever to shut the door.

A mild pain traveled through my elbow as I wedged my right arm into the bus’ two folding doors to prevent its closing. Fortunately, the sensors triggered the doors to open.

“Hustle up,” the agitated driver shouted.

We both hopped on, and immediately after, the driver pulled the lever again so he could shut the doors on the overcrowded bus. We slowly moved toward the center of the aisle and stood. My grip on the nearby rail handle secured my position.

It was as good a time as any to ask Farhad to explain why he didn’t want me to leave Iran.

He repeated his previous comment. “Like I said, you shouldn’t leave the country.”

“Where are you going?” a stranger standing next to me asked.

Privacy was a rare commodity in my world. Living in a busy metropolitan city with a culture that encourages physical closeness, I had learned early on to tolerate such invasions, but never felt comfortable with it. I turned my face away from the stranger and paid no heed to him. My tactic didn’t work, however. He asked again.

“He is probably going to America,” said another man, who stood on the other side of Farhad, interjecting himself into the unsolicited conversation about me.

“America? I have a cousin in Los Angeles,” the first man said.

“Gentlemen, mind your own business, please,” clearly irritated, I interrupted the chatty passengers.

My comment didn’t set well with them.

“He is a West-toxicated, stuck up, sissy. Leave him alone,” a guy behind me said, jumping into the discussion, also uninvited.

I turned around to look at him. He stood so close to me that my nose almost hit his face.

“I’m standing right here. You are calling me a sissy?”

“Yes, I’m telling you. Not only you’re a sissy, but you’re a coward too. Now get the hell out of my face.” He shoved me and I lost my balance, stumbling into the young man next to me. My grip on his denim jacket prevented my falling.

“Are you picking my pocket, you West-toxicated bastard?” the young man asked, punctuating his question with a punch to my stomach.

Farhad saw that, and returned the guy’s punch to my gut with a punch to his face. The man behind me then hit Farhad in the face, and suddenly we were brawling.

A second or two later, someone shouted, “Knife. He’s pulling a knife!”

The bus jerked to a stop in the middle of a busy street, blocking the traffic. The driver opened the side door in the middle of the bus near us, stood up, and shouted, “Get off the bus, you savages!”

Farhad and I jumped out and sprinted up the street. After several minutes, Farhad slowed down and looked back to see if anyone had chased us. He declared that we were clear, his words accompanied by heavy breathing. “But we didn’t have to run,” he complained. “I could’ve taken care of those idiots.”

Also breathing heavily, I stopped and bent forward to ease inhalation. A few wet drops fell on my left hand.

It was blood.

“Where is it coming from?” I gasped. Panic was clearly detectable in my voice, and I felt the heat rising up my neck for showing my fear in front of Farhad.

He offered his help and turned my face toward him. A moment later he let out a loud chuckle. “Clean up your face man. It’s covered in blood.”

The cotton handkerchief I always carried in my pant’s pocket came in handy, but a moment later it was drenched in blood. I winced. I never could stomach the sight of blood.

Farhad saw the fright on my face, chuckled again and said, “It’s just your nose. It has already stopped.”

That was good news. But I now had another dilemma. I couldn’t go to the ministry with a bloody face.

The rushing water in the nearby jube, a narrow canal running down both sides of almost every street, seemed to be the only solution at hand. The jube’s water, as usual, carried debris and trash from the north of the town toward the south. I found a clear spot and dipped my handkerchief in the water, just enough to dampen it, and then cleaned my face.

Farhad sneered, commenting that this was the first time he had seen me, Mister Clean, touch the dirty jube water. I ignored his comment and cleaned up my face.

We walked for a few minutes in silence. It was hard to ignore what he had said earlier. Why was he opposed to my leaving? Curiosity was killing me. I couldn’t take it anymore. So I asked again.

“People like you shouldn’t leave the country,” he replied.

“People like me? What’s wrong with me?” I asked.

He went to explain that the country needed people like me to stay and fight against the regime, as we were at a historical point. Big changes were happening; a revolution could soon emerge.

His comment sounded like a compliment to me at first. It felt good. The country needs people like you. No one had ever said anything like that to me before. I felt flattered and accomplished. Then, the burden of responsibility he put on my shoulders hit me. He asked me to stay and fight!

Fight for what? I thought. Fight for whom? He was asking me to endanger or perhaps give up my most important possession, my dream, and even my life.

He also said we. What group was he connecting himself with? Who were these “we” he was talking about?

Farhad was a student at the military academy, and therefore he was considered a member of the military. The recent public face of the military was smeared with resentment for their daily harassment, shooting, and arresting of civilians on the streets. However, there was a growing number of armed forces’ personnel who sympathized with the opposition groups. They, nevertheless, were considered heroes by many. Risking their lives by opposing the brutal regime and facing the possibility of a court-marshal for the good of the nation. Of course, the assumption was that a change of regime would be good for the nation.

Which side is he on? Is he turning? Is he in trouble? I was deep in thought when he blurted, “It’s a cop-out!” shattering my thoughts.     

I stopped and looked at his face, which wore a much-too-serious expression. “Cop-out? What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

He kept his head down and continued walking. He philosophized that it was convenient to take the easy way out and leave the country when there were troubles--when the future was unclear and the lines between friends and foes were ambiguous at best. When our enemies were dangerously illusive and ready to pounce, stealing our national treasures. Especially when our independence, and most importantly, our very freedom was at stake.

These words were a bit strange coming from my childhood friend. They seemed like memorized propaganda to me. A melancholy feeling came over me listening to his words. Was I a coward as he implied? I wasn’t sure how to respond to him. Fortunately, we reached our destination. “Here’s the building.”


 

About the author

Vahid Imani was born in Tehran, Iran, and made the U S his home in 1979. He earned his master’s degree in 1980 from Gonzaga University. He debuted as an author with his middle-grade novel Naji and the Mystery of the Dig. In 2019 he published his historical fiction In the Shadow of the Kingmakers. view profile

Published on May 01, 2020

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Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

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