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     Volume 7 Issue 1 | January 4, 2008 |

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Iran, a sketch and the Hoveyda brothers

Syed Badrul Ahsan

My fascination with Iran has its roots in the early 1960s, when Radio Zahedan regularly broadcast old Indian movie songs my mother loved to listen to. It was those songs that somehow made their way into my heart and then into the soul in me. To this day I have remembered the songs. And every time I recall those old times, I know too how the music programme of Radio Zahedan had a profound impact on the making of my aesthetic sensibilities. It is strange, but it is true that Indian artistes like Mohammad Rafi, Talat Mehmood and Lata Mangeshkar, among so many others, became household names for me because of Radio Zahedan.

In 1964, my interest in Iran (and I was a pupil of class four at the time) took its second leap when the Shah of Iran met President Ayub Khan of Pakistan and Turkish President Kemal Gursel to give shape to the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), a body that was supposed to promote economic links among the three countries. Truth be told, I did not much understand the complexities of the arrangement. But having heard my father and his friends speak rather excitedly and endlessly about such outfits as SEATO and CENTO and then try to learn about these organisations myself, I was pretty thrilled about RCD. Why I, a little boy in school, should be doing that remains inexplicable to me. But I do know that at the time Iran took on a new meaning in my thoughts.

And then came the year 1968, when my friend Younas Noor Mohammad, a good artist, drew a sketch of the Shah and took it to the Iran Cultural Centre in Quetta (where he and I went to school). The Iranian officials at the centre were so pleased that they arranged to send the sketch to the Iranian monarch in Tehran. Soon, a most charming letter and a medallion from Reza Shah Pahlavi arrived from Niavaran Palace in Tehran for Younas. The monarch thanked him profusely for the sketch. My friend was thrilled beyond measure. And we all celebrated with him. After all, it is a rare occurrence when a reigning monarch writes to a schoolboy. Younas was a hero and we all looked forward to the day when he would actually have an audience with the Shah.

That dream, of course, was not to be fulfilled. Younas is these days in Canada with his family while the Shah, having been forced to flee Iran in early 1979 in the gathering revolution against him, has long been dead. For myself, I have in all these years since the fall of the Shah and the rise of the ayatollahs tried to keep up with developments in Iran. In all this time I have pored through articles and tomes on the Shah and his reign, on the methods of government he applied in his years as monarch. As usually happens when one graduates from boyhood to being a man, fascination for a global personality quickly leads to a critical appraisal of his character. Having read all the tales of how the Shah was removed in 1953 and then restored to his throne by the CIA, I have felt disappointed. In my childhood, though I sometimes heard my father speak of Mossadegh, I never quite knew the context in which he was spoken of. Now I do. And my respect today for Mossadegh is on a par with the feelings I have for Hungary's Imre Nagy and Czechoslovakia's Alexander Dubcek. They were all great men.

I cannot say that I have empathised with the ayatollahs who have administered Iran since 1979, though I do confess that I have respected the likes of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami. And I have admired Khomeini's poetry. But there are other Iranians I have admired over the years. Abolhassan Banisadr was a good president and would have made a difference had Khomeini not forced him into exile. Mehdi Bazargan was a good prime minister; and the hapless Shahpour Bakhtiar, a brave soul who tried to keep Iran going in the uncertainty between the departure of the Shah and the arrival of Khomeini, was murdered by Iranian agents in Paris. But if ever there was a killing that remains as reprehensible as it is unacceptable, it is that of Amir Abbas Hoveyda. For a long number of years prime minister under the Shah, Hoveyda was one morning asked to make way for a new man. He then became minister of the court.

In 1978, as protests against the Shah began to acquire intensity, Hoveyda was made one of the scapegoats in the developing situation by the Shah and hauled away to prison. The Shah fled Iran with hardly a thought to what the Islamic Revolutionaries might do to Hoveyda. The former prime minister was produced before a revolutionary court, where all the judges wore masks in order not to reveal their identities, and treated with indignity. Ayatollah Khomeini promised French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, though, that Hoveyda's life would be spared. That promise was not kept. It was a horrified world which was treated to images of Hoveyda's body lying prostrate in a Tehran mortuary.

I have just finished reading an old book, The Fall of the Shah, by Fereydoun Hoveyda. Brother of the murdered prime minister, Fereydoun Hoveyda used to be Iran's ambassador the United Nations. After the revolutionary change in Iran, he remained in the West and focused on writing books on art and Iranian history. A scholar to the core of his being, he never got over the death of his brother. Fereydoun Hoveyda died in November last year.


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