Amin Faqiri's Life

Iraj Bashiri

Amin Faqiri is a native of the southern Iranian province of Fars. He was born in Shiraz in 1943 to a family of scholars and intellectuals. His formal education at the Nemazi Technical Institute soon gave way to the literary studies for which he had had a penchant since age thirteen. No doubt his brother, Abul Qasem Faqiri, a short story writer, folklorist, and radio personality in Shiraz, influenced his life to some degree. Indeed Abul Qasem arranged for one of the younger Faqiri's stories to appear in a local newspaper; seeing himself in print boosted the young author's enthusiasm and persuaded him to make a lasting commitment to literature.

Faqiri began his writing career as a poet, writing a number of poems in praise of nature and of love. Some of these, too, were published in local newspapers. But, in the main, his poetry remained in manuscript, read and enjoyed only by the author's close circle of friends.

When Faqiri graduated from the Technical Institute in the early 1960's, like many of his contemporaries, he had either to enter college or join one of the Corps, the Shah's decreed alternatives to formal enlistment in the army. Enrolling in the Education Corps, the nineteen year old Faqiri was duly processed, briefed, and assigned to a remote village in southeastern Iran. Here, like many other volunteers throughout the country, he was to serve as a model urban, educated Iranian. Among his duties was that of so influencing the villagers that they would, gradually, transfer their loyalties from the village heads and each other to the central administration in Tehran and, ultimately, to the Shah. Could Faqiri influence the lives of these simple people before they changed his?

In a village near Jiroft in Kerman province, Faqiri spent the next two years dealing with the villagers' perennial problems: water distribution squabbles, pairing of workers for plowing the fields, improving the villagers' health, and communicating village needs to government authorities in Jiroft and Kerman.

It was here that Faqiri came to grips with man's material and spiritual needs. These circumstances so compelled him to assess his own role as an urban witness to the intellectual poverty and the material exploitation of his people that he decided to contribute to the well-being of Iranian peasants.

Writing was the vehicle through which Faqiri could best contribute. But, firstly, he had to choose between composing poetry and writing short stories. The latter won because Faqiri came, increasingly, to view poetry as a vehicle for affairs of the heart. The day to day life of the village, in spite of its romantic aspect, bespoke tangible social, political, and economic upheavals and forecast great dislocation of poor peasants from their traditional homes. Any writing about problems as diverse and as complex as these, Faqiri concluded, must be divorced from that symbolism and poetic diction whereby the composer is bound to project pleasing images within predetermined forms. The ills he witnessed, he felt, were rooted in the exploitative programs installed in Iran at the behest of powers greater than the Shah and his bureaucrats and technocrats in Tehran. To expose such exploitations called for a greater context than a few lines of poetry could afford; it needed tangible characters, appropriate settings, and well-defined story lines with which both the urban, middle class Iranian and the village folk could identify. In his own words, "There is much in life that cannot be expressed by employing the nicely 'ironed out' vocabulary available to the poet." Indeed, he was so overwhelmed by the situation he was thrown into, and so engrossed in village life, that at times his stories assumed the format and diction of reportage. "In my stories," he said in an interview in Ferdowsi, "social developments assume the steering role. I will not hesitate in sacrificing a character, or even a number of characters, if such demise would achieve a higher, societal goal!" He gives "ab" (Water) and "hammam" (The Bathhouse) as examples of stories in which reportage deliberately supersedes literary creativity.

Nevertheless, Faqiri had to admit that poetry was deeply rooted in his creative imagination and that it must flow through his creations lest unintentionally his works become cumbersome and rigid. His compromise was to choose a prose style, poetic as it is direct and informative. And the compromise seems to have worked out well for him, especially when, following Shafiyani, Sa'edi, and others who have dealt with rustic themes, he succeeds in conveying the speeches and thoughts of his characters in the regional vernacular. This use of the language not only gives an authentic flavor to the stories, but it also keeps Faqiri away from the so-called "Weststruck" language employed by writers concerned primarily with the problems of the urban centers of Iran.

Before long, Faqiri became so involved in village life and so concerned about the well-being of the peasants that he forgot his original mandate of bringing the villagers into the Shah's fold. Rather he found himself at the beginning of yet another mission, a mission to understand the problems of rural Iran and to announce the plight of the peasants to other Iranians and to the world at large. Village life grew on him and he so resonated with village folk that events in the village came to affect him personally. "Now it was I," he wrote, "who had to shoulder the responsibility for the death of Hossein Ali's cow, for the passing away of Dad Ali's wife in childbirth, even for a bad crop, or for damages incurred by floods. Even when a villager was banished by the village lord for failing to pay his rent or if he were persecuted by the exploitative city merchants, I was the one who felt responsible."

These circumstances not only tested Faqiri's dedication to his craft but also his resolve to put his pen at the service of the village. "The time for writing lullabies is over," he wrote; "the time for awaking to harsh realities has come. A dedicated short story writer should present his reader with not only a story line but also with a document which twenty years later tells of the state of affairs of its time."

Moreover, Faqiri observed that previous short story writers had concerned themselves primarily with urban Iran, writing about a life style with which their audience could easily identify. Besides Shafiyani and Sa'edi, few writers at the time had dealt with village problems to any great extent. The urban middle class of Iran, Faqiri felt, must not only be familiar with its own milieu, but also with the milieu the affairs of which were gradually passing into its hands; the urban Iranian, he concluded, must know how the village polity works. Without knowing about the workings of well-tested village systems like the joft (pairing of peasants for undertaking agricultural chores) and the bonku (the community labor base on which the village draws for the joft system), Faqiri argued, the governmental technocrats would not be able to make meaningful decisions about daily life of the village let alone introduce a sound, modern, and mechanized way of life to replace the traditional one.

For the next few years Faqiri rigorously observed events, documented linguistic idiosyncrasies and studied character traits. He took special delight in picking up on petty squabbles among the villagers. Their language, he reports, was at once rich, poetic and fresh. He also examined the villagers' reactions to each other, to himself as a governmental official, and to other governmental officials whose numbers in the village had been on the rise since the inauguration of the "White Revolution" in 1963. He carefully recorded the villager's fear and secret hatred of these officials. And, while the villagers waited for an opportune moment to strike back at the government, Faqiri studied governmental tacticians as they went about forcing their programs on villages by employing tested urban means of intimidation and coercion.

Village life had much to offer to Faqiri, especially when he contrasted it with the urban staple of other writers of his time: the exploits of nags, grocers and toughs. In the village, Faqiri says, every individual is a story unto himself or herself. The village was Faqiri's model; he tried to paint it with as much detail as he could.

According to the same interview in Ferdowsi, after preparing a structural frame Faqiri spent ten days for each story thinking about the characters, events, setting and organization of the events according to a preconceived format. He then spent the next five days writing it. In doing so, he made sure that each story captured a "moment of transition" in the lives of the major characters. Capitalizing on this moment, Faqiri then included his own point of view for an audience unfamiliar with rustic life in Iran's backwaters. He also revealed the process of change as the village evolved haphazardly from a traditional polity to one amenable to new ways of dealing with problems. It should be pointed out here that Faqiri's attempts at moralization often cumber the flow of his writing. When translated, his savvy strikes the Western reader as naive and pedantic. In such cases, it is helpful to put the statement in the context of the time, place, and the audience for which it was intended.

In Faqiri's stories there is less of art for art's sake, than in Hedayat's and Chubak's stories, for instance, and more of art at the service of social change. For instance, Faqiri frequently confronts his characters with hopeless situations and, to anger his audience and make them think, he often kills the character. Should, he questions his reader, the villager find his ultimate freedom from serfdom only in death and should he find only in death the gumption to face his exploiters (arbabs)?

Faqiri's fifteen days of intensive work on each short story, however, happened only a few times each year. By the end of six years, Faqiri had produced some thirty short stories covering many events across a number of communities in the Fars and Kerman provinces. By 1967, therefore, he began to seriously consider the publication of his works.

Faqiri's initial efforts to break into the literary scene were not successful; his stories remained largely in manuscripts read by his friends. Even his participation in the Khusheh story-writing competition did not result in any major recognition. A period of unproductivity followed. Then, in 1968, Abbas Pahlavan, a writer recognized in literary circles, helped him, to publish his first piece in a major journal, "Ferdowsi." The story was entitled "Dehkade-ye Por Malal" (The Doleful Village). The publication of this piece brought Faqiri's writings to the attention of the country's major critics and writers (see below).

The ice having been broken, the Sepehr Publications asked to use "The Doleful Village" as a centerpiece and to create a collection of short stories around it. The collection would portray the struggle of the Iranian peasants against the intrusion of Iran's urban middle class and of the burgeoning foreign agribusiness. The latter had been developing in rural Iran at a tremendous pace since the beginning of the 1960's. Faqiri accepted the offer and thus his first collection of short stories, The Doleful Village, was published in Tehran in 1969. The edition was immediately sold out.

The Doleful Village was reviewed by a number of major Iranian authors, among them Muhammad Ali Jamalzadeh, Mahmud E'temadzadeh (M.A. Bih Azin), Abbas Pahlavan, and Abdul Ali Dastgheyb. The latter, a major commentator on the Iranian literary scene, especially on the works of novelists and short story writers, praised Faqiri not only for his diction and control of material but also for his unpretentious, simple, yet poetic style. Dastgheyb foresaw a bright future for Faqiri.

Faqiri's collection examines Iran at a critical time in her long history, a time when writers like Jalal Al-i Ahmad, Samad Behrangi, and Gholam Hossein Sa'edi had already placed the Iranian village in the spotlight. Indeed many of the stories that Al-i Ahmad and Sa'edi had written were now being reexamined. Poignant in such a milieu were stories like "ab" (Water), the lead story of the collection, dealing with governmental agents meddling in village affairs and downgrading traditional Islamic values. Faqiri's frank examination of the interference of the clergy in the affairs of illiterate peasants provoked further debate leading to closer examination of stories like "hammam" (The Bathhouse). That the collection underwent three printings in a short time is indicative of urban Iranians' interest, indeed concern, for the loss of village values. Faqiri's tour of duty with the Education Corps lasted only two years. Thereafter he was employed by the Ministry of Education and assigned to the town of Sarvestan in the province of Fars. There he continued his work with the village and produced a number of other works including Kucheh Baghha-i Ezterab (The Back Alleys of Anxiety), Kufiyan (The Kufis), and Qamha-i Kuchek (Little Sorrows). He has also written a play entitled Shab (Night).

Faqiri's fellow teachers and students know him as an amiable and humble individual, to some degree a perfectionist. Currently he, his wife and their four children live in the city of Shiraz. He teaches literature in the Shiraz high schools. Among his favorite Iranian authors are Shafiyani, Sa'edi, Al-i Ahmad, and Samad Behrangi; among foreign authors he is partial to Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Gorkii, and Sholokhov.

Iraj Bashiri
Minneapolis, Minnesota

See also:
The Bathhouse
Blue and Her Love
The Doleful Village
Mr. Saberi

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