Don Juan of Karaj
Sadeq Hedayat

translated by
Judith Shadzi

edited by
Iraj Bashiri

copyright 1995, 1999

Why is it that some people achieve an instant and eternal bonding of souls on their very first encounter--they become, as the saying goes, one soul in two bodies--never to forget each other after their first introduction; while two others, who might be repeatedly introduced and who frequently meet, only avoid each other? For them there is no sense of mutual sympathy or of compassion. Indeed, if they came across one another on the street, they might prefer not to acknowledge each other's presence. Is this a kind of friendship--or enmity--without a cause? Perhaps, you may wish to regard this as some kind of sympathy or antipathy, or attribute it to various degrees of spiritual attraction or whatever. Those who believe in reincarnation may go further and say that such individuals have been friends or enemies in their previous lives on the earth-plane and that their cordiality or hatred towards each other stems from that experience. None of these theories, however, solves the riddle. The sudden attraction and eternal bonding of souls seems a result neither of spiritual characteristics nor of physical phenomena.

Anyhow, I had one of these strange encounters a few nights ago. It was the night before Now Ruz, and I had decided to find a nice quiet place in which to spend my three holidays and to avoid the usual routine, the boring "visiting and re-visiting." I wanted to relax and enjoy myself. After thinking the whole situation over thoroughly, I did not find it wise to travel very far. Besides, time was limited, and therefore I decided to take a trip to Karaj. By the time I had gotten a trip permit, it was early evening; I went to the Zhale cafe and sat there. As I lit a cigarette and slowly sipped my milk-coffee, I noticed in the sidewalk traffic a heavily built person approaching and showing me courtesy. I looked closely and saw it was Hassan the night watchman. It had been more than ten years since I had last seen him, and strangely enough we both recognized each other. Some faces change very little, some change more; Hassan's face had not changed at all. It was the same simple and happy face, but I noticed something artificial and unnatural about him and about his clothes. He appeared conceited.

Until that night, I had not known his family name. He told me himself that they used to call him Hassan Khan. In school, during recess, Hassan Khan had had a pale face, a large frame and clumsy movements. He had paid little attention to his clothing or appearance. His collar was always open and his shoes covered with dust. And it seemed now that his earlier "bum" appearance had been more appropriate for him. As he would easily lose his temper and was also easily calmed, other kids tended to pick on him and bother him. And, for some reason, other kids had given him the name of "Porter."

I had always tried to avoid him as though there were an unknown misunderstanding between us. But now his peculiar and casual greeting, as he came and sat at my table, eliminated this old and unnecessary bad feeling, or else time had automatically destroyed it. He had grown fatter, happy and sturdy, and he had become one of those who create happiness around themselves.

Upon his arrival, he ordered araq gulping one glass after another; the alcohol gave him a kind of temporary happiness. Because of excessive indulgence in sex, he looked a lot older than his age, and a wrinkle that appeared at the corner of his lips bespoke a bitter disappointment--something unusual. It was clear that he had made every attempt to improve his appearance. Nevertheless, it was highly artificial and quite annoying. He would turn every minute and look into the mirror to straighten his tie. The tipsier he got, the more evident his childish, carefree face became, the face so familiar from before.

Finally, he told me without any transition that for some time he had been in love with a woman. "This woman is a famous star!" he exclaimed, "of a 'European-type' and quite wealthy. I had been in love with her for a whole year but did not dare to let her know--until just recently when somehow we met."

I asked, "Is this a temporary love, or are you planning to marry her?"

He replied, "If she decides to live with me, of course, I'll marry her. The only thing is that the expenses are gonna be too high. Every night that we go to the cabaret, she costs me ten fifteen tumans. But I'll find the money somehow, even if I have to find it under a rock; or end up selling everything I own. I'll pay for her expenses. I just hope that for our love's sake, she forgets about some of her bad habits. You know, I took her to our house to introduce her to my mother. My mother invited her to come and live in our house. She said, 'Your enemy will have to come and imprison herself between these four walls.' Right now, every month I end up paying two hundred fifty tumans for hotel and another two hundred and fifty for entertainment and dancing. Why don't you come here tomorrow night, and I'll bring her so you can meet her and see how she is?"

"I'll be in Karaj tomorrow night," I said.

"Really? Are you going to Karaj for theNow Ruz? Will you be alone? Why don't I bring her along? To tell you the truth, I didn't know what I was gonna do. Besides, it'll be cheaper. Also, we'll get to know each other better on the trip."

I said, "It's fine with me, but what about permits..."

"Permits won't be necessary," he said. "I've traveled to Karaj at least a hundred times without a trip permit. Now, are you gonna start tomorrow night?"

I said, "I'll be at the Ghazvin-Gate at 9:00 a.m. We can start from there."

"I'll be there, too " he replied. "Exactly at 9:00 a.m. We can all go together. All right, then, I'm gonna go and let the broad know, so she can get ready."

I was amazed by his sudden friendship and all the lies that he had told me. Finally we separated and decided to meet the next morning.


The next day, exactly at 9:00 o'clock, Hassan and his financee came. She reminded me of one of those ladies you find in a miniature story book: slim, short, with mascara-laden eyelashes, and red lips and nails. Her dress was of the latest Paris style, and a diamond ring glared on her finger. It appeared she had prepared herself for a fancy evening party. As soon as she saw the old beat-up Ford, she was horrified and said, "I thought we were going in a private automobile. I have never traveled in a rented automobile before." We finally got in and headed for Karaj.

Hassan was right. They did not ask him for a permit. We got out in front of a hotel called The Contemporary Times. It was chilly and felt good to wear an overcoat. The hotel consisted of a garden with a few patches of flowers here and there, tall white poplar trees, and a long porch that contained a row of uniform white-painted rooms. Just like it had come out of a furniture factory. Each room had three box-spring beds covered by suspicious-looking sheets and quilts; a large mirror had been placed in the niche. It was obvious that they had prepared those rooms for overnight guests, since to imprison yourself in one of them would soon become quite boring. The view from the front porch was a row of gray-looking mountains and a bunch of fat sparrows preoccupied with the spring breeze while surviving the winter cold by puffing up their feathers. They would climb the wall or jump from one poplar branch to the next. It would make you dizzy to listen to them for very long. All in all, the entire scene would give the viewer the sense of a pleasant countryside vacation.

As soon as we settled and rid ourselves of the dust of the journey, I went onto the porch for a walk and to wait for Hassan and his lady. Suddenly I noticed that at the end of the porch someone was trying to get my attention. When he came close I recognized him. It was a young man who hung around the Parvane Cafe; I had met him there. To ridicule him, they called him the "Don Juan." He was one of those nouveaux riches, a young bureaucrat. He wore a gray outfit, with loose trousers of the "Charleston" type, a style about six years out of date. His hair was soaked with hair tonic, and he had an artificial diamond ring and glaring, manicured nails. After greeting me he said, "I've been in Karaj for three days and plan to go back to Tehran tonight." He then lowered his voice and added, "I had come here to see an Armenian girl; she left this morning."

At this point, Hassan and his lady, who resembled a full-feathered peacock, came out of their room. Out of necessity, I introduced Don Juan to them. We then went into the main room and sat around the table. Hassan and his lady seemed to be content with the trip. The lady would tap Hassan on the shoulder and say, "You know we definitely are on the same wavelength! Aren't we? By the way, I haven't told you, I have a brother who looks exactly like Hassan--like an apple sliced in half. But ever since he got married, I don't care for him anymore! You can't believe the thing he has married. I finally had to move out of my house. I love friendship and good personality and sacrifice anything for that."

We raised our glasses to toast the lady. Don Juan went to his room and brought back a phonograph and a few records and began playing them. After that, without any further ceremony, he invited the lady for a dance, quite a few dances to be exact. I was noticing Hassan's scintillating glares as he was grinding his teeth, trying to hide everything inside. After lunch we decided to go for some fresh air. While watching the scenery, we started walking down the Chalus road. On the way Don Juan whispered to me, "I will stay tonight, too," and then, as if he had known the lady for years, he began chatting with her! He knew it all. Filling the lady's ear with stories, he would not allow either of us to throw in our two cents worth!

It seemed as though Hassan had made a sudden decision; he moved next to the lady to say something. But the lady snapped at him, "Keep your chin up! How did you get that spot on your clothing?" Hassan recoiled fearfully. Don Juan took off his overcoat and put it around the lady. I approached them. Don Juan was pointing to the muddy water in the river and the trees that had sprung from the ground like brooms along the roadside and was saying, "How nice it would be for a person to come and live in places like this! This air, this river, these trees that will bloom in a month. Think of coming here on moonlit nights and bringing along a phonograph ... It's a pity that I left my camera behind!"

The men from the nearby villages, wearing new clothes and cotton shoes, and children wearing colorful clothing were coming and going. The lady said that she was tired. Don Juan pointed at a place on the river bank. We went and sat on the rocks there. It seemed as though the muddy river was swelling and rolling, it was carrying all the muddy sediments with it. A large hill of dirt and a row of frozen mountains were blocking our view. It had become relatively warm. Don Juan took off his jacket, and all the while we were sitting there he talked about Coty perfumes, his fiancee, love, virtue and Ghafghazi dancing. And the lady was listening to his nonsense with an unjustifiable concentration and wonder. For instance, he was saying, "I had a better pair of trousers before; last week my friends and I decided to ride an airplane. When getting off, I stumbled over a rock and I fell down. The knees were ripped. I had paid twenty-five tumans to the Luxe tailor shop to have those made for me. My entire leg was injured. I rode on a horse carriage and went to MacTowel at the American hospital. He told me, 'God had mercy on you. If it had damaged your kneecap, you could have become paralyzed!' I was hospitalized for three days and got well. But from up there, you could see the tops of houses very well. I even saw our own house from up there. You could also see the dome of the Sepahsalar mosque! People looked like ants. When the, plane comes down, however, you get a funny feeling in your stomach..."

Finally, after resting, we got up and headed for Karaj. Hassan and Don Juan were feeling good and were whistling music in the Ghafghazi style. The lady was about to dance when her shoe heel came off and she kept repeating, "I just bought these shoes at Beta two weeks ago!" Don Juan, standing ready for service, fixed the shoe with a large rock while the lady leaned on him with her hand.

Hassan joined me and, contrary to what he had previously told me in the cafe, said, "This isn't gonna make a wife for me either. I gotta leave her. She is not gonna put up with our house. She also wants to be independent... very independent!"

Near dusk, when we arrived at the hotel, a few bottles of araq, a phonograph and a few other odds and ends had covered the table. Don Juan turned on the phonograph and danced continuously with the lady. Hassan, mad and depressed, was stewing. He made such sarcastic remarks as, "Tell me the truth, have you fallen in love with my fiancee? Come on, tell me. I'm willing to divorce her."

Don Juan put an emotional violin piece on the phonograph. Then he came, sat on the bed and said, "Is that what you really think? I have my own fiancee..." He then took a picture of a sad-looking girl out of his wallet and was kissing and rubbing it on his face. His eyes began to tear. It seemed he could shed tears any time he wished. The lady also became very emotional. She got up and sat close to Don Juan. Hassan asked for some playing cards from the servant in order to keep Don Juan busy and to prevent him from dancing with his lady. The two of them began playing cards. The lady, however, was in the mood. Apparently to bug Hassan, she played a record and asked me to dance. While dancing, I felt her squeeze my hand. Apparently she was expressing her desire towards me, and a few times she pressed her face against mine.

Hassan was taking advantage of the situation, and really taking it all out on Don Juan with the cards. Hassan was screaming, cheating and getting madder by the minute. As soon as we had finished dancing, the lady approached Hassan, slapped his face hard and said, "Get lost! What is wrong with you? It's enough to make me vomit. Get lost, you act like a porter."

Hassan looked at her with blood shot eyes and was about to cry. He involuntarily reached to straighten his tie but realized he was not wearing one. Then Don Juan quit his cards and resumed dancing with the lady. I was watching Hassan from the corner of my eye. He got up and left the room. Don Juan put on a record of a tango.

Hassan returned, looked around the room, then grabbed me by the hand and took me outside. I felt his arm trembling. Under the light of the gas lamp on the porch, his temple veins were visible. His eyes were open wide and his lower lip was hanging. Just like that "bum" look I remembered from our school days. While holding my hand, he said, "Last night when we talked, I thought we'd be only with you. It's your fault that you introduced him to me! You are my friend, but he has no right to dance with my lady. Isn't this uncivilized? You make clear he doesn't behave so childishly--he is trying to impress my broad with his false ring. He claims he has spent ten thousand tumans on his fiancee! He falls in love, he cries with the phonograph music. He thinks I'm stupid. Why doesn't he ask my permission when he dances with my lady? I understand all this but I'm smarter than him. I have also been through a lot of these phony love affairs. Please understand that you introduced him to me and you should get rid of him. You know, the lady is overly independent. I knew I could not live with her. I'm gonna leave right now. I can't stick around here any longer."

"What are you talking about? It's not the end of the world. Go and splash some cold water on your face; get a hold of yourself. Araq is making you talk nonsense. Besides, it's the first day of the new year... it's a bad omen."

But my answer worked the reverse. It fired him up. Hastily he went into his room and took money out of the lady's purse, then ordered the hotel servant to charter an automobile for town. He was planning to leave immediately and, incidentally, there was an automobile parked in the hotel courtyard. He looked around himself like a madman, then approached the driver, woke him up and said, "I've got to leave for town immediately, I'll pay you as much as you wish. Let's go!"

Hassan pulled up his collar and went and sat in the Ford. The driver was rubbing his eyes as he approached the automobile. I told the driver, "He is not serious, he is drunk, go back to sleep." The driver was happy to hear that and returned to sleep. Suddenly Hassan's lady, upset, came by the automobile and turned to Hassan and said, "You good for nothing bum! Do you think I consider you a human being? To hell with you and your porter-like physique!"

Then she turned to me and added, "From the beginning I was feeling sympathy for him, not love. He deserved a woman like my brother's wife." Again, speaking to Hassan, "Get up, get up and come to the room. I must settle this one way or the other with you. You want to leave me here in the middle of nowhere? You stupid bum!"

Hassan was quite disturbed. He got up and went into the room and fell on his bed, covering his face with his hands. Crying aloud, he was saying, "No, no, my life has become meaningless...I'll go to life has ended ... you drove me crazy... I must go, it's enough, no more! ... until now I thought my life did not belong to me... It's yours, too... No... I'll get off somewhere along the way and throw myself off a cliff... I've had enough!"

Hassan not only was using the usual language of cheap romance novels but had become one of their characters. This stubborn man who had always tried to pretend he was a fulfilled, experienced and strong individual had all of a sudden become a timid, frustrated creature begging love and sympathy from his so-called lover. He appeared an immense piece of wrinkled, tortured meat that had rolled over like a mountain and was suffering! It was a kind of selfish pain and in a way was funny. Whereas the lady, sure of her superiority, was singing her victory song in a loud voice. She had placed her hands on her waist and was saying contemptuously, "Get lost, stupid! I didn't realize you were that stupid." Turning to me, "Oh--look at him--just like a porter! This gentleman, at my insistence, fixed and cleaned-up himself a bit. Now see what has come of him! I didn't know he was that stupid, or I would never have come. What a pity! You get to know people when you travel together! Do you see how he has dumped himself over that bed? This is his natural state. No matter what you do to him, he'll still come out as a porter. What a mistake I made! I'm glad I found this out when I did; I could never live with this!"

She made a move of contempt with her hand which meant "dirt on your head." Hassan was crying aloud. I realized that the situation was serious. I withdrew and left them alone. I went to Don Juan's room. Everything was a scattered mess. The record had reached the end and the needle was scratching. Don Juan, pale and fully drunk, had fallen on the bed. I shook him. He said, "What's up? Are they fighting? What did I do wrong? She was the one who made a pass at me and told me she loves me. She told me we were on the same wavelength. She said that Hassan is just like porters! She was squeezing my hand during the dance and kissed me twice. I honestly did not have any intentions about her. I would never exchange even a hair of my fiancee for a thousand such women. Did you notice me exiting the room before playing cards? It was to clean the so-called lady's lipstick off my face."

"Come on, it's not that simple. I was watching."

"Oh yeah? She is nothing you can brag about either. Her story is probably similar to those of many women who at the beginning are unfulfilled angels, innocent birds or the very epitome of chastity. Then they run into a cruel, stonehearted young man who seduces them. Why is it, you know, that so many innocent young girls who fall for such ruthless men don't teach the other girls a lesson? But coming back to this lady, she is quite the contrary. She can take seventy evil-minded men to water and return them thirsty..."

Don Juan would not give a damn regarding the matters that concerned him; this seemed to be quite a natural thing to him. I realized that his nonsensical statements, coquettish behavior, stupid lies and his unwarranted flattery, even his mockery of intelligence and his self-ignorance, were all involuntary; they were imposed on him by a blind force produced by his environment. He was truly a Don Juan of his own environment without realizing it.


Next morning, there was a knock on my door. I opened the door, Hassan's lady entered, suitcase in hand, and said, "I'm going to Ghazvin to stay with my sister. Did you know that Hassan took off last night? I came to say goodbye."

"I am very sorry to hear that!" I said, "but let me help you find Hassan."

"Never," she said, "I am no longer able even to look at his face. That stupid face of his! I am going to see my sister. He tricked me and brought me here, then escaped during the night!..."

Then she left the room without even waiting to hear my reply. Five minutes later, Don Juan showed up with a suitcase, apparently containing only his phonograph. He had come to my room to say goodbye. I said, "Now where are you going?"

"I have to go to town for some business. I should not have stayed last night either."

He said goodbye and left. There I was all by myself! But I was in no hurry to leave. The sparrows had awakened again and were chirping at the top of their voices. It seemed as though the spring breeze had made them high. I began to think about the strange events of the past night and realized that those events were also related to the intoxicating spring breeze and that my friends had been intoxicated like those sparrows. After breakfast, I decided to leave the hotel and go for a walk. I saw an old junky automobile, much older than the one that had brought us to Karaj, pass noisily in front of the hotel. Suddenly I saw the passengers: Don Juan and Hassan's lady, sitting next to each other, were lost in a deep conversation. Their automobile was heading towards the Ghazvin road.

Sadeq Hedayat's Corner

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