The leafy, neat, and quite Karaj suburb of Golshahr Villa was where I spent some of the happiest days of my life as a child in the 70s leading up to the Iranian revolution. Golshahr Villa was then a recently built neighborhood with middle-sized single-family houses in neatly built crisscrossing American urban style streets. It was one of many neighborhoods built across Iran for a flourishing Iranian middle class during the last decade of the Imperial rule.
My parents both worked full time in Tehran, so I spent the weekdays there at my grandparents’ while reuniting with my parents over the weekend. Everything that makes a magical childhood was available to me there. Grandparents that arguably loved me more than my own parents, a cool Taekwondo-kicking, motor cycle driving, air rifle owning teenage uncle who took me in as his sidekick during most of his daily adventures. Loving teenage aunts who spoiled me rotten, cousins my age, local old school grocery shop with all the goodies, and a neighborhood full of chirpy lovely friendly people living an easy-going life.
Most nights, my grandparents’ house was full of people; relatives and family friends. Some stayed overnight. During the summer nights, my uncle and aunts laid mattresses on the back porch in the open for people to sleep on. One of the joys of those nights for me was to roll over the laid-out mattresses before people went to sleep on them. A bigger joy was tucking in between my grandparents and waking up next to them in the morning.
One of my most favorite things about that era was the what we called “Navar-Ghesseh”. A combination of an audio tape and a story book that went together. A colorful story teller impersonating various princes, princesses, giants, and mythical creatures of a fairy tale, read the equally colorful and enchanting story book. I would spend hours every day listening to each story several times. I didn’t know how to read, but from the sound of page turning in the tape I figured out when a page ends and a new one starts. I memorized every single story that I listened to and the combination of audio and story book gave me a jump start on what over time became my biggest passion; reading.
I remember a scene on the black and white TV where men in shorts where running after a ball and my uncle and his buddies shouting and jumping up and down. I remember what I later known to be the English letter “R” would frequently appear on the top right-hand side of the TV screen. They were replaying Iran’s goal against Scotland in 1978 Soccer world cup.
It was that summer of 1978 that I started realizing most faces around me in that neighborhood is starting to change. Some became less friendly, some became unsettling. The usual merriment of friends and family gatherings started increasingly becoming argumentative and confrontational. I was hearing imposing and serious words other than the one I was used to from the audio stories. Enghelab (revolution) and Hokoomat Nezami (martial law) the most frequently used. I could intuitively feel the negative connotations of them.
I distinctly remember an incident at my parents’ Tehran apartment where my monarchist dad was having an argument with his Marxist best friend. I remember finding the argument unusual as these two guys were always nice to each other. I remember my dad bringing in a large portrait of Shah in his full regalia and hanging it on the wall. He said to his friend: “in this house, he is on the wall, if you don’t like it, boro gomsho (get lost)”. All of sudden the portrait fell down on its own and my dad’s friend sarcastically remarked:” even your wall disagrees with you”.
My family had several reasons to be monarchists. My beloved grandfather (affectionately known to us as Aghajoon) was a clerical officer at the transportation office of the infamous imperial secret service SAVAK. So was my elder uncle. Almost everyone in the family had links to the Darbar (imperial court) or worked for a sensitive imperial Bureau. I remember my mother coming back home crying one day. I now know that was the day the Shah left the country forever.
The air was filled with imposing revolutionary anthems and armed people.
One night after the February 12th, I was at Golshahr Villa house, when I was woken up in panic. Everyone at the house had a look on their face that I never seen before. Look of fear and despair. My aunt scooped me in her arms and we hid in the restroom. I later learned that my beloved Aghajoon was my uncle (Daei) were taken away by armed men.
The next couple of months until Norooz, I remember vividly. Everyday my dad and grandmother went to a place that he told me was called “postkhooneh”, the post office. I later learned that he was going to Ghasr prison and waited by the gate all day asking every person going in if they’ll be filing a complaint against Aghajoon and Daei so that he could pay them off or beg for their forgiveness, whatever keeps them off the firing squad. There was no complaints and they were let go just before Norooz. During those days, I learned another word I didn’t know about before; “Edaam” or execution.
The Norooz day that year, I remember walking into the Golshahr Villa house with my parents. Aghajoon was sitting under a Korsi, completely withdrawn and wearing dark glasses. It was the first and last time that he didn’t greet me with his usual warm words and loving smile.
My mother’s cousin, himself a teenager, became friends with the local Komiteh folks. Young militiamen in their late teens or early twenties tasked with maintaining order and keeping a tap on the counter-revolutionary elements. One night he decided to take me with him to meet them. They thought it would be entertaining for a child if they play out an execution scene. They put my mother’s cousin against the wall, pointed their rifles at him and presumably shot him. He fell onto the ground and I started crying and screaming hysterically in the arms of the Komiteh lad that was holding me. Seeing the panic, the hapless cousin stood up and walked over and hugged me. That was my first encounter with death. It messed me up for years to come.
A few decades later, Golshahr Villa is nothing like what it was in those days. Beautiful homes have become ugly apartment buildings, neat quite streets have become unruly and noisy. People that lived through that bell-époque are either dead (Aghajoon and my dad included) or are scattered all around the globe.
I always think of what became of those Komite men that took my Aghajoon away or played out the execution scene for my benefit. We were and remain on the losing side of those historic days and months, but did they realize their utopia? How many of them made it through the revolutionary funnel? Which one of them died during the Iraq war and various purges? Which one of them are now ministers and Sepahi generals?
I can tell you that my dad’s Marxist best friend, a physician, became very rich in the next couple of decades and now lives a capitalist life. The last I heard, his children however were very active during green movement and may even have got arrested at some point.
Forty years on and many lives destroyed, the quest for the Iranian Utopia continues.