By Majid Naficy

This is the English translation of the second chapter of my book In Search of Joy: A Critique of Death-Oriented, Male-Dominated Culture in Iran (Baran publisher, Sweden, 1991). Preface - Chapter 1

In the southern and central parts of Iran, the double-couplets of Faez Dashtestani(d. 1910) are very popular.  Camel-drivers and sheperds have played a main role in popularizing these songs.  They are sung very sadly, therefore, this type of singing is called homesick-song (gharibi-khawni) or sherveh-khawani.  Zaer-Mohammad-Ali, pen-named Faez (or Fayez), born in Dashtestan near the Booshehr port, was not a camel-driver himself.  But, because in his lifetime Booshehr at the Persian Gulf was the most important port in  Iran, it is possible that Faez' songs were rapidly spread among people along with the merchandise bags. 

The compelling theme of these double-couplets is a cruel love: an imaginary oppressive woman who has no job other than hurting, torturing and finally murdering her lover.  However, precisely because of her cruelty, she is admired by her lover.  How is it that in a country where a woman is oppressed by her brother, son, father, husband, other women, religion, law and lastly traditions, suddenly in our lovesongs a woman appears as a tyrant and is praised for her ruthlessness?  What is the psychological background of this love, and what are its social causes? 

I have not put the image of "cruel love" in Faez's mouth.  He says himself:

O unkind idol, my cruel love
You are disloyal, heartless, ruthless, an infidel
Behold, avoid murdering Faez
Think of the reckoning on the day of resurrection*

Later, he adds to these descriptions:

There, she sits, my bright moon
My idol, the plunderer of my soul
Undoubtedly, this infidel sweetheart
Intends to kill poor Faez

Now, one should ask, where has this cruel love, plundering idol learned the secrets of coquetry?  The poet, indeed, asks himself the same question:

Not every eye rubs one's soul
Not every hair ruins one's heart
Not every love is able to charm Faez
Coquetry  is a  hidden secret

Nevertheless, when the time comes for the physiognomy of the beloved, the secrets of this coquetry are one by one revealed.  First, her mole:

My heart seeks you so much
That it bleeds, trampled upon by you
As if, being killed Faez's blood
Splashes and turns into your mole

And then, the stiletto of her eyebrow:

If you want to burn a world
Reveal your face, your hair disheveled
O Faez's idol, hint with your eyebrow
Take out the stiletto and kill old and young

And, now the scorpion of her hair  referring to the signs of zodiac:

You have decorated your face with locks of hair
Making the scorpion hit the moon
Faez, who has seen a killer tarantula
Bite the side of a full moon?

And the army of lashes:

I die for the curve of your black hair
For the sake of your face, shiny as the moon
You pillaged the religion of Faez
Yourself a king, with the army of your lashes

And the dart of the gaze:

My heart is badly wounded by the beautiful
My body is parched by separation from them
When Faez is hit by the dart of her gaze
Why should he fear the dart of people's tongue?

Even the word of "separation:

Don't say the word "separation", I fear, my friend
That it sheds skin and comes out like a snake
Don't kill Faez, separation has already killed him
It is not good to hurt the body of the dead

And the snake of hair:

The lasso of hair, around the face of my love
Looks like a black snake coiled on a treasure
Faez, avoid these locks of hair on her neck
Because every one of them is a blood-sucking snake

And also:

Chain over chain, ringlets of my love's hair
In each one of them, a heart is captured
The heart of Faez is snared in her hair,too
Like sparrows charmed by snakes

And the arrow of lashes:

You are not hit by the arrow of black lashes
And not wounded by the sword of an eyebrow
You do not have the same pain that Faez has
Your empty prayers will not be heard

If the body parts of cruel love are the weapons of war , why should this war not be considered a real one, in which the winner is determined in advance and the loser accepts it:

My idol, you use coquetry and I buy it
You are oppressive and disloyal and I am obedient
Losso with your hair the neck of Faez
You, the killer, blood spilling  from  me

This is a holy war, in which one should give his life:

First, one should be ready to give his life
Then, one could dare to see her rosy cheeks
Faez, behold, that in the path of love
One cannot avoid dagger, arrow and spear

In this war, every lock of a love's hair appears as an army:

If you want to win over the world
Send off four armies, by waving your hair
Chief of the army is the black lashes
Not only Faez, but a world is beaten

It resembles an Indian army:

With two narcissuses, drunk, daring and ruthless
She has gathered four armies from India
Beware, that from the time of Faez's death until dawn
She will set ambush to the city of Kashmir

And, sometimes, a Turkish army:

Loves' face, hair, lips and teeth
Are, indeed, a flower, hyacinth, pearl and jet
Faez, behold her eyes, lashes and brows
She is a Turk with arrow and spear

Even her image sets ambush,and to dramatize it, the poet puns using the Persian words for "ambush" shabikhoon and "one night blood" shabi-khoon:

Your image sets ambush upon me
One night she hides, one night she sheds blood
The army of sorrow ambushed Faez, too
One night tears drip from my eyes, one night blood

But, the memory of foreign invaders is not enough to dramatize this real war.  Therefore, the poet recalls the heroes of the national epic:

Chain over chain, ring over ring, my love's hair
Is curled down over her shoulders
Her hair has snared Faez's heart
Like Rostam in the battle of the seven ordeals

Now, after war, here comes the divine judge:

Did you see what the unkindly love did?
I gave her love and she was disloyal to me
No one asked Faez's beloved
Why she ordained my death

Of course, before the execution, the convict should be imprisoned:

My heart is captured in the knot of her hair
Like a thief, who is chained tightly
O you fans of Faez, ask
Of the chain-holder: what is my fault?

Finally, cruel love embodies the village mulla, with his Koranic lessons and different shapes of alphabets:

O love, each strand of your hair looks like mim and lam
They resemble "to the name of Allah, the bountiful, the merciful"
Your beauty has won over the seventy-two nations
My height, has bent as jim because of separation from you

Does Faez take pleasure from his cruel love?  The allegoric cliche  of "candle and moth", thoroughly typifies this masochism:

Under the veil, that charming face
Appears as a candle within a lantern
The heart of Faez, turns round it like a moth
He is always willing to get burned

And this willingness, is not limited to Faez, but it belongs to all lovers:

Whoever is a lover, shows from afar:
His lips are dry, and his eyes drunk and lunatic
Faez resembles people who are fasting in Ramazan:
If he gets shot, no blood appears

After all these descriptions, it is about time to ask whether Faez has really had a cruel love,and why he saw himself subject to this torment.  In his double-couplets, three women are mentioned: a Christian girl, Shirin, the Armenian and Pari.  In my opinion, none of these figures are real.  It is said, that the Christian girl refers to an English woman whom Faez meets in the Booshehr bazaar and falls in love .  Even if this story is true, Faez's Christian girl has been so much mixed with the personality of "the Christian girl" in Persian mystical literature, first and foremost The Sheik of San'an and the Christian Girl by Farid ol-Din A'ttar, that the reader cannot feel her real personality.  It is also said, that Shirin is Faez's wife.  But how can one accept that Faez has made his own wife the prototype of cruel love. In our literature, love is always a person who is not accessible.  Woman as a wife is supposed to propagate and manage the house, and love is conceived as an illegitimate affair. 

Furthermore, Faez mentions other legendary female figures such as Manijeh told in The Shah-Nameh, and it is probable, that when mentioning Shirin, he has the legendary figure of Shirin in Nezami's romance in mind.  Regarding Pari, it is said that she is a fairy who has a secret relationship with Faez for a while.  However, when he reveals his secret, Pari disappears. As seen in the story itself, Pari is not real.  In short, Faez illustrates his cruel love as an imaginary and inaccessible woman.  Indeed, the logic of the subject matter verifies this.  Because if it were otherwise, perhaps, it would be possible to find a remedy for this cruelty .  Alas, Faez, the lover, never agrees with this solution.

Faez does not know the reason for the cruelty of his love, neither does he desire to know.  Because he does not want to lose it.  As a result, he prefers to attribute it to divine fate:

My love, neither did I make a mistake
Nor were you, sweetheart, disloyal
Oh, idol of Faez, it was destined
What can be done against divine destiny?

It is easy to understand the psychological mood caused by  cruel love.  On the one hand, the love is imaginary, and in spite of all burning and whining the lover does not seek reunion with any specific beloved.  The man is only enjoying his own imagination and does not have a real woman in mind.  On the other hand, he, like the moth, is willing to get burned, and no one has forced him to do so.  The lover finds pleasure in this pain and torture,  and mentions all historical events, religious and military epics and even natural catastrophes to intensify the cultural dimension of this pain.  Because the more intense the pain is, the more pleasure he derives.

This so-called love is based not only on savagery, that is war, shedding blood, torture and imprisonment, but also the person who is subject to torment is the lover himself.  He does not beat the woman, rather, he wants the woman to whip him.  And this leads us to the basic question: in a society in which woman is permanently tormented and tortured, whence the bloody handkerchief of the first night of the wedding is glorified and considered a booty for man, in a country in which love between two persons is unbreakably welded to the laws of ownership of property and inheritance and as a result, woman's body becomes the subject of trade, whence women are captured in the domain of veils, house, household, clan and finally religion and law, how come on the basis of such severe oppression of woman, suddenly the image becomes upside down, and the oppressor man asks the oppressed woman that not in reality rather in dreams takes his lash and sheds his blood?

Should this inverse image, which so many times reveals itself in Persian literature,  be attributed to the women's revenge against their oppressor men?  I do not believe so.  In a land in which women have never been permitted to express their ideas or emotions, how can women be accused of teaching men the  theme of cruel love?  Moreover, what good can this revenge bring  them?  Even if we consider the theme of cruel love as a sign of women's revenge on men, this, indeed, represents the revenge of the male-dominated society on men.  This is an old saying that to curb other people's freedom leads to that of one's self.  Thus one can say that oppression of others leads to oppression of one's self.  In other words, the theme of cruel love in Faez's double-couplets in particular and Persian literature in general is the reflection and the complementary part of oppression which the patriarchal society put upon women.  To use a psychoanalytic term, the ideal love in our society is a sadistic/masochistic love which is forced upon all members of society by the male-dominated culture.  In reality, women are treated as prisoners of war and men as the victors.  However, this time women are asked to play the role of men and torture them as prisoners of war. To hurt others is to hurt one's self, especially in the case of sexual relationships.  It is not surprising that Faez sees a close connection between his ideal love and war activities. In our language, when falling in love, it is common to say: " she killed me."  Cruel love stems from the same notion.  As long as oppression of women is not uprooted from our society, one cannot hope that its imaginary counterpart, that is the theme of cruel love disappears from our literature.

It might be asked why cruel love cannot simply represent unrequited love which happens everyday in people's lives. One's beloved does not respond favorably to her lover's desire, and the unsuccessful lover seethes and whines and feels his disappointment as a burning arrow in his heart.  Why should we not simply take cruel love as a reflection of unrequited love and entangle ourselves in psychological or sociological analysis in vain?  In response it should be said that firstly, Faez's double-couplets do not exemplify this hypothesis.  Nowhere do we find that Faez had been suffering from an unrequited love.  Everywhere it is said that the lover consents to this torment, enjoys it and sees it as a divine destiny.  Whereas in unrequited love the lover surely complains of his beloved's unkindness, and suffers because his love has not been accepted.  Secondly, provided that cruel love has been influenced by unrequited love, why should it become the ideal love?  One who idealizes this type of love, seeks no end other than hurting himself.  Thus, the outcome of this type of love coincides with cruel love, that is, hurting others and one's self.  The unrequited love may inspire creative writing,.  Nevertheless, if a poet because of his failure in love creates vivid verses, his masterpiece cannot justify the unrequited love.  Unless, the poet loves masochism, in which case his love leads to the same conclusion as cruel love. 

In a patriarchal society, it is not only women who suffer.  Men, too, are subjugated by patriarchy, and deprived of a free love.  Non-consentual marriages, parental approval for marriage, forbidding of premarital sex, polygamy, unequal rights in divorce, inheritance and so on-these do not only subjugate women.  Of course, women are the main victims of these relationships.  However, men also suffer from them.  It is not only religion or the club of law which supports these oppressive relations.  The most hurtful club is people's talk: a club, which has as many heads as  people and a height equal to the length of our rotten, medieval traditions.

One cannot rebel against oppression of women, unless one criticizes its imaginary counterpart in the form of cruel love.*

*- I have translated Faez Dashtestani’s double-couplets from Persian into English based on this book:Mohammad-Ahmad Panahi-Semnani “Taraneh-ha-ye melli-ye iran”, Tehran, 1364  
*- This text was first published in Omid periodical, No. 2, 1989, Los Angeles.