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He was born to an aristocratic family and was educated at Dar ol-Fonun (1914–1916) and the Lycée Français (French high school) in Tehran. In 1925, he was among a select few students who travelled to Europe to continue their studies. There, he initially pursued dentistry before giving this up for engineering. After four years in France and Belgium, where he befriended Sartre, who was to remain a lifelong friend, Hedayat returned to Iran where he held various jobs for short periods, before returning to Paris.
Hedayat subsequently devoted his whole life to studying Western literature and to learning and investigating Iranian history and folklore. The works of Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekhov, Rainer Maria Rilke, Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka intrigued him the most. During his short literary life span, Hedayat published a substantial number of short stories and novelettes, two historical dramas, a play, a travelogue, and a collection of satirical parodies and sketches. His writings also include numerous literary criticisms, studies in Persian folklore, and many translations from Middle Persian and French. He is credited with having brought Persian language and literature into the mainstream of international contemporary writing. There is no doubt that Hedayat was the most modern of all modern writers in Iran. Yet, for Hedayat, modernity was not just a question of scientific rationality or a pure imitation of European values.
In his later years, feeling the socio-political problems of the time, Hedayat started attacking the two major causes of Iran’s decimation, the monarchy and the clergy, and through his stories he tried to impute the deafness and blindness of the nation to the abuses of these two major powers. Feeling alienated by everyone around him, especially by his peers, Hedayat’s last published work, The Message of Kafka, bespeaks melancholy, desperation and a sense of doom experienced only by those subjected to discrimination and repression.
Hedayat’s most enduring work is the short novel The Blind Owl of 1937. It has been called “one of the most important literary works in the Persian language” (S. A. Qudsi).
He committed suicide by gassing himself in his kitchen and is buried in the Père Lachaise.
A bakery, a butcher’s shop, a grocery, a barber’s shop and two tea- houses all of which were conducive to satisfy the very basic human needs constituted the Varamin Square. The square and its inhabitants were half-baked and half-grilled in the heat of the tyrannical sun and passionately longed for the first breeze of evening and the shades of night. The people, the shops, the trees and the animals were dead still. An intense heat heavily hung over their heads and a pall of dust waved in the sky, which grew thicker due to the traffic of cars.
On one side of the square stood an old plane-tree whose trunk had withered and dried up but which had spread its awry gouty branches with an indomitable perseverance. Beneath the shade of its dusty leaves was a huge massive platform on which two street-urchins were vending rice pudding and desiccated pumpkin seeds. A turbid stream of water flowed lazily through the gutter in front of the tea-house.
The only building that might catch your sight was the famous Varamin Tower with its cracked cylindrical trunk and its conical top. In the chinks of its fallen bricks, the sparrows had built their nests. Silent, they had dropped off in shelter of the fiery heat. Only the whimpering of a dog broke the silence in succession.
He was a Scotch terrier. He had a sooty muzzle and black spots on his pasterns as if he had run in the mire. He had drooping ears, a pointed tail, dirty fuzzy hair and a pair of human-like clever eyes in the depths of which could be seen a human soul. In the night that had enshrouded his entire life, an eternal thing undulated in his eyes, carrying a message which could not be fathomed as if stuck in the back of his pupils. It was neither light nor color but something incredible just like what can be seen in the eyes of a wounded gazelle. Not only was there some sort of similarity between his eyes and those of a man but some kind of equality between them. Those were two hazel eyes fraught with the pangs of agony and waiting which could only be found in the muzzle of a stray dog. But it seemed as though nobody could observe or understand his eyes which were charged with pain and supplication.
In front of the grocery, blows rained down on him by the errand boy and the butcher’s errand boy pelted stones at him in front of the butcher’s shop. Had he taken shelter under a car, he would have been welcomed by the heavy kicks of the driver’s spiked shoes. When everybody ceased to torment him, it was the urchin’s turn to derive a fantastic delight in torturing him. For every moan he let out, a piece of rock descended on his back at which the urchin uttered a boisterous laugh and cried out: “Dirty filthy cur!”
Shortly afterwards, the rest of others burst into a hearty laugh as if they had joined him in sympathy and insidiously encouraged him. Everybody kicked him to please their Lord. It seemed completely natural to them to beleaguer a dirty cur which had seven lives and on which religion had put a curse.
Harassed by the urchin, the miserable animal eventually ran away towards an alley leading to the Tower. In fact, he limped off on a hungry stomach, taking shelter in a gutter. There, he rested his head on his pasterns, stuck his tongue out and watched the grand fields waving before him in a state of sleep and wakefulness.
His body was exhausted and his nerves all frazzled. In the damp air of the gutter, a singular sensation of solace enveloped his entire being.
Various smells of half-dead verdure, a moist old shoe and living and non-living objects revived in his muzzle distant confused memories. His instinctive desire aroused and his past memories awakened afresh in his mind when he kept his attention riveted upon the field. This time, however, this feeling was so overmastering that it prompted him to bounce up and down. He felt an intense urge to frisk in the field. It was a hereditary sense for all his ancestors had been freely bred amidst the green fields.
He was so exhausted that he couldn’t budge. A painful feeling of helplessness pervaded him. And a handful of forgotten and lost feelings arose within him. In the past, he had diverse bounds and needs. He felt bound to be at his master’s beck and call, to turn a stranger or an outsider dog out of his master’s house and frolic with his master’s son. He had learned how to behave toward known and unknown people. He had learned to eat on time and expect caressing at a certain time. But now these bounds had been lifted from his neck. All his attention was focused on rummaging through the garbage in search of a mouthful of food.
He got beaten all day long and whined-it was his sole defense. He used to be plucky, neat and sprightly. But now he was cowardly and oppressed. At every sound, he trembled all over.
Even his own voice frightened him. Basically, he had got used to dirt and rubbish. His body itched but he did not feel like hunting his lice or licking himself. He felt he had become part of the garbage.
He felt that something had died within him, faded away. Two winters had elapsed ever since he had wound up in this hellhole. Since then, he had not had a square meal. He had not had a comfortable slumber. His passions and feelings had been smothered. No one had stroked a caressing hand on him. No one had looked into his eyes. Although the people resembled his master, it appeared that his feelings and demeanors were as different as chalk and cheese from theirs. It seemed as if those who were associated with him were closer to his world, understood his agonies and needs better and protected him more. Amidst the smells that reached his nostrils and stupefied him most of all was the smell of the rice pudding in front of the urchin-the white liquid which was much so similar to his mother’s milk and summoned up memories of his puppyhood.
Suddenly, a feeling of lethargy seized him. When he was a cub, he sucked this nutritious liquid from his mother’s beasts and her soft firm tongue licked his body clean. The heavy pungent smell of his mother and her milk was revived in his muzzle. As soon as he got milk-inebriated, his body would go warm and relaxed and a fluid warmth would run into his veins and sinews. His head being heavy, he would drop loose from his mother’s breasts. Then, he would fall into a profound slumber and feel delicious tremors come over his entire body. It would really be a great joy for him to press his mother’s breasts involuntarily and gain milk with complete ease. The fuzzy body of his brother and the voice of his mother were charged with caress and delight. He remembered his wooden kennel and his romping about with his brother in that green gardenlet. He would bite his drooping ears. They would fall and rise and run. Then, he found another playmate who was his master’s son. IN the bottom of the gardenlet, he would run after him, bark and bite his clothes. He could never forget his master’s caresses and the sugar cubes he grabbed out of his hand. But he loved his master’s son more for he was his playmate and never beat him. Afterwards, he lost his mother and brother. There were only his master, his wife, his son and an old servant left for him. He knew their smells so well and recognized their footfalls from afar. At lunch or dinner, he would circle round the table, sniffing at the eatables. At times, his master’s wife, despite her husband’s desire gave him a morsel out of kindness. Then the old servant would come and call him: “Pat … Pat…” And he would put his food in a special pot beside his wooden kennel. Pat’s calamities commenced when his rut came on him because his master did not allow him to go out and chase the bitches.
Incidentally, one day in autumn, his master together with two other men who frequented their house and whom he knew got into his car and called Pat. They seated him beside them. Pat had traveled by car with his master several times. But this time, he was in the heat. And there was a special excitement and anxiety in him. After some hours, they got off in the same square. His master and the other two men passed the alley beside the tower. But incidentally, the scent of a bitch, the peculiar smell that Pat always sought maddened him at once. In different successions, he sniffed until at last he entered a garden through the gutter. When the evening was drawing to its close, the sound of his master’s voice fell upon his ears twice. “Pat…. Pat … “Was it really his voice? Or just an echo of it? Although his master’s voice had a singular impression on him, for it reminded him of his bounds and duties, a certain power transcending all other external powers goaded him into going after the bitch. He felt that his ears were deaf and heavy to other external sounds. Powerful feelings had awakened in him.
The scent of the bitch was so strong that made him experience a vertigo. All his muscles, body and senses were disobedient to him. He had no power over his actions. But it was not long before he was assailed by clubs and spade handles and driven out through the gutter. Pat was exhausted and stupefied but light and calm. When he came to realities, he went to seek his master. In several alleys, there was a faint smell left of him. He investigated them all, leaving behind him in certain distances traces of himself.
He went as far as the ruins outside the village. He came back because he discovered that his master had returned to the square. Yet the faint smell of his master was lost in other smells. Had his master left him behind? A delicious feeling of fear and anxiety took possession of him. How could Pat possibly live without his master? His God? His master was his God. At all events, he was sure that his master would come after him. Horrified, he started running in some alleys. His attempts were futile, though. At last, he, weary and helpless, returned to the square at night. But there was no sign of his master. He made a few other turns in the village. Finally, he made his way towards the gutter where he had seen the bitch.
However, the gutter was blocked by rocks. With peculiar vehemence, Pat began digging the earth in the vain hopes of forcing his way into the garden but it proved fruitless. Desperate, he dropped off there. When the night was far advanced, he woke up with a start from his own moans. Alarmed, he rose up and roamed in the alleys, sniffing at the walls. For a while, he wandered in the alleys. At last, an extreme feeling of hunger filled him. As he returned to the square, the smell of diverse eatables reached his nostrils; the smell of left-over meat, of fresh bread and yoghurt mingled together.
Yet, he felt he had trespassed a territory. He felt he had to beg these people who resembled his master. If he did not find a rival to scare him away, he would gain ownership right. He might be even kept by one of those people who had eatables in their hands. In fear and trembling, he approached the grocery which had just opened. The pungent odor of baked dough had filled the air. Someone who had a loaf of bread under his arm said: “Come! Come!”
His voice seemed so foreign to him. He threw a piece of bread to him. After slight hesitation, he ate the bread and wagged his tail. The man put the bread on the grocery platform and fearfully and cautiously stroked Pat’s head. Then, he opened his collar cautiously with his hands. How happy he felt! It was as if all responsibilities and duties had been lifted from his neck. But as soon as he wagged his tail again and approached the grocery shop, a firm kick landed on his flank. Whining, he fled away. The shopkeeper piously washed his hands in the stream to eliminate the unclean effects of the dog. Pat still knew his collar which was dangling from a peg in front of the grocery shop. Ever since that day, Pat received but kicks, clubs and rocks. It appeared that they were his sworn enemies and derived a wondrous delight in torturing him. Pat felt he had stepped into a world which did not belong to him and in which nobody could understand his feelings and desires. The first days went on uneasily but soon he got accustomed to his situation. Besides, at the turn of the alley, he had found a spot where they deposited their garbage in which he could find delicious pieces such as bone, fat, skin, fish head, and many other eatables he was not even able to distinguish. He spent the rest of the day in front of the butcher’s and the bakery. His eyes were on the butcher’s hands but he received blows instead of delicious pieces. But he was used to his new way of living. From his past life, only a handful of vague feelings and some smells had been left to him. Every time he felt exceedingly miserable, he found a sort of consolation in his lost paradise and the memories of those days were awakened in his mind. What excruciated Pat most of all was his need for fondling.
He was like a child who always got beaten and insulted but his delicate feelings had not yet died within him. In his new wretched life, he had a peculiar need for fondling. His eyes begged for it. He would be ready to die if someone stroked a loving hand on his head. He needed to express his kindness to someone, to make sacrifices for him, to show his sense of adoration and fidelity. But it seemed as though no one needed him to express his feelings. There was no one to protect him. In every eye, there was but wickedness and maliciousness. Every movement he made to attract their notice incurred on him their wrath. While Pat was dozing in the gutter, he let out several moans and woke up as if some nightmares were passing before his eyes. At this point, he felt infernally hungry.
The smell of Kebab forced itself to his nostrils. A feeling of hunger tortured his innards so oppressively that he forgot his helplessness and agonies. With great difficulty, he rose up and cautiously made for the square. At this time, an automobile entered the square noisily, raising a pall of dust. A man got out of the car, stepped up towards Pat, stroking a loving hand on him. The man was not his master. Pat was not deceived for he knew his master’s smell so well. But how could another person pat him? Pat wagged his tail and looked at the man dubiously. Was he not deceived? He no longer had the collar round his neck so that others might fondle him. Again, the man stroked a caressing hand on him. Pat went after him. His surprise increased when the man entered a room which he knew well and out of which came diverse smells of eatables. On the bench near the wall, he lay on his haunches.
Warm bread, yoghurt and eggs and other eatables were brought to him. The man dipped pieces of bread in yoghurt and threw them to him. At first, Pat devoured them quickly but then he slowed down. Pat fixed his painful pretty hazel eyes on him in token of gratitude and wagged his tail. Was he asleep or awake? Pat had a square meal without being interrupted by beating. Was it possible that he might have found a new master? The man rose up went into the alley leading to the tower. He paused awhile. Then, he passed the winding alleys. Pat followed him until he was out of the village. He went towards the ruins which had several walls where his master had gone. Did these people seek the scent of their females? Pat waited for him beside the wall. Then, they returned to the square through another route.
Again, the man stroked a fondling hand on him. Then after a little turn round the square, he got into the car he knew well. He sat on his haunches beside the car, looking at the man. All of a sudden, the car stared running in the pall of dust. Without the slightest hesitation, Pat started running after the car. No, he did not want to lose him. He was panting heavily. He was running after the car with all his might despite the sharp pain he felt within his body.
The car got away from the village and passed through a desert. Pat caught up with it several times but lagged behind again. He had summoned all his strength, taking desperate bounces. But the car ran faster than he. He was mistaken. He could not catch up with the car. He felt helpless. He felt an aching pain in the pit of his stomach.
All at once, he felt his limbs were not obedient to him. He was not capable of the slightest movement. All his efforts were useless. He did not know why he had run or where he was going. He could go neither forwards nor backwards. He stopped. He panted, his tongue hanging out. His eyes grew dark. With bending head, he waddled along the road towards a stream in vicinity of a farm. He put his stomach on hot moist sands. With his instinctive desire that never deceived him, he felt he was incapable of moving on. His head swam.
His thoughts and feelings had grown obscure and obliterated. He felt an aching feeling in the pit of his stomach. A sickly light gleamed in his eyes. In his death throes, his hands and feet went numb. His body was drenched with cold sweat. It was mild and delectable.
Near evening, three crows were flying above Pat’s head for they had picked his smell. Cautiously, one of the crows alighted near him, gazed at him intently and flew away as it realized that he was not yet dead.
These three crows had come to gauge out Pat’s hazel eyes.
(Translated by Ali Salami)