Ali Salami

Sadeq Hedayat: Dash Akol [English Translation]

About Sadeq Hedayat

Sadeq Hedayat was an Iranian author whose contributions to Persian fiction marked a significant departure from traditional literary styles. Widely regarded as one of the most accomplished Iranian writers of the 20th century, Hedayat pioneered modernist techniques that continue to influence contemporary Persian literature. The following story has been rendered into English by Ali Salami.

Hedayat was born into a family of high social standing and received his early education in Tehrān. Subsequently, he pursued studies in dentistry and engineering in France and Belgium, where he came into contact with prominent European intellectuals. This exposure led Hedayat to abandon his scientific pursuits in favor of a career in literature.

Dash Akol by Sadeq Hedayat

In Shiraz, it was common knowledge that Dash Akol and Kaka Rostam harbored an intense hatred for one another. On a particular day, Dash Akol was perched on a bench at the Domil Teahouse – an old haunt of his – with a quail cage beside him, hidden by a red cover. With a finger, he spun a piece of ice around in a bowl of water, lost in thought. Suddenly, Kaka Rostam barged in, his gaze spitting contempt towards Dash Akol, and took a seat on the opposite bench. Flicking his hand to his sash, he ordered the teahouse boy, “S-s-son, bri-bring some tea.”

Dash Akol cast a loaded glance at the boy, causing him to quiver with apprehension and ignore Kaka’s request. The boy lifted the filthy teacups from a bronze bowl and submerged them into a bucket of water, drying them one by one with painstaking slowness. The scraping of the towel against the cups made a scratchy sound.

This slight incensed Kaka Rostam, and he erupted, “A-a-are you deaf? I-I-I’m talking to you!”

The boy turned to Dash Akol, his smile uncertain, and Kaka Rostam snarled, “D-d-devil take them. P-p-people who th-th-think they’re so great will c-c-come tonight and p-prove it, if they’re any g-g-good.”

Slyly observing the situation, Dash Akol continued to twirl the ice around in the bowl and chuckled impudently, displaying a row of gleaming white teeth beneath his henna-dyed mustache. “Cowards brag, but soon enough it’ll be apparent who the better man is,” he declared.

The room burst into laughter, not at Kaka Rostam’s stuttering – for they knew it to be a fact – but because of Dash Akol’s notoriety in town. There wasn’t a “tough guy” who hadn’t experienced the weight of his punches. Even after downing a bottle of double-distilled vodka in Mullah Es’haq’s house, he could take on all challengers at the corner of Sare Dozak and emerge victorious against Kaka Rostam. Even men much stronger than Kaka Rostam wouldn’t dare challenge him. Kaka Rostam himself was aware that he was no match for Dash Akol, having been wounded twice at his hands, and having been overpowered and pinned to the ground by him on three or four occasions. Regrettably, a few nights before, Kaka Rostam had stumbled upon the corner devoid of Dash Akol and had begun to boast. Dash Akol had arrived without warning, like an avenging angel, and unleashed a barrage of insults upon him. “Kaka, you sissy, seems you’ve been smoking too much opium…It’s gotten you pretty high. You’d better put an end to this vile, cowardly behavior. You’re acting like a street thug, with no sense of shame. It’s a kind of beggary you’ve taken up as your profession. I swear if you get as drunk as this again, I’ll smoke off your mustache and split you in half.”

Kaka Rostam had slunk away with his tail between his legs, nursing a grudge against Dash Akol. He had been seeking a chance to avenge himself ever since. Despite his fiery temperament, Dash Akol was loved by everyone in Shiraz. He never troubled women or children, and if someone dared to harass them, he would make sure that the offender paid a heavy price. He was known to be a kind and generous man, always eager to assist people. If he was in the mood, he would even help carry their loads. But he couldn’t bear being outdone by anyone, especially not by Kaka Rostam, that impostor and opium addict.

Kaka Rostam seethed with rage at the contemptuous treatment he had received. He gnawed his mustache, his anger so intense that he wouldn’t have bled even if someone had stabbed him. After a brief lull, during which everyone remained silent except for the teahouse boy, who convulsed with laughter, Kaka Rostam lost control. He grabbed the crystal sugar bowl and hurled it at the boy, but it hit the samovar, knocking it off the bench and shattering several cups. Kaka Rostam stormed out of the teahouse, his face red with fury.

The teahouse keeper surveyed the wreckage of his samovar with a mournful expression and remarked, “Rostam, the legendary hero, had only one suit of armor. I, on the other hand, had only this battered samovar.” His words elicited even more laughter, thanks to the allusion to the legendary Rostam. In frustration, the teahouse keeper turned on the boy, but Dash Akol intervened, producing a bag of money from his pocket and tossing it to the keeper. The latter caught the bag, hefted it appreciatively, and smiled.

Just then, a man wearing a velvet vest, loose trousers, and a felt hat burst into the teahouse, panting and disheveled. He scanned the room, spotted Dash Akol, greeted him, and announced, “Hajji Samad has passed away.”

Dash Akol lifted his head and intoned, “May God bless him.”

“But don’t you know he has left a will?” the man continued.

“I do not feed off the dead. Go and inform someone who does,” Dash Akol replied with his trademark nonchalance.

“But he has appointed you as the executor of his will.”

These words seemed to rouse Dash Akol from his apathy. He scrutinized the man from head to toe, rubbing his forehead with his hand. His egg-shaped hat sat askew on his head, revealing his forehead, which was divided into two halves: one burnt brown by the sun, the other still pale from being shaded by the hat. Then he shook his head, retrieved his inlaid pipe, slowly filled it with tobacco, tapped it with his thumb, lit it, and declared, “May God bless Hajji now that it’s all over, but that was not a wise move on his part.”

‘He done throwed me into a sea of trouble. Well, you go on, I’ll come after,” Dash Akol muttered under his breath. The foreman of Hajji Samad had entered the teahouse and exited just as quickly, his long strides propelling him out the door. Dash Akol furrowed his brow, deep in thought. It seemed as though a shroud of darkness had descended upon the once cheery and carefree establishment. He drew on his pipe, lost in contemplation. After tapping out the ashes and emptying the bowl, he rose from his seat, handing the quail cage to a nearby boy before departing the teahouse.

Upon entering Hajji Samad’s courtyard, Dash Akol found that the recitation of the Koran had already concluded. There were only a handful of readers left, grumbling over their fee, and a group of men preparing to transport the holy book. He stood by the fountain for a few moments, waiting, before he was ushered into a spacious room whose sash windows opened up onto the courtyard. Hajji’s wife emerged from behind a curtain, and after exchanging pleasantries, Dash Akol took a seat on a mattress.

“Ma’am, may God keep you in good health. May God bless your children,” Dash Akol said, in customary fashion.

The woman’s voice shook as she replied, “On the night that Hajji fell ill, they brought His Eminence the Imam Jomeh to pray at his bedside, and in the presence of all Hajji announced you as the executor of his will. Do you perchance know Hajji from before?”

“We met five years ago on a trip to Kazeroon,” replied Dash Akol.

“Hajji, God bless him, always said that if there was only one real man, it was Dash Akol.”

“Ma’am, I value my freedom more than anything else, but now that I’ve been obliged by the dead, I swear by this ray of light that if I don’t die first, I’ll show those cabbage heads.”

As he lifted his head, he caught a glimpse of a girl with a radiant face and bewitching black eyes peering out from between two curtains. Their eyes met briefly before the girl, seemingly embarrassed, withdrew behind the curtain. Was she beautiful? Perhaps. Her alluring eyes certainly had their effect, and Dash Akol was smitten. He blushed and averted his gaze.

It was Marjan, the daughter of Hajji Samad. She had come out of curiosity to catch a glimpse of the famous Dash Akol, who was now her guardian.

The following day, Dash Akol set to work on Hajji’s affairs. With the help of a second-hand goods expert, two men from the neighborhood, and a secretary, he meticulously catalogued and inventoried everything. Any surplus items were locked away in the storeroom, the door sealed tight. Anything that could fetch a price was sold. He had the deeds to Hajji’s lands read to him, and he collected any outstanding debts owed to Hajji while paying off any debts he had incurred. All of these tasks were accomplished in just two days and two nights. On the third night, exhausted and weary, Dash Akol was passing through Sayyed Haj Qarib Square on his way home when he ran into Imam Qoli Chalengar.

“Now it’s been two nights since Kaka Rostam has been expecting you. Last night he was saying that you left him up in the air. He says that you’ve got a taste of high life and you’ve forgotten your promise,” the Imam chided.

Dash Akol remembered well the challenge Kaka Rostam had issued to him three days earlier in the Domile Teahouse. However, Dash knew what kind of man Kaka was and suspected that he had plotted with Imam Qoli to bring shame upon him. Therefore, he paid no attention to the challenge and continued on his way, all his senses concentrated on Marjan. No matter how much he tried to drive her face away from his mind, it would take shape more vividly in his imagination.

Dash Akol was a big man, aged thirty-five, but he was not handsome. Seeing him for the first time would dampen anyone’s spirits, but if someone sat and talked to him or heard the stories about his life that people were always telling, they would become fascinated. Despite the sword scars running from left to right on his face, Dash Akol had a noble and arresting appearance: hazel eyes, thick black eyebrows, broad cheeks, narrow nose, black beard, and mustache. However, his scars ruined everything. The sword wounds had healed poorly, leaving raw-looking furrows on his cheeks and forehead, and worst of all, one of them had drawn down the corner of his left eye.

Dash’s father was one of the great landowners of Fars Province. When he died, all his property went to his only son. But Dash Akol took life easy and spent money recklessly. He did not consider wealth and property important, and he lived his life freely and generously. He had no attachments in life and generously gave all his possessions to the poor and needy. Either he would drink vodka and raise hell in the streets or spend his time with a handful of friends who had become his parasites. All his faults and virtues were confined to these activities, but what was surprising was that the subject of love had never come up for him. Although his friends had talked him into attending bull sessions several times, he never participated in the conversation. However, from the day he became Hajji Samad’s executor and saw Marjan, his life changed completely. On the one hand, he considered himself obligated to the dead and under a burden of responsibility; on the other hand, he had lost his heart to Marjan. But the responsibility weighed on him more than anything. He had wasted his own wealth and had also squandered part of his own inheritance through carelessness. Now, every day from early morning when he awoke, he thought only of how to increase the income of Hajji’s estate. He moved Hajji’s wife and children into a smaller house, rented out their private house, brought a tutor for the children, invested their money, and from morning until night, he was busy chasing after Hajji’s affairs.

From this time on, Dash Akol completely gave up prowling around at night and daring others to fight. He lost interest in his friends, and his old enthusiasm was gone. However, all the men who had been his rivals, incited by the mullahs who felt cheated of Hajji’s wealth, found a little legroom for themselves and made sarcastic remarks about Dash Akol. Talk of him filled the teahouses and other gathering places.

At Pachenar Teahouse, folks would sit and swap tales of Dash Akol. “Talking ’bout Dash Akol, he don’t dare no more, his tongue’s froze. That dirty dog. They done run him outta town proper. Now he’s sniffin’ ’round Hajji’s door, beggin’ for scraps like a stray. When he slinks by Sare Dozak, he tucks tail and acts the coward,” they’d say.

Kaka Rostam, carrying a grudge in his heart, stuttered, “Th-th-there’s no f-f-f-fool like an old fool. That fella’s gone and fallen head-over-heels for Hajji Samad’s daughter, I reckon. Done sheathed his butter knife and thrown dirt in folk’s eyes. Made a false reputation for himself, and now he’s Hajji’s executor, stealin’ from folks right and left. Lucky dog.”

But Dash Akol, once held in awe and fear, was now the subject of whispers and ridicule wherever he went. He heard their talk here and there, but didn’t show it, didn’t pay it any mind, ’cause his love for Marjan had overtaken him, set his mind and heart a-whirling so bad he couldn’t think straight.

Come nightfall, he’d drink himself into a stupor and talk to his parrot about his sorrows. If he asked Marjan’s mother for her hand, she’d gladly give the girl to him. But he didn’t want to be tied down to no wife and child, not like the way he’d been raised. Besides, he knew deep down it wasn’t right for him to marry the girl under his protection. Worst of all was looking at himself in the mirror every night, his drooping eye and rough voice telling him she might not like him, that she’d find herself a young, handsome husband instead. It wasn’t a manly thing to do, but what could he do? Love was killing him, and Marjan was the cause. “Leavin’ you has done destroyed me!” he’d cry, tears welling up in his eyes as he drank vodka by the glass.


But it was at midnight, when Shiraz lay quiet and the stars winked at each other in the pitch black sky, that the real Dash Akol emerged, natural and unencumbered by the customs and formalities of society. That was when he’d hold Marjan tight, feel her slow heartbeat, her fiery lips, and her soft body, and cover her cheeks with kisses. When he woke up, he’d curse himself, curse life, and pace like a madman, trying to rid himself of the thought of love. The rest of the day, he busied himself with taking care of Hajji’s affairs, running here and there, but his mind always drifting back to Marjan, the one thing he couldn’t have.

But an event of great consequence, which should not have come to pass, occurred: a husband appeared for Marjan, and not just any husband, but one who was older and less comely than Dash Akol. Yet Dash Akol did not show any outward sign of distress. Instead, he set about with great satisfaction to prepare the bridal trousseau and arrange for a fitting celebration on the wedding night. He sent Hajji’s wife and children back to their own abode, and designated the spacious chamber with the sash windows for the entertainment of the male guests. All the notable personages, the merchants and dignitaries of Shiraz, were summoned to partake in the festivities.

At five o’clock that day, as the guests were crowded together in the room upon priceless carpets and rugs, and the large wooden trays laden with sweets and fruits were set before them, Dash Akol entered, looking as rough-hewn and weather-beaten as ever, but with his unruly locks tamed and his garb newly-composed: a striped robe, a sword-belt, a sash, black trousers, cloth shoes, and a hat. Three others followed him, bearing notebooks and writing pads. The guests scrutinized him with interest.

With long strides, Dash Akol approached the venerable Imam Jomeh and addressed him thus: “Sir, Hajji, may God bless him, bequeathed to me a sea of troubles that I have navigated for seven long years. His youngest son, who was but five years old, is now twelve. These are the accounts of Hajji’s holdings.” He gestured to the trio standing behind him. “Up until this moment, I have personally shouldered all the expenses, including those of this evening’s celebration. But henceforth, I shall depart on my own path, and they on theirs!”

At these words, he choked back a sob, and without further ado or awaiting a reply, he hung his head and with eyes brimming with tears, departed through the doorway. In the alleyway, he heaved a sigh of relief. Though he felt liberated from the burden of responsibility, his heart was rent asunder. He walked with long, listless strides, and soon came upon the abode of the Jewish vodka-maker, Mullah Es’haq. Without a moment’s hesitation, he descended the damp stairs and entered the old, sooty courtyard, surrounded by tiny, squalid rooms with windows resembling beehive openings, and whose fountain was encrusted with moss. The scents of fermentation, feathers, and old cellars wafted through the air. Mullah Es’haq, a scrawny figure with a filthy nightcap, goatee beard, and rapacious eyes, approached him, affecting a forced laughter.

Dash Akol spoke with a gloomy mien, “By your mustache, I beseech you to furnish me with a bottle of your finest spirits to soothe my parched throat.” Mullah Es’haq nodded in agreement, and descended the stairs to the cellar. Within a few minutes, he returned with the bottle. Dash Akol took it from him, struck the neck against a pillar, causing the top to break off, and drained half the contents. Tears pooled in his eyes, he suppressed a cough, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

The son of Mullah Es’haq, a sickly, wretched child with a bloated belly, gaping maw, and snot dribbling from his nostrils, gazed upon Dash Akol. With a flick of his finger, Dash Akol opened the lid of a salt cellar that sat upon a shelf in the courtyard and sprinkled the grains onto his tongue.

Mullah Es’haq approached, clapping a hand onto Dash Akol’s shoulder and declaring, “That’s the way, my friend.” Then he ran his fingers over the fabric of Dash Akol’s garments and added, “But what kind of robes are these? They’re out of fashion. If you ever tire of them, I’ll give you a fair price.”

Dash Akol let out a dejected laugh. He withdrew some coins from his pocket, placed them in Mullah Es’haq’s palm, and departed the dwelling. The hour was nigh on dusk. His body radiated warmth, yet his mind was beset by turmoil and his head throbbed. The alleys still bore the dampness of the afternoon rain, and the aroma of mud walls and orange blossoms mingled in the air. In his mind’s eye, he saw the face of Marjan, her rosy cheeks, coal-black eyes, and long lashes, as well as the curls of hair upon her brow. Memories of his former life came flooding back, one by one. He smiled, then frowned. Above all, he knew that he could not bear to stay in his own house any longer. His heart felt as though it had been ripped from his chest. He yearned to escape to a far-off place. He thought he might drink himself into a stupor and pour out his troubles to the parrot, just as he had done before. Everything in his life had become minuscule, pointless, and devoid of meaning.

Meanwhile, a poem came to mind, and he recited it softly to himself: “I envy the parties of prisoners / Whose refreshments are chain links.” Then another poem sprang to his lips, and he recited it a little more loudly:


My heart has gone awry, oh wise one,

A crazed man bound with chain undone,

A chain of prudence must be spun,

Lest madness reign, its havoc begun.


He spoke the lines in a melancholy, hopeless tone, but then he fell silent, as if he had lost interest or was preoccupied with something else. By the time he reached Sare Dozak, darkness had fallen. This was the same square where, in days gone by, Dash Akol had been invincible, and no one had dared to challenge him. Without intending to, he settled onto a stone bench in front of a house. He retrieved his pipe, filled it with tobacco, and drew in a slow, contemplative breath. He noted that the area appeared more dilapidated than he remembered, and the people looked unfamiliar to him, just as he himself had changed and deteriorated. His vision was blurred, and his head pounded with pain. Suddenly, a dark figure emerged from the shadows, approaching him and saying, “Even the d-d-dark night knows who’s the b-b-better man.”

Dash Akol recognized the speaker as Kaka Rostam. He stood up, planted his hands on his hips, spat upon the ground, and retorted with biting sarcasm, “May your cowardly father be damned! You think you’re the better man? You haven’t even learned where to take a piss.”

Kaka Rostam cackled derisively, drawing closer and saying, “I-i-i-it’s been a long t-t-time since we’ve seen you around here. Tonight there’s a w-w-w-wedding at Hajji’s house. Didn’t they let y-y-you?…”

Dash Akol broke in, “God knew what he was doing when he left you with only half a tongue. Tonight, I’m taking the other half.” He drew out his sword. Kaka Rostam grabbed his own. Dash Akol plunged his sword into the earth, folded his arms across his chest, and jeered, “I dare you to try and pull that sword out of the ground.”

Kaka Rostam attacked him then and there, but Dash Akol struck the back of his hand with such force that the sword went flying from his grip. The sound of steel clattering against the ground drew a handful of passers-by, but none had the courage to intervene.

Dash Akol smiled, “Go on, pick it up. Hold it tighter this time because tonight, we settle our score!”

Kaka Rostam clenched his fists and they grappled, rolling on the ground for half an hour. Sweat poured down their faces, but neither one gained the upper hand. In the midst of the fray, Dash Akol’s head slammed against the cobblestones, nearly knocking him out.

Kaka Rostam, though filled with murderous intent, felt his strength waning. But then, his gaze fell upon Dash Akol’s sword, which lay within his reach. Summoning all his remaining power, he yanked it from the ground and plunged it into Dash Akol’s side with such force that they both collapsed, unable to move.

The onlookers rushed forward to lift Dash Akol’s limp body. Drops of blood splattered on the ground. He clutched his wound, dragging himself a few steps along the wall before falling again. They carried him to his house.

The next morning, word of Dash Akol’s injury reached Hajji Samad’s house, and Vali Khan, Hajji’s eldest son, went to visit him. When he arrived at Dash Akol’s bedside, he saw him lying deathly pale, bloody froth bubbling from his lips, his eyes darkened. He struggled to breathe. In a stupor, Dash Akol recognized Vali Khan. In a half-choked, trembling voice, he said, “That parrot was all I had in the world. Please, give it to–”

He lapsed into silence. Vali Khan wiped away tears with his handkerchief. Dash Akol lost consciousness and died an hour later.

The entire city of Shiraz mourned his death.

That afternoon, Marjan sat before the parrot’s cage, gazing at its colorful wings, its hooked beak, and its dull, lifeless eyes. Suddenly, the parrot spoke in a hoarse, scratchy voice, “Marjan… Marjan… You killed me… Who will I tell? Marjan… Your love has destroyed me.”

Tears streamed down Marjan’s face.


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