By FARZAD KAMANGAR
Oh storm, put away your rusty axe
a daffodil wants to blossom.
A child wants to go to sleep.
Oh guns! Go silent and dumb
You said that you liked my letter titled, *Baba Aab Daad and that it really resonated with you. To be honest, I wrote that letter from the bottom of my heart for my students and for my own childhood. I put my dreams and wishes down on paper. My childhood of our generation had a deep impact in all aspects of our lives.
I do not remember any poems from my childhood. They never taught us any poems. I only realized in the third decade of my life that I was supposed to receive a round ball as a reward from my father and extend my legs before my mom could [sing to me the Persian folk song] Atal Matal…
It was our teachers who should have taught us to write poems for the sun and the sky. We should have grown taller with the trees. We should have flowed along with the rivers. We should have flown across the sky with the butterflies.
We should have, we should have…
However, instead, our music was a military march. Our poems were of guns and rifle pits and we wouldn’t look at the sky out of fear of fighter helicopters. It was in the third decade of my life that I realized I don’t know any children’s stories. I did not know that children are supposed to sit and listen before bed to their grandparents’ stories of the brave rabbit and the ugly duckling. I did not know that children should live and grow with their dreams. The end of our stories counted the number of those who died in the mountains or from hours of fighting.
Believe me, they did not let us be children. Perhaps that is why at the age of thirty-something I still like to play childhood games. Perhaps that is why I enjoy playing along with children. And, I still wish to have the opportunity to play.
They stole pleasure, joy, and happiness from our generation. That is why I don’t remember anything from my childhood. Now, you tell me, if they take away protests, screams, and love from your poem, what will remain of it? If they take away spring from nature and the moon and stars from the night, what will become of them?
And, tell me, if they take away childhood from a person, what is left of him?
Dear, in the time of our adolescence, instead of reading science-fiction stories, we were reading the constitution of some political party or the methods of armed conflicts. Our courses discussed the history of religion.
Dear, my childhood started with the smell of lead, bullets, and gun shots. There is nothing left of our beautiful village, despite all the natural springs, but ruins surrounded by mountains.
My memories of the village goes back to the following event (I do not remember anything before that):
One day, we witnessed how the armed youth flooded our village from all roads. This was the first time I saw a gun. The first sight of a bullet gave me a strange sense of fear. There was no opportunity to count the natural springs around the village, something I always wished to do. There was no time to tie the swing to the walnut tree in our yard. There was no time to collect the mulberries from behind our school. There was no time to pick the wild flowers.
Our task was to see the injured and the dead who were brought to our village. We heard the sobs of mothers who discovered the news of their children’s deaths. They came from other villages and towns. Sobs, screams, blood, the smell of gunpowder, the chants of “Long live” and “Death to” filled the space of our village. It saturated our childhood.
One day, they placed a young injured man named Ebrahim under a mulberry tree. Nobody was around him. I approached him with fear. He asked me for water. Without knowing that water was harmful for his condition, I brought him some. Suddenly, one of his comrades yelled at me. I dropped the bowl of water and began to cry. I turned my face to Ebrahim, he had a smile on his face. I didn’t understand the meaning of his smile that day, but since then, the image of it returns, even in my dreams. It never leaves me.
Perhaps Ebrahim remembered his own childhood when he looked at me. Since then, I have envied the children of our land and a lump sits in my throat. I smile at them to picture my own childhood and their future.
Dear, the day when they left our village, another group came with different guns and uniforms. Nobody stopped to think about the schools. Everybody was thinking of a stronger rifle pit. We were left with no choice but to leave the village and come to town. However, it was there that you could hear the sirens of ambulances carrying the killed youth brought to the town for display. These images did not leave our childhood and adolescence.
Every evening after school, from the hilltops outside town, I would watch the burnt wheat farms that burned under the fire from guns and cannons. I used to sit and watch the burnt acorn forests. There was no time left for us to be children.
I became a teacher later on so that I did not have to leave children and the world of childhood. I returned to the villages in the Shahoo Mountains to visit the wounded Shahoo from close and befriend her. The acorn trees had grown again. The mountain was calm, but was still bearing the memories and the marks of the deep wound it once endured.
Life went on. I approached the classroom with passion and enthusiasm. However, the people`s poverty and unemployment and the students’ torn shoes and worn-out clothes bothered me. I would die a thousand times every day when I looked at their pained faces. Although, I did not want to bear witness to the death of the children`s dreams.
I became a teacher knowing that in this land it meant sharing the pain and suffering of others. Pain and suffering in this forgotten part of the world would bestow upon a teacher awareness and a new personality. I had to remain a teacher out of respect for childhood, for my childish dreams- a teacher who liked to stay a child- even at this age and even in prison.
[I am] a child with grey hair, a child who is crazy about the children of his land. I hear from inside the prison and from the wall cracks the whistle of the bullets in my land. Like the children of my land, I wake up suddenly from the sound of explosions, and when they feel scary, my own childhood horrors take over me. This time the smile of that wounded youth appears before my eyes, and I wish from the bottom of my heart that tonight none of the children wake up from the sound of a bullet. I wish that the bedtime story of none of them would smell like gunpowder.
My dear, in the name of loyalty, let your eyes take the place of mine and look into the inquisitive eyes of your students and behold the dim spark of hope. Sit down and give the smile I had loaned from you to the children of our land as a gift.
Teacher on death row, Farzad Kamangar
*Baba Aab Daad (literal translation: Dad gave water) is one of the first sentences Iranian elementary students learn to read and w