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Ghosts of Revolution by Shahla Talebi

Ghosts of Revolution by Shahla Talebi

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Published by Sampsonia Way
Presented by Sampsonia Way magazine with permission of the author. Copyright Shahla Talebi, Stanford University Press
Presented by Sampsonia Way magazine with permission of the author. Copyright Shahla Talebi, Stanford University Press

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Published by: Sampsonia Way on Sep 28, 2012
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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05/13/2014

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13
When I was arrested in
1977
, I knew very little of the changes on thehorizon that were soon to transform not only the Iranian sociopoliticallandscape but its penal system, and hence my own experiences of impris-onment. I was a girl from a modest family background. We had moved toTehran only about three and a half years earlier, carrying along the experi-ences and memories of a life in provincial towns and remote countryside,with most summers spent in a village. I had just graduated from highschool and entered university as a freshman when I found myself in jail.Yet, from my first day of school in Tehran, in my tenth-grade year, when,shockingly, I heard my classmates making a mockery of the national an-them by twisting its words “May our king live forever” to “The donkeyhas tail and hoof” to that late evening of my arrest by three SAVAK agents,the world had drastically changed around and in me.Here I was, now, in the United Anti-sabotage Committee, perhaps themost notorious detention center for political prisoners in Iran at the time,faced with the interrogators whose names I had heard on the undergroundradio, who had acquired their fame through demonstrations of the utmost brutality against many legendary dissidents. I tried to imagine their heroicresistance and felt so incredibly small in comparison. Even with my insuf-ficient knowledge of the SAVAK and its jails, I was well aware of the factthat one did not need to be a serious threat to the regime to be severelytortured. My pursuit of banned books and dissident views was enough tosubject me to torture and imprisonment. Nonetheless, the fact that I hadno connection to the guerrilla movement would have to be a factor in eas-ing my interrogation process, at least in that particular historical moment.When I was delivered to the interrogator, Rahmani, a man who ap-peared to be in his late thirties or early forties, he received me with the ex-clamation, “Oh finally, there she is!” and with a joyous tone as if a serious
 
14
 In the Footsteps of the Giants
threat had been just eliminated from the face of the earth. His reactionoverwhelmed me with a simultaneous sense of surprise, intimidation, andpride. As his voyeuristic gaze violently examined my entire body, nearlyundressing me with his lustful eyes—in my mind, even with his widelygrinning teeth—and as he moved from advising “this young, pretty, andsmart girl to save herself” from the torment of torture to slapping, hittingwith his fists, and kicking, I awaited and imagined myself under the “realtorture” with which he was threatening me. But he continued offering memore obscene curses spiced by his dirty, sexual, penetrating stare.This episode was prolonged and turned into a violent orgy of penetrat-ing stares and verbal sexual assaults with the addition of two other interro-gators, Riyahi and Rasouli. The metaphorical marriage of sex and violencefound a real face when Hosseini, the most infamous torturer in the UnitedAnti-sabotage Committee, sat quietly as an emblem of sheer animalistic vio-lence, while others put on a show of competition of the most penetratinggaze on my body and the dirtiest assaults on my character. I clenched insideas they apparently enjoyed this visual feast, with remarks like, “She looks assweet as her first name,” alluding to the name Shirin, which means “sweet,”which the friend who had reported me to SAVAK used to call me; or “She isas edible as her last name,” referring to my last name, Talebi, which means“melon.” Rasouli kept repeating the words
Talebi-e Shirin
, or “sweet melon,”while blinking with a dirty look in his eyes. Even now, after so many years,once in a while I still wake up in the middle of the night, feeling a sense of choking as if interrogator Riyahi’s bottom is covering my mouth, as it didthen. About six feet tall, he stood in the narrow space between my chair andRahmani’s table, pretending to talk to him, while bending in a way that his bottom pushed toward and covered my mouth and entire face.I, however, tried to concentrate on what I assumed to be awaiting me,the real torture. I pushed my nails into my skin as hard and as long as I couldto test my tolerance level, angry at myself for not knowing the limits of myendurance. Would I be able to withstand the severe torture that I conjuredto be imminent? I wondered. I kept telling myself, again and again, that Ineeded to remember the poverty, discrimination, and all the injustices I had
 
15
 In the Footsteps of the Giants
witnessed around me so the pain could not break me. That my devotion to justice should help me to stay firm, for no matter how excruciating my pain,it could never be as everlasting as that of the dispossessed people who livewith constant humiliation and die gradually, I assured myself. Was I goingto be able to prove my love and commitment to the people and to my idealof justice? I anxiously pondered these questions as the interrogators pouredtheir insulting words over me, violated me with their gazes, and belittledmy entire existence. As fearful as I was of the menace of torture with whichthey were threatening me, I felt even more terrified of feeling so belittled.I therefore kept telling myself that, if put under real torture, I had to showthem that I was more than a “little pretty girl,” as they kept calling me.I was, nevertheless, sent to solitary confinement, without being sub- jected to that real torture. For the next four days, I waited, restlessly, fora call to interrogation and torture, nearly disappointed that I was not andhorrified that I would be. What if I could not prove my loyalty to my idealsand the strength of my love for the people? The possibility petrified me. Iread and touched the writings on the walls of my cell, one of them written by the poet whose poetry I loved, as if hoping that through my touch theirmagical power would penetrate my body and soul, and I would becomeimmune to the desires and weaknesses of my own flesh. I felt inspired and burdened by breathing in the same space that had once been occupied bythe men and women about whom I had read or heard.But only a few days later the guards took me to the upper floor andput me in a room with five other inmates. It was here that I began tosee the rapid changes in that jail. They painted the rooms, cleaned thehallways, fixed the toilets and bathrooms, gave us spoons for eating, andtreated prisoners less harshly. But once again, neither I nor the others in jail knew yet of the transforming power dynamics that were forcing theregime to change its penal policies.Thus, when only six days after my arrest, Azodi, one of the highest-ranking SAVAK officials, came into the room and I remained sitting whileother inmates stood up as an indication of their respect for him, as wasthe unwritten rule, I expected to be sent directly to the torture room. I was

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