Shahrzad Toutoun-chi
Iranian Writer & Literary Critic
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Photo: Masoud)




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Research: Iran
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Critic to "I'm Scared of Your Eyes"

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Literature: Critic
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Shahrzad Toutoun-chi: Literary Critic to the Novel "I'm Scared of Your Eyes"
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A Critical Appreciation of "I'm Scared of Your eyes", Novel, Written by Farkhondeh Hajji-zadeh, Second Publication, New Edition, Tehran, Alam Pub., 2004

The tic-tac of the clock reverberates in your mind 12 times.
It is 12 o’clock noontime, the sun is right in the middle of the sky and the hands of the clock are placed one above another in a precise position. The sun represents love and Mana’s (the main protagonist of the story) excessive attention to the sun causes her to be accused of sun worship.
Twelve o’clock vividly shows the nature of all the incidents – which are as clear as daylight—the hands of the clock meet each other and love reaches its peak. However, at 12 o’clock an eclipse is due to occur in Kerman. The date set for the eclipse is Sunday 29th Azar. Hence love and sun for a time are lost sight of and they disappear, just as the hands of the clock after their final meeting at 12 are torn asunder from each other. The time distance between the hands of the clock is a symbolic representation of the distance prevailing between the characters of the story who are separated from each other both physically and spiritually.

Mana, the central character, shows an abnormal behavior and enters the scene in a dispirited mood; her meeting with Dr. Partov (the psychiatrist) proves her mental disturbance. Mana either instinctively is fond of writing or she is overwhelmed by such strong emotions that she feels ought to be put down in black and white and it is this motive that propels her to approach the female narrator and Mr. Yeganeh. Mana hears strange whisperings from the depths of the earth, as if those whisperings were meant only for her, which in addition cause her to be drawn to music. The inane chattering of Mana which appear in her meeting with the Dr. whom she had visited along with her rustic parents in the latter's clinic acquire meaning as the story unfolds. Although before the novel ends, it is the Dr. who is fascinated by Mana’s attractiveness, enthusiasm and bright laughter and in her speeches detects an intellect that is far above the ordinary, yet on account of his innate conservatism the Dr. like the narrator and Mr. Yeganeh does not go after Mana who has by now become a sort of mental obsession with him. The DR’s excessive attention to Mana makes his secretary somewhat sensitive. According to her, Mana is a silly person who appears now and then and claims that she has just come to say hello to the Dr. and nothing else.

It is in the course of the story when Mr. Yeganeh is conversing with the secretary in order to acquire some information about Mana’s whereabouts that the latter’s personality is somehow shaped and finally revealed. The reader realizes that the secretary who is fond of reading trash and thus has a shallow mind fails to realize Mana who strikes her as something of a nuisance.

The female narrator is one of the four narrators of the story (two female narrators, meaning Mana and the female narrator, a male narrator named Mr. Yeganeh and an omniscient narrator). For a time, they become friendly and lend a willing ear to Mana’s story. Mana’s tale is that of a woman who is confronted by a man who it appears is a spokesman or a leader of an important socio-political event; a man who exercises a profound attraction on Mana and draws her toward him irresistibly.

Mana endeavors to meet him in her simple appearance, formally, officially in fact, without any womanly coquettishness. By deciding upon such course she wants to subject both herself and the man in question to a test. Although Mana pretends that it is for the sake of realizing the vital social events that interest both her and the man in question that she goes to the dead end alley, nonetheless the reader grasps the fact that the flowers that she has just bought and at whose buying she had blushed deeply to the point of suffusing her cheeks that Mana’s drawing toward the dead end alley is not purely for understanding the socio-political events but that there lies a far deeper motive behind. Although the writer deftly avoids hinting at the love motive that lies behind the whole thing yet the reader somehow manages to read between the lines and realizes that Mana’s avoidance of the love is either due to its being illegal and her adherence to family system or purely ethical matters (Mana time and again dreams of being stoned to death), or the lack of confidence that her love might not be reciprocated by the man to whom she is drawn, or may be she feels that she ought to let the man she is attracted to undisturbed so that he may better attend to his political activities. Although the man is arrested at 12 o’clock and a thick veil is thus thrown over his appearance in the story, nevertheless his memory in Mana’s mind and in each and every chapter of the book leaves his imprint behind. Although Hajji-zadeh’s stories for the most part explore the female consciousness yet by bestowing certain positive virtues on her male characters she avoids the pitfalls and prejudices that a narrow feminist approach might have involved. On the whole the characters in this as in her other stories are not lop-sided. They are real, creatures of flesh and blood that firmly stand on their own feet. Their reality, however, transcends the narrow and restricted limitations of time and space and imparts to them a sort of universality, a kind of mirror wherein the readers can see their own image reflected and hence it becomes easy for them to identify themselves with creatures of her fancy. A most outstanding instance of her skill in the art of characterization is noticeable in the very first pages of the novel, pp.11-12, where Mana is standing in front of a mirror at Dr. Partov’s clinic and is in conflict with her outer as well as inner self. The outer self whispers “no, you must not allow him to place his hand under your chin, to lift up your head and stare into your eyes and say: you don’t want to talk? And you reply that I listen. And then go on listening to the point of getting deaf from silence, silence and yet again silence. You must not shake………..you must not permit him………to cut to pieces and pour over your lips………

The inner self whispers, “shaking and shivering is just human...”

The sunshine is a symbol and it does not appear causelessly. It is the symbol of love and light and is the embodiment of a truth that Mana adheres to and may be it is due to this reason that she cannot stand the eclipse. Water, sun and mirror are strangely felt in this book however hard those bitterly opposed to light may strive to bloc mind and human sound.

Another main image or symbol in this book is that of music with whose rhythm the novel begins (the sound of tic-tac, tic-tac reverberates in your mind). The result of Mana’s mental prospects and the man in the dead end alley is a big bowl, the bowl that Mana in order to avoid the malice of the malicious has hidden under her dress and is careful that not a single stone of those stone throwers might hit it so that she might be able to hide it in her grandmother’s chest, the grandmother who well knows the pangs of love so that in the end she deliver it into the hands of the lover and the saint, who know how adequately to handle it. Music is banned and chaos reigns over the cultural realm. This point is subtly brought out by one of the characters saying, “musicians are arrested.”

Hajji-zadeh at a certain point in the story by just adding a minor character’s speech to the effect that “non-musicians are arrested, too,” subtly brings out the chaos that rules over the society, society that pities none and leads astray each and every one with its inherent contradictions.

This story which is about confusion and the loss of one’s true self not only concerns Mana who from the time her father registered her name in the country’s official list bearing the identity card number 29 (p.111), but the other characters featuring in the story are in search of one another and of their own true selves. Characters that so merge into each other that more often than not it becomes next to impossible to distinguish one from the other (see pp.104-107) the stoning to death of an old woman who is in love and the comparing of her to Zoleikha, the narrator, Moshtaq, Mana, the authoress, grandmother, the artist, Soudabeh standing in front of Keikavous and his bunch of flatterers and opportunists who do not give a row of pins to the moaning of a human being that cries “let the first stone be hit by a person innocent of adultery”. Her cries are lost in the cheering of the crowd and it requires a Ferdowsi to save him or her from the fire that has been lit to devour him. This merging of the characters does not simply stop at this place but assumes far wider dimension so much so that the characters become one with the things, place and time around them. Mana with the writer’s deft contrivance manages to pass through three historical periods those of Qajar, Pahlavi and the Islamic Revolution, respectively and becomes our contemporary. For instance in page 47 quoting a taxi-driver, “We did away with Karim Khan! Karim Khan is nothing; Satar Khan, Bagher Khan and Mirza Reza were done away with too. It is Revolution after all.” And the location of the story varies from Kerman to Tehran and Sabalan. In fact Mana passes from city to city and from periods to periods but the writer travels from page to page. This textual passage begins right from the outset of the book with a subtle reference to the book concerning Amir Arsalan, “though an eye be black, watery, or the mole be that of Farokh Laqa, black…” P. 28 and by making reference to these different texts a story is created that carries multiple meaning. The writer so uniquely makes use of these texts as though they were her own books or creations so much so that if a reader is not acquainted with these texts or Hajji-zadeh herself does not try to make the reader acquainted with the texts so as to make her meaning clear to the reader the whole meaning and purpose of the book is lost upon the reader. At times a piece of poem or passage lifted up from a certain text is used most appropriately in "I’m Scared of Your Eyes". For instance, in page 195, at the outset the sound of guitar reverberates in her ears and it is then followed by Roudaki’s well-known couplet, “the sweet fragrance of the beloved comes….” Or in page 105 “has Soudabeh played a new trick,” the second couplet following quickly after in the immediate lines and completes the sense that reads “Siavash took his tulip flower up with himself” in page 202.

Of course all the poems, proverbs that appear in the body of the text have been adopted most consciously; as an instance take the following line of Ferdowsi “view thou this arrow that I hold in my hand that thou may know that the son Dastan didst kill me most dastardly.” P.204. Over and above the fact that this passage becomes a place wherein the sister ship of Setareh and Mana are shown in the text wherein a fair transaction is concluded in which light is divided into two portions with the artistic light going over to Mana and the historical part goes over to Setareh. However, the said passage is a bitter criticism that the writer levels against the dastardly practice of killing and letting down kings and relatives, which appears in the story of the Bastard offered to a person who was not my murderer. In this place the writer voices forth her concern at Isfandyar seeking justice when one of his eyeballs is in the hand of Setareh in the east and the other is in the hand of Mana in the west.

On the whole eyes and sound play a prominent part in the writings of Hajji-zadeh so much so that when a certain man who figures in her writings goes to a restaurant and orders a pair of big sheep eyes to be served to him. The sun also appears frequently and it represents freedom and love. Music, tto, is another thing that figures prominently in her writings p. 100. We understand that another of the writer’s objectives is the expression of a secret similar to that of the grandmother, which is hidden in the chest page 116. Perhaps the historical secret of being a woman and a lover is explained or hinted at here. If we read the writings of Hajji-zadeh we realize that certain matters have so deeply entrenched themselves within her soul that their traces can be found in her other writings just as myths keep on appearing in almost all writings. On the whole it appears as though Hajji-zadeh sees a strange form of life animating the whole of nature, waters, minerals and plants and for once we feel at one with them. Mana the central character of the story because she refuses to adapt herself to her corrupt environment takes shelter in utter silence and refuses to accept life upon any terms and conditions although she sees the holes made by gun shots on the walls of the Dr.’s clinic. In spite of it all she is still of the view that darkness will one day be annihilated, and the sun shall rise, which will herald a new day. That is the reason why she does not like the idea of retreating back even if the name of the night and darkness happen to be Mana. Although Mana in moments of rare feelings assumes the aspect of a child or resembles a tree trunk that is symbolic of a mother’s uterus in which Mana seeks her shelter nonetheless she takes and bears responsibilities and at the same time switches off to sleep with her eyes half open. This has its reference to the fact that at times revolutions occur in states such as these or perhaps the fact that in every revolution some are asleep while some others are wide awake. Or perhaps that in each revolution some things are utterly hidden. As stated before sometimes the characters merge into one another. Hence it is that the merging of the grandmother, the old woman residing in Sabalan who is the mother of Zarthustra Attas and is a symbolic representation of the mother of the man at the end of the dead end alley or Zoleikha who has a colorful bearing in this work and finally Mana who finds herself again in the being of the old woman. Or the small curves on the cheeks of the men who for the first time figure in the story, p. 12 and then in the clinic of Dr. Partov who asks Mr. Yeganeh “whenever you smile you resemble the small curves that appear on your left cheek,” and then again in page 192-3 in connection with the carriage driver who wanted to become two shots that directly sits on the eyes of the man at the dead end of the valley but suddenly is turned into a small curve alighting on his left cheek” and finally in page 211 a curve that alights on the cheeks of the beloved. On the whole it can be said that this work has been written in a circuits pattern and the female characters in the story have the ability to predict the future events. Other important features that the female characters in this story have are self-confidence (p.127 the collision of the Haley star), the courage to express matters distinctly and clearly like in p. 30, “this meeting was held in accordance with her, no, my request,” or in p. 84 that they no longer wish to be in other people’s places and do not long to be protected by others. Of other important features in the story that the characters display are change and evolution. Mana the rustic girl who entertains the wish that one day somehow someone may be found who can change another’s destiny finally gives up this illusion and realizes that outside of us all there dwells another power that acts independently of us and hence Mana refuses to serve as a mere raw material for Mr. Yeganeh’s writings. The female narrator is at last turned into a writer who, composes psychological stories and is not bothered about fame and longs to sit on a hill of light and hear the voice of the people who constantly utter "I’m Scared of Your Eyes".

Mr. Yeganeh the writer, who by seeing the narrator gives up his love for Mana and by seeiny the pretty skirt of Setareh with hundreds and thousands of folds, forgets about Mana and the narrator and is finally ravished by the horrible beauty if the eclipse and along with the telescope and other equipment and astrologers disappears into an unknown destination so that one he may return and compose another novel about it.

The most attractive character of the novel is the God-intoxicated saint and artist, who are reciting some of the verses of the holy Quran called Yaseen, which is popularly considered as the heart and essence of the sacred book in Kerman Congregational Mosque. He plays the sitar while reciting the holy Quran and awakens the bitter-sweet sensations of existence so that she may approach him with the splendor of light and see him drowned in light like the chosen ones of God who is reciting the verses of kindness and love divine and not only does he not bow down before those bigots who have pronounced his death sentence but to those who stand by watching his death passively like a pack of lambs tells, “ O people of Kerman, I'm scared of your eyes.” By taking into consideration the fact that this work serves a multiple purpose, in the famous sentence of the saint we can detect another meaning other than the one originally intended which is that the saint's eyes are anxious for the eyes to be put out by Aqa Muhammad Khan. Finally it must be admitted that Hajji-zadeh goes on teaching throughout the story just like a teacher and for communicating with the world she believes in something greater than the border, language and ideology. Even when she fails to realize their language she succeeds in establishing a kind of spiritual rapport with them so much so that it can be stated that she does not believe in one religion, language or border. Whenever there is need by perverting historical facts she imparts a new meaning to them entirely, for example by changing Lotf Ali Khan's well-known saying, “I don’t see a single human being here.” Although he has been severely wounded by Aqa Muhammad Khan yet he does not fail to take into account the tyrannies that the Aqa Khan has in turn received, too; and is of the view that the injuries suffered by the Khan is one of the main reasons for the present atrocities that the Aqa Khan indulges in so mercilessly, pp.152-3 and 177. In this work although Hajji-zadeh takes into consideration the social, historical, cultural conditions into account even the process of publication and hints as to how freedom of publication is sadly missing in the country and certain conceited people who just profess to be writers while in reality they are not who write blood with red pens and use literary conceits and embellishments such as “the sky was azure, flame-like, tarred black, and the day was orange colored…” She criticizes them and no work better proves this contention or point than the present one under discussion. A most novel literary innovation about the present work is the new language device that she has made use of. I am in complete accord with Muhammad Ali Olumi who wrote a critical article on the present work which was published in the Bidar Publication, no. 14 in which he said: “the present novel, in its very structure is based upon parallels drawn from myths prevailing in the world of matter and spirit and a spirit of dialectics runs through them till eternity. The world of imagination is faced with the world of tangible matter. Space and time in the novel have been filled by such people who have been portrayed so closely before your eyes.”

On the whole in this novel wherein we are confronted with a woman’s consciousness and sense of mysticism is one of the best of its kind ever produced in the whole realm of Persian literature which tells us many tales with its manifold layers of meanings.

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Research: Critic, Speech, Novel

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