by  and translated by Parvaneh Torkamani  /  March 21, 2014  / No comments

Constructing childhood heroes, real and imagined.

The Little Dutch Boy

Statue of the Little Dutch Boy in Madurodam, Netherlands. Photo: Bertknot via Flickr.

Mahan lives in a village in Northern Iran. He is an eight-year-old with a rare disease that causes his hair to fall out. With Mahan’s baldness came feelings of isolation and his condition resulted in hard days at school. Not surprisingly, he fell behind on his studies. Seeing this, Mahan’s teacher Ali tried to find a solution. Ultimately, he decided to shave his own head to lessen Mahan’s suffering. After a while, other students in the class followed their teacher’s lead and, to empathize with Mahan, they shaved their heads too. Now the whole class is bald and no one is different.

  1. Under Eastern Eyes, a column by Yaghoub Yadali
  2. “Enemy…terrorism…nuclear bomb…war.” These words are often used by American media to describe Iran. The image the media presents is often hazy, incomplete, and distorted. The political and military aspects of my country are covered mainly in a negative light.
  3. In Under Eastern Eyes (I have adopted the name from the novel Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad), I will write about those topics which American media either cannot or does not want to talk about. The emphasis will be on social and cultural aspects of Iran although, out of necessity, I will talk about politics, despite my despair.
  4. Under Eastern Eyes, a column by Yaghoub Yadali
  5. Yaghoub Yadali, born in 1970, is a writer and television director. His first work of fiction, the short-story collection Sketches in the Garden, was published in 1997. It was followed in 2001 by Probability of Merriment and Mooning, which was named book of the year by the Writers and Critics Award. His first novel, The Rituals of Restlessness, won the 2004 Golshiri Foundation Award for the best novel of the year and was named as one of the ten best novels of the decade by the Press Critics Award. He has also published many articles and reviews of literature and cinema in newspapers and magazines in Iran.

In this midst of this heartwarming story, people have used the scenario to sell their products. For example, the host of a live TV program shaved his head in front of Ali, Mahan, and the camera. Some other showmen have done similar things. Some have also encouraged Ali’s creative and heroic action in an under-privileged, far off village, and have asked that his story be added to school books. This reaction reminded me of my childhood, reading about Petrus the Hero in my fourth grade textbook. In the story, Petrus lives in a city in Holland where he walks by a dam every day. One evening, on his way home from school, he notices a hole in the wall of the dam. He puts his finger in the hole to block the water that’s pouring through, and stays there all night in the cold. This simple, heroic act stops a disaster from happening and saves the people of the city. Back then, my classmates and I wished our town had a dam with a hole in it so we could block it with our fingers and become heroes like Petrus.

But those years were contemporaneous with the Islamic Revolution of 1979 when bloody battles in the streets, arrests, and political revenge were current and no one was thinking about the lessons printed in a fourth grade textbook. It took several years to realize that the story of “Petrus the Hero” was actually taken from the book Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge, an American Author, who in 1865 had published a book of stories about life in Holland. For a revolutionary and anti-American government it could be a full-fledged disaster if this slight was uncovered and the people found out that the hero in their kids’ textbooks was actually created by an American! I don’t remember exactly when the story of Petrus was eliminated from textbooks, but the story that replaced it focuses on an Iranian teenager who participates in the Iran-Iraq war and, wearing a few grenades, throws himself under an enemy tank. It’s a violent story that’s supposed to inspire a heroic mentality in the 10-year-olds who read it. This story still exists in Iranian textbooks, but I prefer the story of Mahan and his teacher; it’s a humane and delicate story that carries learning and developmental points for kids. At the same time, people in every part of the world, from any ethnicity, religion, or culture, can understand Mahan’s story and think about their fellow human beings when they read it.

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