A message from death row
Farzad Kamangar's last letter: 'Is it possible to teach and be silent?'
Once upon a time, there was a mother fish who laid 10,000 eggs. Only one little black fish survived. He lives in a stream with his mother.
One day the little fish said to his mother, “I want to go away from here.” The mother asked, “Where to?” The little fish replied, “I want to go see where the stream ends.”
[Little Black Fish is the title of a short story for children, written in 1967 by dissident teacher Samad Behrangi. The book, banned under the shah’s regime, tells the story of a little fish who defies the rules of his community to embark on a journey to discover the sea.]
Hello, cellmates. Hello, fellow sufferers!
I know you well: you are the teacher, the neighbour to the stars of Khavaran [the cemetery in eastern Tehran where many political dissidents were executed during the 1980s and buried in mass, unmarked graves], the classmates of dozens whose essays were attached to their legal cases, the teacher of students whose crime was their humane thoughts. I know you well: you are colleagues of Samad and Ali Khan. You remember me too, right?
It is me, the one chained in Evin prison.
It is me, the quiet student who sits behind the broken school benches and longs to see the sea while in a remote village in Kurdistan. It is me, who like you, told the tales of Samad to his students; but in the heart of the Shahoo Mountains [in Kurdistan].
It is me who loves to take on the role of the little black fish.It is me, your comrade on death row.
Now, the valleys and mountains are behind him and the river passes though a plain field. From the left and the right side, other rivers have joined in and the river now is filled with more water. The little fish enjoyed the abundance of water … the little fish wanted to go to the bottom of the river. He was able to swim as much as he wanted and not bump into anything.
Suddenly, he spotted a large group of fish. There were 10,000 of them, one of whom told the little black fish, “Welcome to the sea, comrade!”
My jailed colleagues! Is it possible to sit behind the same desk as Samad, look into the eyes of the children of this land, and still remain silent?
Is it possible to be a teacher and not show the path to the sea to the little fish of the country? What difference does it make if they come from Aras [a river in north-western Iran, Azerbaijan], Karoon [a river in south-western Iran, Khuzestan], Sirvan [a river in Kurdistan], or Sarbaz Rood [a river in the Sistan and Baluchestan region]? What difference does it make when the sea is a mutual destiny, to be united as one? The sun is our guide. Let our reward be prison, that is fine!
Is it possible to carry the heavy burden of being a teacher and be responsible for spreading the seeds of knowledge and still be silent? Is it possible to see the lumps in the throats of the students and witness their thin and malnourished faces and keep quiet?
Is it possible to be in the year of no justice and fairness and fail to teach the H for Hope and E for Equality, even if such teachings land you in Evin prison or result in your death?
I cannot imagine being a teacher in the land of Samad, Khan Ali, and Ezzati and not join the eternity of Aras [Samad Behrangi drowned in the river in 1968]. I cannot imagine witnessing the pain and poverty of the people of this land and fail to give our hearts to the river and the sea, to roar and to inundate.
I know that one day this harsh and uneven road will be paved for teachers and the suffering you endured will be a badge of honour, so everyone can see that a teacher is a teacher, even if his or her path is blocked by the selection process, prison and execution. The little black fish and not the heron bestows honour on the teacher.
The Little Fish calmly swam in the sea and thought: Facing death is not hard for me, nor is it regrettable.
Suddenly the heron swooped down and grabbed the little fish.
Grandma Fish finished her story and told her 12,000 children and grandchildren that it was time for bed. 11,999 little fish said good night and went to bed. The grandmother went to sleep as well. One little red fish was not able to sleep. That fish was deep in thought.