Death could come upon me very easily now. But as long as I'm able to live, I shouldn't go out to seek death. Of course, if someday I should be forced to face death - as I shall - it doesn't matter. What does matter is the influence that my life or death will have on the lives of others..."
The Little Black Fish (Maahi Siahi Kuchulu
) is a well-known children's book
by the Iranian writer Samad Behrangi
, first published 1968 in Tehran
Although best known for his stories for children, Behrangi was not only a writer of fairytales, but also a keen observer of the social injustice during the Pahlavi reign in Iran. He had a sharp eye for contrasts between the poor and the wealthy, between life in a village and in the sprawling metropoli of modern Iran, and used his observations as plot elements in several of his stories, although often shrouded in allegory.
Behrangi's works were immensely popular during his lifetime, and have become even more famous after his untimely death at the age of 29. The circumstances surrounding his death could be described as suspicious to say the least, for he was reported to have drowned in the river running through Tehran - an unlikely accident during the dry season when there was hardly any water in the river! It is possible that his books made him unpopular with the dictatorship of the Shah, especially in the view of his calls for social reform and abolition of all state propaganda from books used in elementary schools, and many believe that he was murdered by SAVAK, the Shah's notorious secret service.
The Little Black Fish, his most famous work, tells the story of a young dreamer, a revolutionary with fins, living in a small pond with narrow-minded neighbours and a general feeling of oppression. He eventually breaks free and sets forth to discover the world outside the confines of his home. During his travels, he meets inhabitants of the river and the sea, each representing a social group or an opinion in Behrangi's own world, and each being imprisoned by their incapability to dream of a better world, to see beyond their immediate surroundings. To name a few, there are the tadpoles, who have no identity except as a group ("'We call one another tadpole,' replied one of the tadpoles. 'We come from nobility,' said another. 'You can't find anyone prettier than us in the whole world'") and the revolutionary fish, representing the Communist Party of Iran, working together as a group to break the nets of the fishermen, and even the moon:
The little fish looked up at the moon. "Hello, my lovely moon!"
"Hello, Little Black Fish. What brings you here?"
"I'm traveling around the world."
"The world is very big," said the moon. "You can't travel everywhere."
"That's okay," said the fish. "I'll go everywhere I can."
"I'd like to stay with you till morning," said the moon, "but a big black cloud is coming toward me to block out my light."
"Beautiful moon! I like your light so much. I wish you'd always shine on me."
"My dear fish, the truth is, I don't have any light of my own. The sun gives me light and I reflect it to the earth. Tell me, have you heard that humans want to fly up and land on me in a few years?"
"That's impossible," exclaimed the fish.
"It's a difficult task," said the moon, "but whatever they want, humans can..."
Finally, Little Black Fish's journey comes to an end when he reaches the sea
. Around him swim the free and the unoppressed. However, this freedom
proves to be only an illusion
, for the sea is dominated by the greatest oppressor of all, a ruthless king represented in the story by a heron
, who feeds upon the helpless fish. Our hero realises that there is no freedom without sacrifice
, and dies a martyr
's death fighting the heron and bringing him down for the sake of those who will come after him.
Several of Samad Behrangi's books have been translated into English. The above quotations are from Mary and Eric Hooglund's translation, although Behrangi's language is simple enough for anyone with a decent grip of Persian.