Why I write
I am a bridge.
Not only between East and West, but also between the past and the future.
I grew up in a family with its feet in the past and its head in the future. My grandmothers were taught rudimentary reading and writing at home, but my father and uncles were university graduates and part of Iran's emerging technocratic elite. I've come a very long way even from that: whereas one of my great grandfathers had 25 wives and concubines, I have a PhD from MIT.
I am curious: fascinated as much by technology as by the human experience. I started writing for Iranian magazines and journals (including the prestigious weekly Ferdousi) at the age of 14. As a journalist, I became acutely aware of the chasm developing between the traditionalists living in south Tehran and the modernists living in North Tehran. My grandparents lived in South Tehran. I lived with my family in North Tehran. I knew both sides.
Nowhere was the chasm more pronounced than in the lives of women. In North Tehran, girls aspired to a university degree, worked in an office, and wore miniskirts. In South Tehran, they married at 14, worked as domestics if their families were poor (or didn't work outside the home at all), and wore chador. Still, a few ambitious girls from South Tehran would work office jobs or teach in Northern Tehran. They would change their clothes outside the office before getting the bus home.
This society was held together by traditional bonds, economic necessity, and the repressive regime of the Shah. But by the early 1970s, some of the modernists in North Tehran became disillusioned with the never-ending search for material success. They started to seek the spirituality they perceived in their parents' generation, and a sense of roots and national identity. This search made parts of the country's traditional "values" attractive to them. Some South Tehranis, meanwhile, had begun to resent the Northerners' material success and the toll it took on their own lives. After all, they were the ones who housed the army of displaced farmers, who built the gleaming North Tehran towers, and who paid the inflated cost of imported food. By the late seventies, these disparate segments of Iranian society drew together in opposition to the Shah. Once the regime had collapsed, society split, and the Islamic republic was born.
By then, I was already living in the US, where I live today.
Over the years, I've thought a lot about what happened back then. And after thinking about that so much, what I see in the US today alarms me. Because the signs are ominous. Half of our society is descending into medieval bigotry, looking for meaning in tradition. The other half is aimlessly worshipping the latest gadget, feeling rudderless and lost. Technologies like social media and the AI behind search engines simply make the conflict worse.
Today, with the benefit of hindsight, I trace the roots of the Iranian conflict to the early twentieth century, when Iran was introduced to modern technologies such as the telephone and electricity, along with Western ideas of individuality. In a traditional society, you must conform to family rules in order to be protected. In a modern society, you are protected by laws and the state. You can survive outside your tribe. But you lose the intangibles: love and comfort, and the thread that connects you to the past. I wrote The Windcatchers to show the roots of this conflict in iran, and its progression. Though the novel is set in Iran, it explores a conflict I see playing out globally. And that's why I write.
“One must fall in love and go;
Winds are moving on …"
— A. M. Azad
Winds are moving on …"
— A. M. Azad