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Have you ever read a book, and clutched your heart in disbelief as the words brought to life, your life? I hadn’t until I came across Parinoush Saniee’s I Hid My Voice, published by the Canadian press, House of Anansi. As a child, when it came to speaking, I was a late bloomer, so much that my family assumed I was dumb. What then ensued were fretful trips to the doctors, ending with a gentle assurance (that I was medically fine) and a big, fat bill. {For the record, I do talk now. In fact all the almonds my grandma made me swallow so that I would start talking soon (Indian belief) have backfired as I won’t shut up}

The book, on the other hand, is far more interesting than my riveting childhood tale. The writer—best-selling author-sociologist-psychologist Parinoush was banned in her home country twice—even more inspiring. From the portrayal of Iranian culture to complex family dynamics, this book will tug at your heartstrings for the mere reason that we all have felt vulnerable, angry, broken and unfairly caught in the whirlpool of adults.

Q1. May I know how the idea for the book, I Hid My Voice, came about? Also, I was a little disconcerted with the conclusion—the child still ended up addressing his father as, “Arash’s father” and not his own. Was that intentional?
I had encountered many children who started speaking later than the normal age and the cause was primarily the consequence of commonly known reasons (I won’t elaborate these cases here as it is a long discussion on its own).

However, occasionally the reactions and behaviors of the people surrounding the child (family/friends) to this issue cause the delay to transform into a serious and complicated problem. Eventually, the problem snowballs to the point that the child loses his confidence to speak and the lack of ability/confidence to speak manifests itself into “Not Wanting” to speak at all. By not speaking, the child disconnects with the others, and in his mind takes his revenge.

After the book was published and specifically after the movie was released, many people contacted me and shared their experience pertaining to this particular problem. I was intrigued as I started to realize that the issue is a lot more common than what I had previously assumed.

I’d like to point out that the notion of “Not Speaking” isn’t limited to children and their families. In fact, one can see the exact behavior among the youth in societies where freedom of speech is limited or non-existent. Today, in Iran, we have a generation that cannot or does not obey the rules set forth by a chauvinist society. Since the normal way of protesting has serious consequences that hardly anyone is willing to endure, they have chosen an alternative method that is “Not Speaking”.  They have drawn a line between themselves and the society. Therefore, we don’t know what is going on in their minds. By not allowing their inner thoughts and ideas be known, they protest and take revenge on society and its governing bodies and perhaps hurt themselves as well.

Back to the ending of the book and why the main character calls his father “Arash’s dad”. Fact is, he suffered so much trauma during his childhood that it left him with irreplaceable trauma. Childhood trauma can’t be forgotten or expected to heal on its own unless they are treated methodologically by professionals.

Q2. Looking back to your childhood, did you use silence as a means of protest?
I was an extremely talkative, and energetic child. Since the age of four, I have been reciting long poems in front of hundreds of people. Obviously, “silence” was not my weapon of choice to protest. Perhaps I protested and took my revenge on adults by talking non-stop.

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Image source: www.thestar.com


Q3. How challenging is it to be a woman writer in Iran? How supportive was your family when you first expressed your desire to write?

Writing in Iran is a challenging task for both men and women.  However, I think Iranian women’s strength to withstand hardship has been the contributing factor in a remarkable growth of the number of women authors. I did research for one of my speeches last year and the statistics that I gathered to support this growth.

Regarding my own journey to becoming a novelist, I’d like to mention that it was an unexpected transformation for myself more than anyone else. Because my job required that I wrote extensively—reports based on the findings of my research at different organizations. The reports had limited number of readers who either worked in those organization or were involved in the research or had interest in the subject matter. The general public has no interest in reading technical reports full of statistics, charts, and graphs. I suddenly decided to use the findings of a research that I had conducted and was personally very interested as a base for a novel. I was confident that the public would also have a strong interest in the subject matter too.

At first, I was embarrassed to even share the idea with my immediate circle. Even my husband was surprised when he found out about my novel. Once he read my book, he convinced me to publish it. I was still in doubt, but he encouraged and supported me in any and all ways possible. In fact, I had unconditional support from my entire family as I was raised in a family that praised and highly encouraged creative endeavors. I knew they were all very proud of me, specifically my father.

Q4. How do people react to the cultural representation in your book? Do they accept the hard truth (that men and women indeed can’t talk to each other in public and will be arrested and beaten if they do), or do they think it’s just a work of fiction and that such a reality can’t truly exist?
I don’t fantasize about the obvious truth in our society. People have always been aware of the truth. The government loosens up or tightens the restrictions as they deem necessary. Meanwhile, people live their lives regardless and constantly find creative ways to confront and combat the restrictions. I believe, artists and intellectuals have a responsibility to show the truth (if and when they are masked and hard for ordinary people to see) and the consequences that they bear.

Q5. Having been banned twice in your country because of your books, has it become difficult to consider Iran your home?
If someone dear to you becomes seriously/terminally ill, do you abandon him and cut all your contacts? Do you deny you are related to that sick individual? Do you choose to forget your duties and obligations in helping him get better or healed?

 

Author: AD

Born and raised in India, Anisha Dhiman moved to Toronto to study Publishing and then Lifestyle Media at Centennial College. Writer, social media strategist and content creator, Anisha is the founder of Five Question Series, where she profiles people… you guessed it, by asking five questions. In her free time, she enjoys reading and trolling people with puppy GIFs and memes. Her only phobia? Losing her sight, but staring at the screen all day long doesn’t help much.

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May 9, 2017

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