Skip to main content

Seda: Voices of Iran

Shahriar Mandanipour (Essay) Wheatfields or Apple Orchards

At book readings, authors are often asked, Why do you write? One says, I write to inform and enlighten people. Another explains, I write because it is my socio-political responsibility. One more declares, I write for myself. Yet another suggests, I write for the sake of literature and the beauty of language. And one writer dares, I write to achieve immortality. Their many different answers each contain a story, because they are storytellers. And I, too, have a story of my own.

I need to begin back in fourth grade. Until then, my mother would always write my school compositions for me. But one day when I came home for lunch, she had gone out, and I was forced, for the very first time, to write my composition myself. In Iran, it is customary for teachers to select the subject of composition assignments based on the season of the year. At the time, it was Autumn—describe the Fall, instructed the teacher. I had little time before the afternoon school session began, and so I sat down to write. After struggling through the first few sentences, suddenly I saw myself writing words that I had never thought of before. Furiously, I wrote of a field whose wheat stalks have turned golden and are ready to be harvested. I wrote of a shepherd sitting in the shade of a tree and playing his flute while his sheep bleat and graze nearby. In this vein, I wrote and wrote until suddenly I realized I needed to hurry back to school.

Before that afternoon, whenever the teacher made me read my compositions in front of the class, I had mostly received a B or B-minus. But on this day, I was sure I would earn an A-plus. For the very first time, I shot up my hand to read my composition. I read of the melody of the shepherd’s flute, of how happy the sheep are, and of the golden wheatfield that is ready for the harvest. But as soon as I read this sentence, the teacher started to growl. "Wheatfields are not harvested in the Autumn!" she shouted. I continued to read anyway. I was proud of the words I had written, about how the wind blows in the golden wheatfield, and about how the golden wheat stalks, ready, eager, to be plowed, to dance. "You stupid boy, wheatfields are not plowed in the autumn," she snapped again. She gave me a C-minus.

Years have passed since that day. I have published ten volumes of short stories and novels. I have managed to cross over the walls of a sterner censorship than my teacher’s that afternoon in Iran. And now that I have also crossed over the threshold of fifty, I know how I’d answer that question about why I write. I write to bring a wheatfield to harvest in my own words, in my own autumn. If I have succeeded, or will succeed, it will be because perhaps there are some who may benefit from the crop. Each grain of wheat is a word and each word a grain toward a story. In the Islamic account of Adam and Eve, the two are driven from heaven to earth after eating not an apple but grains of wheat. What the first pair of lovers ate in Eden eat isn’t important. What is important is for each of us—all the storytellers of the world—to bring our own apple orchards, or wheatfields, to harvest, in our own time and our own seasons.

Perhaps there will be those who will eat from them, and are driven to heaven.


←  Go back                                                  Next page