New book for children set in 1970s-80s Iran explores experiences of Indians during political upheaval

19 June,2024 09:10 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Fiona Fernandez

A new title for children set in 1970s-80s Iran holds up a mirror on real-life experiences faced by the Indian community during a period of continuous political upheaval

The storyline captures the swift shift in Tehran’s social and cultural landscape with the beginning of the Islamic Revolution. Pic/Rane Ashish

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Reading the summary of Persian Nights (Talking Cub) reminded this writer of Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody (with William Hoffer), a gripping memoir of hers and her daughter's escape from Iran after 18 months of being held captive by her husband and his family. This title by Singapore-based Alaka Rajan Skinner is a less disturbing account of her childhood in Tehran where her father, originally a teacher at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages in Hyderabad, lands a job teaching English at the Tehran University Language Centre.

Aimed at pre-teens and teens, it is a simple retelling of events that rocked Iran from the late 1970s, starting with the Islamic Revolution (1978-79) and later, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), and how it impacted Indians in Tehran. Young Alaka and her little brother Kish live a comfortable, secure life surrounded by a large Indian community that forms part of their social circle, complete with picnics and birthday parties. The cultural similarities shared by India and Iran adds to her sense of wonderment. She paints a fascinating picture of life under the Shah's rule, where Disco music blares out of neighbour's homes, and women entertainers like Googoosh perform live on television in homes.

The story introduces readers to the Indian community in Iran.Illustrations courtesy/Shweta Allam, Vishnu Jadhav, Chandrashekhar Aher

Everything changes when the Islamic Revolution begins. The trauma from a child's eyes, be it watching gunfire exchanges, experiencing blackouts, the change in her school routines, to her father's on-campus encounters, and the increasingly private conversations between her parents, sensitively convey the fear from a young girl's perspective. However, we yearn for more such personal anecdotes and encounters.

The sibling exchanges and her brief Bombay trip, could have had a tighter edit. Also, the illustrations by Shweta Allam, Vishnu Jadhav and Chandrashekhar Aher lend it a more comic book-like character. An all-colour storyboard would have elevated Tehran's changing cityscape and added appeal to introduce its target readers to a key phase in Central Asia's tumultuous history.

AVAILABLE At all leading bookstores and e-stores
AGE GROUP 12 years and above
COST Rs 499

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