V.S Naipaul "Among the Believers"
An Islamic Journey - Alfred Knopf, NY - 1981
Khalkhali on the Execution of Hoveyda ( P.  53 - 56 )

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Read Naipaul in the Atlantic Monthly:
"The first bullet did not kill Hoveyda"

KHALKHALLI'S house was the last in a dead end, a newish road with young trees on the pavement. It was near sunset; the desert sky was full of colour. There were men with guns about, and we stopped a house or two away. Behzad went and talked to somebody and then called me. The house was new, of concrete, not big, and it was set back from the pavement, with a little paved area in front.

In the verandah or gallery we were given a body search by a short, thickly built young man in a tight blue jersey, who ran or slapped rough hands down our legs; and then we went into a small, carpeted room. There were about six or eight people there, among them an African couple, sitting erect and still on the floor. The man wore a dark-grey suit and was hard to place; but from the costume of the woman I judged them to be Somalis, people from the nottheastern horn of Africa.

I wasn't expecting this crowd-in fact, a little coutt. I had been hoping for a more intimate conversation with a man who, as I thought, had fallen from power and might be feeling neglected. A hanging judge, a figure of revolutionary terror, dealing out Islamic justice to young and old, men and women: but the bearded little fellow, about five feet tall, who, preceded by a reverential petitioner, presently came out of an inner room-and was the man himself-was plump and jolly, with eyes merry behind his glasses.

He moved with stiff, inelastic little steps. He was fair-skinned, witha white skull cap, no turban or clerical cloak or gown; and he looked a bit of a mess, with a crumpled long-tailed tunic or shirt, brown-striped,covering a couple of cotton garments at the top and hanging out over slack white trousers.

This disorder of clothes-in one who, given Shirazi's physical presence, might have assumed Shirazi's high clerical style-was perhaps something Khalkhalli cultivated or was known for: the Iranians in the room began to smile as soon as he appeared. The African man fixed glittering eyes of awe on him, and Khalkhalli was tender with him, giving him an individual greeting. After tenderness with the African, Khalkhalli was rough with Behzad and me. The change in his manner was abrupt, wilful, a piece of acting: it was the clown wishing to show his other side. It didn't disturb me; it told me that my presence in the room, another stranger who had come from far, was flattering to him.

He said, "I am busy. I have no time for interviews. Why didn't you telephone?"

Behzad said, "We telephoned twice."

Khalkhalli didn't reply. He took another petitioner to the inner room with him.

Behzad said, "He's making up his mind."

But I knew that he had already made up his mind, that the idea of the interview was too much for him to resist. When he came out-and before he led in someone else to his room-he said, with the same unconvincing roughness, "Write out your questions."

It was another piece of picked-up style, but it was hard for me. I had been hoping to get him to talk about his life; I would have liked to enter his mind, to see the world as he saw it. But I had been hoping for conversation; I couldn't say what questions I wanted to put to him until he had begun to talk. Still, I had to do as he asked: the Iranians and the Africans were waiting to see me carry out his instructions. How could I get this hanging judge to show a little more than his official side? How could I get this half-clown, with his medieval learning, to illuminate his passion?

It was what was closest to him, his work as revolutionary judge. He had given many interviews about his sentencing of the Shah's prime minister; and he wanted to tell the story again.

I said, "You killed him yourself?"

Behzad said, "No, he only gave the order. Hoveida was killed by the son of a famous ayatollah."

"But I have the gun," Khalkhalli said, as though it was the next-best thing.

Again the Iranians rolled about the carpet with laughter. And even the African, never taking his glittering eyes off Khalkhalli, began to smile.

Behzad said, "A Revolutionary. Guard gave him the gun."

I said, "Do you have it on you?"

Khalkhalli said, "I have it in the next room."

So at the very end he had forced me, in that room full of laughter, to be his straight man.

It was fast-breaking time now, no time to daily, time for all visitors to leave, except the Africans. For some minutes young men had been placing food on the verandah floor. Khalkhalli, dismissing us, appeared to forget us. Even before we had put our shoes on and got to the gate, he and the African couple were sitting down to dinner. It was a big dinner; the clown ate seriously.

And at last our Lur driver could eat, and Behzad could repeat the sacramental moment of food-sharing with him. We drove back to the centre of the town, near the shrine, and they ate in the cafe' where we had waited earlier in the afternoon, in a smell of cooking mutton.

They ate rice, mutton, and flat Persian bread. It was all that the cafe' offered. I left them together, bought some nuts and dried fruit from a stall, and walked along the river, among families camping and eating on the river embankment in the dark. Across the road from the embankment electric lights shone on melons and other fruit in stalls: a refreshing night scene, after the glare and colourlessness of the day.

When I was walking back to the café, and was on the other side of the river, I passed an illuminated shoeshop. It had a big colour photograph of Khomeini. I stopped to consider his unreliable face again:

the creased forehead, the eyebrows, the hard eyes, the sensual lips. In the light of the shop I looked at the handful of nuts and kishmish raisins I was about to put in my mouth. It contained a drawing pin. Without

The Holy City

I could think of nothing extraordinary; I decided to be direct. On a sheet of hotel paper, which I had brought with me, I wrote: wbere were you born? What made you decide to take up religious studies? wbat did your father do? Where did you study? Where did you first preach? How did you become a~ ayatollah? What was your happiest day?

He was pleased, when he finally came out, to see Behzad with the list of questions, and he sat cross-legged directly in front of us. Our knees almost touched. He answered simply at first. He was born in Azerbaijan. His father was a very religious man. His father was a farmer.

I asked, "Did you help your father?"

"I was a shepherd when I was a boy." And then he began to clown. Raising his voice, making a gesture, he said, "Right now I know how to cut off a sheep's head." And the Iranians in the room-including some of his bodyguards-rocked with laughter. "I did every kind of job. Even selling. I know everything."

But how did the shepherd boy become a mullah?

"I studied for thirty-five years."

That was all. He could be prodded into no narrative, no story of struggle or rise. He had simply lived; experience wasn't something he had reflected on. And, vain as he was ("I am very clever, very intelligent"), the questions about his past didn't interest him. He wanted more to talk about his present power, or his closeness to power; and that was what, ignoring the remainder of the written questions, he began to do.

He said, "I was taught by Ayatollah Khomeini, you know. And I was the teacher of the son of Ayatollah Khomeini." He thumped me on the shoulder and added archly, to the amusement of the Iranians, "So I cannot say I am very close to Ayatollah Khomeini."

His mouth opened wide, stayed open, and soon he appeared to be choking with laughter, showing me his gums, his tongue, his gullet. When he recovered he said, with a short, swift wave of his right hand, "The mullahs are going to rule now. We are going to have ten thousand years of the Islamic republic. The Marxists will go on with their Lenin. We will go on in the way of Khomeini."

He went silent. Crossing his legs neatly below him, fixing me with his eyes, becoming grave, appearing to look up at me through his glasses, he said, in the silence he had created, "I killed Hoveida, you know."

The straightness of his face was part of the joke for the Iranians. They-squatting on the carpet-threw themselves about with laughter.

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