From Subject to Farmer

Every now and then an author and a book appear that must be read widely but are threatened with neglect and oblivion because of their unconventional approach, and lack of easy disciplinary classification. The late Japanese scholar, Professor Morio Ono, the founder of Japanese rural fieldwork in Asia, and his magnum opus, Kheyarbad-nameh (The 25 Year Drama of Iranian Agriculture) belong to this category.

This paper is an attempt to persuade a wider group of readers to read this book by foregrounding some of its hidden treasures. No such book has ever been written about a village in Iran. It is the first book to chronicle the history of an Iranian village over a span of more than a quarter of a century. The story begins with a state-sponsored agrarian revolution under the last shah of Iran in early 1960s and ends with the establishment of an Islamic state on the wake of a grass roots revolution in 1979. It meticulously records the villagers' struggle to get ahead in the midst of a harsh climate and the no less cruel forces of modernization and globalization that hail from a distant and capricious capital, Tehran. Nevertheless the story of Kheyrabad is a story of triumph and hope. Ono's humanistic and micro-political approach allows us to see the growing effervescence of an entrepreneurial spirit in the Iranian countryside that points to the possibility of a prosperous and democratic Iran if only the government in Tehran did not stand in its way. With Kheyrabad-nameh, the political history of Iran, especially the history of the tempestuous upheaval we call the Islamic Revolution, is no longer merely known by the names of kings, courtiers and mullahs. From now on that history might as well be known by such villagers' names as Mash Gholam Reza, Masht Ali Mirza, Abbas Qoli and Ali Reza. No doubt Ono saw their story in no less epic proportions as national histories are often narrated.

A fundamental change of perspective is enacted in this narrative displacement. It is now Tehran that is inakamono, beyond the mountains, remote and unfathomable. The Iranian village finally, and perhaps in the last moments of its long millennial historical existence, is rescued from the tyranny of an urbanist symbolic violence, and placed at the very center of our national history and consciousness.

Ali Ferdowsi
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