Using oral history method in “Who Wore My Clothes?”

Akram Dashtban
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


The book “Who Wore My Clothes?” includes the memoirs of the freed POW Mohsen Fallah. The interviews, compilations and writings have been conducted by Mahboubeh Shamshirgarha. It has been released in 2017 in 573 pages by Sooreh Mehr Publication on the order of the office of Resistance Culture and Studies of the General Department of the Affairs of Provinces and Majlis (parliament) of the Art Center.

The work, in oral history form refers to retelling of the memories of a combatant who with the breakout of the conflict in western Iran, went to unsafe areas before the all-out attack of Saddam’s army to Iran, and was taken as captive on 24th of March 1982, and finally after eight years and four months and 29 days of captivity returned home on 23rd of August 1990.

In the book’s introduction, the writer refers to how she got familiar with the work’s narrator, Mohsen Fallah and writes, “In one of the trips of Rahian-e Nour - the pilgrimage to the former battlefields during Saddam’s imposed war on Iran – and hearing a brief account of his story, I became eager to write his memories with emphasis on a ten-year period from the beginning of the war till the end of his captivity; especially since I had a lot of hope that perhaps, the recording and publication of the memoirs could specify the identity of an unknown martyr who has been buried mistakenly instead of the owner of the memoirs and terminates the expectation of a family who is looking for their child. The reason for choosing the book’s title – “Who Wore My Clothes?” – was this.”

Shamshirgarha in the book refers to one of the attractive subjects of Fallah’s life part of which reads, “I started by force and with the last power I had in my body to take off my shirt little by little and left it in a corner, unaware of the fact that what destiny it would figure out for me and my family and more important than us, for another combatant and his family! Perhaps, if at those moments, some of the next stories came to my mind, I would never have been willing to even open a button of the shirt. But free from these thoughts, I took off my shirt and put it on the hot soils of Abbas's plain.”

The book’s interviews started in 2013the result of which is 90 hours of conversation and expression of memories in accordance with the timing sequence. The author of the work in the introduction of the book tries to explain her methodology, which emphasizes the standards of writing a book with the oral history method.

Removing the ambiguity of the text and revising the work is part of this standard. Shamshirgarha has tried to inform the narrator of how the book has been compiled and written and confirm or mention their accuracy through revising the work, and thereby obtaining some of the materials left behind in the mind of the narrator. According to the author, the result was "to arrive at the details that were referred to its generality in the interview, and also the mentioning of particular names previously forgotten was the valuable achievements of this review.”    

In addition to reading the book, the author has conducted interviews with a few persons who were present in the narrator’s memoirs somehow in order to verify the memoirs.”

The author in the book has sufficed to express about the personal and family memoirs of Mohsen Fallah before the revolution briefly and generally and has tried to leave no point in paying attention to the beginning of the war period, especially during the captivity of the narrator, and to state all details accurately.

This text is not a free and fictional account of memories. In other words, the author has not put Fallah’s memoirs as a pretext for writing and a means of imagination to produce a fictional novel or story of the narrator's life, but she has tried to refrain from any manipulation of content and meaning in order to transfer the reader the concept of what she herself has heard. In this context, even the narrator’s interpretations have been used.

The memoirs start with Fallah’s teenage years and then his employment and marriage is narrated. The passing away of Fallah’s wife during betrothal prompted him to turn to religious and collective activities to cope with the event. With the onset of conflicts in the Kurdistan region, Fallah went to the Kurdistan region through being involved in jihadi works and popular aids, and then the story of the fall of Khorramshahr and his return to Tehran, and being recruited in Basij (voluntary) forces and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) for dispatch to the war fronts is retold.

The story of Fat’holmobin Operation is narrated from the page 109 of the book. In the operation, he was given the responsibility of the armory and then entered the battlefield as a military force. In his memoirs, he mentions commanders such as Haj Ahmed Motevaselian, Haj Ebrahim Hemmat and Hasan Bagheri, speaking about their services in the operation. In continuation, he explains about how he was wounded and ultimately taken as captive in Abbas plain.

After explaining about his freedom and the returning home of the POWs, what is highlighted in the book is the story of a martyr who was buried mistakenly instead of Mohsen Fallah. The author sought to discover the story through going to the neighbors of Fallah’s family. In a memory from Mahmoud Qavami from the village of Yousef Ababd, in the page 403 of the book, we read, “We went to Karaj’s Red Crescent to deliver the body. I was one of the persons who had been chosen to identify the body. We lived in each other’s neighborhood for many years and had grown up with children of this family. When I went inside the morgue and opened the shroud, I saw Mohsen! From his eyebrows, beards, much hair, nose and mouth, I found out that he was Mohsen. Then, my uncle went inside. He saw the body and identified.” The event caused another person with apparent resemblance to Mohsen was buried instead of him. In the book’s introduction, the author asks the readers that after being informed of how and when and the area where Fallah was capture as well as by considering the resemblance of his face with the missing martyr whose story has been explained in the book, if they know any looked-for family whose biography is consistent with these specifications, inform the work’s writer.

At the end of the book, the photos and letters of the war and captivity times have been printed.

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