For me, this story is about change. Its inevitability, its variety, and the ways in which we wrestle with it or come to terms with it. It seems like Ahura Yazda would rather die before things start to change too much. Does this ring true for you? Is this important in a lot of your fiction?
Oh, I love that reading. When I was thinking about the story, Ahura Yazda was always defined by this bone-deep sense of restlessness, and the way it yanked against a newer but equally urgent desire for the quiet life. It’s a bit like the scorpion and the frog story, if the scorpion decided to buy a house and have a few nice scorpion kids. And I think when you’re walking a tightrope between two conflicting desires, maybe everything feels precarious, especially change.
I wrote this story almost four years ago, along with a bundle of others, and they all almost certainly steal a few themes from each other. Including an anxiety about change, which I’m told I have, sometimes, maybe.
How did this story come about; how did it start and how did it develop?
I came pretty close to digging this story a shallow grave and never looking back. I always started with the creatures in the barn and a trickster character, and it always went downhill from there. There’s a few half-hearted drafts with Zaynab as an older woman, haunted by her dad, but it only clicked into place when I started writing his story. Ahura Yazda’s version of events had a sense of immediacy that I’d been looking for in all the other drafts.
This is probably a good time to tell you that Ahura Yazda is drawn from trickster heroes in Urdu and Persian epics, especially Zal and Rostam from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, and Amir Hamza from Muhammad Husain Jah’s Tilism-e-Hoshruba.
I’m not sure but I feel like there may be some deliberate choices in terms of the creatures, as well as some symbolism. How did you decide what creatures to use?
I was obsessed with the idea of jinn as a kid. They hang out with fortune tellers! They live in a parallel universe! Even though the character of the djinni horse is pretty strictly non-canonical. The simorgh features prominently in Zal and Rostam’s stories, so she was a no-brainer. Beyond those two, I tried to incorporate creatures who could be quickly sketched out, so the story could keep moving.
I love that there is this dash of the immigrant experience in here, a hint at the complexity of it: “Will his daughters only meet white boys in this country? Clumsy morons like this one? Does it matter? Or what, does he truly want them to meet Persian tricksters who drag them to the ends of the earth?” There’s also this underlying thing, even present in the creatures, this . . . feeling out of place, or not-quite-settled/home. Do these speak to your own experiences, are they drawn from your own sense of otherness?
Asking a child of immigrants about the immigrant experience is a loaded question! I’ll say that this story was written at a time when I was interested in the out-of-body experiences that people have in their own bodies every day.
I think sometimes, when people leave home behind, they make promises about what they’ll preserve and how they’ll pass on that inheritance to their kids, their grandkids. I wanted Ahura Yazda to have made those kinds of promises to himself. And as his kids start to grow, I wanted him to ask, Can I really keep these promises? Is that really going to happen?
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