Book review: 'The Wind in my Hair' by Masih Alinejad

Book review: 'The Wind in my Hair' by Masih Alinejad

She calls herself the child of the Islamic Revolution that visited Iran and she has lived nearly all her life under its shadow.

Masih Alinejad grew up in a tiny village of Ghomikola in Iran. As a young girl, she desperately wanted to run around the fields and ride a bicycle and jump in the river. But her brother Ali would never take her as girls are not allowed to do such things in Iran.

Every time Masih wanted to do something different, she was told that she can’t do it. The phrase “you can’t do that” is like waving a red rag at a bull, she says. “It gets my blood boiling,” she writes in her memoir, The Wind in my Hair — My fight for Freedom in Modern Iran.

Though she grew up in a village, she rebelled at every given point and also went on to become a journalist.

She was a two-year-old toddler when the Islamic Revolution overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ending more than two millennia of rule by Persian kings.

Her story is that of modern Iran, the tension between the secular tendencies of its population and the forced Islamification of the society and the struggle of women for their rights against the introduction of Sharia law.

The revolution, according to Masih, took women many steps backward. At every step of her life, Masih was rebelling and trying to set her own rules. Her story is that of a girl who posed questions at every stage of her life and she faced the consequences for that.

She was barely a teenager when she ended up in prison for political activism. While she is in prison she discovers she is pregnant. As per Iranian tradition, her marriage with Reza, her fiancé, was not completed.

For somebody who came from a village, to end up pregnant before the wedding was completely unheard of.

In order to restore the honour of the family, her father arranges for the wedding with Reza, who was also serving a prison sentence.

Even as Masih kept insisting that she hates wedding, her father tells her the wedding is being arranged for the family, “to show that we have raised a fine daughter even though you have given us so much grief.”

The marriage ends abruptly when Reza tells her that he is in love with another woman and wants a divorce. The divorce comes through but Masih also loses custody of her three-year-old son.

Masih’s life is punctuated with numerous such episodes of difficult phases but she goes through them stoically.

On divorce, she says she had notched another family first. She was “the first woman in our family to be arrested, the first to be jailed and the first to be pregnant before her wedding. I would now be the first in all of Ghomikola to be divorced,” she writes.

She narrates her story quite coherently without as much dithering in delving the details of the dark moments of her life in Iran.

She then went on to become a journalist and a strong critic of the Iranian regime. The genesis of her rage against the Iranian authoritarianism is the insistence that women cover themselves with the hijab. Way back on March 8, 1979, hundreds of women turned up for International Women’s Day to protest laws to introduce compulsory hijab and other Islamic restrictions.

Her bold stand on the chador and her constant criticism of the Iranian regime prompted the authorities to exile her.

She first went to the United Kingdom and then moved to the US. While in the US, she started a Facebook page titled “My Stealthy Freedom”, exhorting women to put up photos without their hijabs.

Compulsory hijab, according to Masih, is not part of Iran’s culture. “When you force a seven-year-old girl to wear the hijab, how can it be a cultural issue?” she asks.

The fight against compulsory hijab, she says, is fighting for human dignity. “Compulsory hijab is the most visible symbol of oppression against women, and we have to stand together and bring this wall down,” she wrote quoting her own speech at the European Parliament panel on burkini ban.

According to Masih, the idea for this memoir came from Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. And for this endeavour, she delved into much of her own writings in newspapers and blogs.

Even as you get to know of Masih's journey from a village in northern Iran to New York, you also learn about the trials of women in Iran and the repressive politics that have beset the people of that country.