It started in 1950 when I was only 9 years old. I lived in a large house in Khorramshahr, the capital of the Iranian province Khuzestan. As our house used to be the official residence of Khuzestan’s governor, my grandfather and namesake Hossein Khorsand, it was a grandiose building in the old traditional style of its time. The main entrance was a high porch, and on Western and Eastern sides were three large basements that stayed relatively cool in the hot weather of Khorramshahr, and in which we welcomed our guests and spent most of our times.
The house had a yard all around it, and in the middle of the backyard there was this beautiful, tall palm tree. Decades have passed since, and still I have the delicious taste of those juicy dates in my mouth. From this tree, one oversaw the entire area and it was a natural place to hang out.
In this large traditional house my brother Bijan had a few dozen pigeons. To me, these were truly exceptional pigeons because they were so much fitter than other pigeons in town. They could fly for an entire day, fly so high that they would disappear in the sky, and they all got much older than other pigeons. My brother was so proud of his pigeons that he invited his friends just to watch them from the roof of our house as he constantly bragged about their unmatched performance. He even named each of his pigeons.
One day we were sitting under the palm tree and were having a family picnic. Before he joined us, my brother Bijan – fourteen at the time – would take a large white bag with a mix of wheat, grains, seeds and raw lintels and he would throw a handful of it to the other side of the yard to keep the pigeons away from us so that they wouldn’t disturb our picnic.
However, as the pigeons were quickly eating their seeds they would walk slowly towards us. In an attempt to keep the pigeons away from us and give Bijan a little extra time to eat his lunch, I decided to throw a spoonful of my cooked rice for them in the farthest part of the yard. At first the pigeons hurried towards the rice with excitement, but when they noticed the nature of what I threw, they surprisingly returned in disappointment.
My three brothers and two sisters found this hilarious, ridiculed me and jokingly said: “Hossein, now you have to go and clean up all the rice you threw away”. We had a lot of fun, but the rejection of the pigeons of the rice – which for us humans appeared so common to consume – had struck me and made me curious.
I was asking myself if there was a hidden wisdom behind their rejection that people are unaware of. I recalled that there are plenty of pigeons on the street that do eat rice and bread, and I would hypothesize that maybe that is the reason that those pigeons are not as fit as my brother’s.
Because of my curiosity about what may underlie their rejection of the cooked rice, I decided to set up an experiment. After everyone went to bed, I returned to the backyard with the excuse that I still need to clean up the rice I threw in the garden. But instead I went to the pigeons, and with a quick attack I was able to catch two of them, take them to our basement, and lock these poor pigeons into a self-made cage with a large metal pail. I gave them water and cooked rice, and warned them that they should not be stubborn and reject it again, for I am more stubborn in my desire to impose so much hunger on them that they will eventually eat the rice.
When I returned the next morning, I noticed that the rice was on one side of the cage and the pigeons were on the other side of the cage, as if they were disgusted by just the looks of it. After several more hours and continued rebellion, these poor pigeons were finally desperate enough to end their food strike. They started eating the cooked rice against their faith and principles.
This experiment lasted for 14 days, during which I would feed them with cooked rice and water. In the meanwhile, my unaware brother concluded that these two pigeons, whom he knew by name, must have flown far away and was comforted with his experience that eventually they will always return.
After two weeks, obviously when my brother had left the house, I decided to liberate the pigeons and observe the physiological effects of their temporarily interrupted diet. I immediately noticed that these pigeons had gotten extremely fat, had developed large breasts and were deeply out of shape. When I released them in the backyard, I noticed that they were dragging their breasts on the ground, as if they couldn’t stand well on their feet. They looked sick and when I encouraged one of them to fly, the poor pigeon fell like a stone back on the ground.
I was stunned by this outcome. And while the experimental set-up was far from bullet-proof, this incident sparked my childly curiosity in the health implications of the food we take for granted, and it would slowly grow into something much bigger.
Continue Reading: A Lonely Journey to Death