Foreigners were not popular any longer, being seen as agents of western decadence and many of their houses were targeted. What had been a trickle of my friends going out of the country now became a steady stream. Suddenly everyone seemed to be selling their household goods, saying goodbye to their friends, exchanging addresses. The few who had the presence of mind, or the time, to organise farewell parties did so. Others just left in panic against a background of wailing sirens and the staccato of gunfire.
I was among the fortunate ones to have enough time to do the rounds. Many of my friends I had known since childhood, brought up in their houses beside their own offspring. They were mainly Iranian families with whom I felt one hundred per cent at ease and who had always treated me as one of their own. Was there nothing to tell us that our tears and farewell embraces would be our last? In the majority of cases I never saw my friends again and nor do I know, after the extraordinary upheaval, if some are still alive.
Throughout this time I made a point of keeping in close contact with my parents who had, a few years earlier, retired to Somerset in southwestern England. They watched events on television and clearly shocked, warned me of the dangers of staying on in a country to which they knew I was, nevertheless, extremely attached. As for myself, I was in the very eye of the storm.
By mid-December it became physically too dangerous to stay on. Staying by this time in a private house in Elahieh, outside of the Saadabad Palace where I had been residing for five years with Prince Chahram, Princess Niloufar and Prince Cyrus, life was becoming increasingly untenable.
After a number of false starts, just before Christmas we finally left Iran’s turmoil behind us, never to return. At the actual moment of departure there was no time to tell anyone of our movements and I was keenly aware that my parents would be anxious for my safety but try as I might, I was having no success at all in reaching them.
Shortly afterwards, I arrived back in Seychelles where Prince Chahram of the Iranian royal family had already purchased an island estate in 1975. D’arros Island and the adjoining atoll of St Joseph was a glorious property surrounding a turquoise lagoon, which, in the intervening years had been discreetly, developed as a holiday home. Now, quite unexpectedly, it promised to become much more, and after the bedlam of Iran with its gunfire and pillars of black smoke from burning tyres, the threat of the mob and the mindless terror they peddled, these islands seemed like an answered prayer. They offered peace, serenity and goodwill and, most important, a home in stark contrast to the chaos in Iran which, according to media reports, seemed to be deepening daily.
What is most difficult to reconstruct now, twenty years on, is the feeling all we exiles shared then, that this uproar would eventually die down and we would all return home to our friends, families and former lives. For the classic exile, carrying his home in his heart, his lost life shimmers before his eyes like the image of a water hole in the desert. He all too readily pushes aside the reality at his feet in favour of this mirage. So time passes, lost in fruitless discussion of what might have been, or what may be again.
I, too, suffered the terrible pangs of separation from a country I loved as much as my own, from my chosen profession of oriental linguist which was the result of many years of hard study and from a way of life I thoroughly enjoyed and to which I was well suited.
Fortunately for me however, being something of a nomad by nature and anyway well-used to adapting to life in a foreign country, I soon began to get my bearings again, and, promising to myself to try the island life for only a while, set about learning to understand it.
Meanwhile, D’arros was the focus of much activity. It was suddenly the new family home and all kinds of arrangements were being made to accommodate its new importance in the lives of the owners. Overnight, far from being just a holiday home, D’arros acquired a pace of life that was both hectic and hugely challenging and into whose vortex I was destined to disappear headfirst, following in earnest now the siren’s song.