Two-year-old Arat Hosseini is too young to understand the concept of virtual space or of fame. But this hasn’t stopped him from reaching a staggering 267,000 followers on Instagram.
Arat is one of Iran’s youngest gymnasts, his father says, and he is actively promoting his son’s blossoming career on Facebook, Telegram and Instagram.
Arat’s father, Mohammad Hosseini, told IranWire that he noticed his son had what he called “extraordinary” strength when the boy was just three months old. “Arat held my fingers tightly and tried to lift his legs off the ground,” Mohammad said. “That’s when I discovered my son was different. I play with babies and kids a lot, so I could tell that he had unusual strength.”
Hosseini built Arat tiny handles to grip to get an idea of his strength. “At the beginning, Arat could hold the handles and hang for four or five seconds, which means he started holding himself up by these handles before he started crawling. I posted a photograph of it on Instagram.”
As Arat grows, the time he can hang from the bars his father built him keeps increasing. “Arat could hold on and pull his legs off the ground for four seconds, then 20 seconds — and finally he could do it for a whole minute”.
At nine months old, Arat performed another incredible feat. “We went to a forest in the north of Iran,” Hosseini said. “He swung from one side of the river to the other, gripping two ropes without any equipment to secure him. I filmed him, but my parents started crying. They were scared when they watched the video.”
When I asked him what he thought about some people not wanting to watch the footage, Hosseini said, “It might seem scary to people to watch Arat’s videos. People might judge me and think: how could I let my kid be in danger? It might seem that there is no logical reason behind what I’m doing. But I am a father. I’m worried about my son too. If I didn’t believe in the strength of Arat’s hands, I wouldn’t have done it. I believe in my son and his strength.”
When Arat was seven months old, he did a backwards somersault while swinging from the bars Hosseini had made him. “He kept doing them. It was at that moment that I realized I should leave my job and take care of my son.”
Hosseini, his wife Fatemah, Arat, and Arat’s 15-year-old sister Aida live in Babol in the northern province of Mazandaran. At the time he decided to look after his son’s talents full-time, he was working in a fruit and vegetable market. “Taking care of Arat became difficult for my wife and daughter. He was climbing up the walls and jumping down. Since I left my job, I’m always with Arat and training with him. My wife sometimes works as a taxi driver using our car”.
Mohammad Hosseini started training with Arat when he was just a year old. But he is neither a coach nor an athlete. He watched a video about gymnasts online and began teaching what he had seen to his son. “Once, when he was 14 months old, Arat did 15 backwards somersaults in a row — which means he was holding on to the ropes for three and a half minutes. I don’t think any toddler can break this record very easily. But I didn’t have the money to register his record officially.”
Hosseini told IranWire that the family was encouraged to introduce Arat to a more formal training regime with other young athletes, but that it wasn’t right for his son. “Once, province officials visited Arat and took some photos with him,” said Hosseini. “They introduced us to a coach with 30 trainees who are much older than Arat. We attended a few sessions, but Arat was annoyed and uncomfortable, so we stopped.”
Hosseini set up Arat’s social media profile – and his popular Instagram page — almost a year ago. “I have always liked showing other people what Arat can do. I think Instagram is a good platform.” Arat has a lot of Iranian followers, but he has an international audience too, with followers from the United States, Kuwait, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Turkey and Australia, among others. His father posts in both English and Persian, and the page attracts a lot of comments.
Even though Arat is not old enough to fully understand social media, he seems to know he’s a star, and asks his father to take photographs or film him when he does a trick. He then likes to see the post online.
But Mohammad Hosseini said he does have concerns about his son’s health. “Arat receives many comments, some of which scare me. Some people tell me some of his feats could harm him in the future. The reality is that I don’t have money to bring Arat to a specialist doctor or to get help from professional coaches. Arat has seen several doctors, but they didn’t give me any useful advice, so I stopped going. But I haven’t forced Arat into gymnastics. He does it even if I ask him not to do. He enjoys it.”