The Haft Sin is prepared, the traditional table setting with seven symbolic items carefully laid out to mark the arrival of the year 1395 on the Iranian calendar. Each year, for Nowruz, the Iranian new year, a glass jar with at least one live goldfish in it sits alongside the traditional display of things beginning with “s".
But this year, it's different.
“Goldfish on the Haft Sin is neither a tradition of ours nor moral,” states the campaign website for the Little Fish Campaign, an initiative to raise awareness about the cruel treatment of goldfish in Iran during annual new year celebrations. Each year, Iranians buy millions of goldfish, a symbol of regeneration, as part of their new year celebration. Although some people keep the fish, many Iranians dispose of them when the celebrations are over, flushing them down the toilet or simply throwing them away.
The Little Fish Campaign urges people not to include goldfish in this year’s Haft Sin, arguing that it is unethical to keep the fish in tiny bowls, and to discard them without a thought after the Nowruz holiday is over. “These lovely creatures are very sensitive to motion and shock, which can lead to a stroke,” the website says. “Keeping them in such a tiny space is a constant torture for the fish.”
Instead, the campaigners encourage fellow holiday-makers to buy the book The Little Black Fish (see the illustrated PDF here), and place it in the glass jar traditionally reserved for goldfish. They ask supporters of the campaign to take photographs of their Haft Sins and post them on Instagram, Telegram and other social networking sites using the hashtag #mahikuchulu (“Little Fish”).
Shahram Ashrafnia came up with the idea after talking about it with friends. “A Telegram channel in Tabriz recommended The Little Black Fish as a good gift for children,” he told IranWire. “Since Nowruz was approaching, I had the idea of replacing goldfish with the book. This way, the fish are saved, and at the same time it’s a positive way to promote book-reading.”
The Little Black Fish was written in 1967 by Samad Behrangi, a native of Tabriz, shortly before his premature death by drowning at the age of 28 in 1968. A year after it was published, it was chosen as the best children’s book of the year in Iran. Since then, it has been translated into many languages and has won many international awards.
The Little Black Fish is a fable about a young fish that embarks on a long and arduous journey toward the sea, facing many dangers to reach freedom. In the years before the 1979 revolution, many interpreted the story as an anti-monarchy allegory and saw the fish as a symbol for the new generation of revolutionaries and intellectuals. But the founders of the Little Fish Campaign are not promoting this particular interpretation. “We chose it because we thought if a book is going to replace the goldfish on the Haft Sin table setting, then it must be about fish, and must have a cover with a fish on it.” For them, the campaign is not about politics — they have a different goal in mind. “Instead of taking the lives of these voiceless angels, let us give our children the gift of books so their eyes will see the world through a bigger window,” they say. “Let us give them a chance to fly out through this safe window.”
The average age of the campaigners is 25, and they all share a mission of wanting to protect and raise awareness about the environment and wildlife — and to promote reading books. The campaign has adopted a logo of a fish with a tail that resembles an open book.
Shahram Ashrafnia said the book is just the starting point. “We have more interesting ideas to continue the campaign in the years to come,” he said, adding that he and the others organizers are extremely pleased by the attention paid to the campaign so far. “Considering we didn’t do much promotion, it was very well received,” Ashrafnia said. “A number of good writers, publisher and graphic artists have joined us, which is encouraging when you have just starting something.”
There are three steps to join the campaign. First, buy the book online, which the campaign website helps people do. Second, place the book in a glass jar or bowl as part of the Nowruz Haft Sin setting and take a photograph. Lastly, post the photo online using the hashtag #mahikuchulu.
“Anything needs a strong team to succeed,” Ashrafnia said. “Alireza Gholami, a friend of mine, designed the website when I first mentioned the idea. Then we talked about the logo. I wanted a composition of a book and a fish and another friend, Sina Navidi, offered to draw it. Many people helped to launch this campaign. It would not have happened without their help.”
Ashrafnia, Gholami, Navidi and everyone from the Little Fish Campaign wish Iranians a happy 1395, full of books and respect for nature.