I lived in Iran for just about over a year at a time when the Islamic revolution was at its zenith 1978-1979. Though I was quite young that time I have had in a small way witnessed the power and society transfer from a westernized Reza Shah to the Islamic Fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini…. I still remember living in ‘Bandar Lengeh’ where my Dad worked as a Doctor among the many Indian Doctors who worked in Iran during the Shah Regime.
I also remember the various trips we made as a family to visit palaces in Shiraz, Tehran and so on… The long drive to ‘Bandar Abbas’ in a Jeep as the Indian consulate used to be in Bandar Abbas which was 300 kilometers away. Mostly when Dad had to do some paper work. These trips would mean we will stop at some cities on the way where other doctors, some who were Dad’s friends would be living and practicing… I think there were many Indian doctors and engineers that time in Iran, at least the Bandar Abbas and Bandar Lengeh areas….
I don’t remember much of the Shah regime as the revolution broke immediately after we came into the country. I still remember my dad carrying my sister; and my mom holding my hand and we all running out of a mall that was built multi levels underground and there was some kind of explosion on the first level… Luckily we were at the road entrance area and was able to swiftly move out. I still remember the visuals vaguely, but I am not sure if it was exactly that way because over the years that incident would have got cleaned and restructured in a different way… but I do remember the panic among the people running….. this was in 1978….
In Tehran on arrival we had lived in an American hotel which was permanently closed immediately with the start of the revolution. I remember this because My dad one day said so reading the news… This is the place where I first tasted cheese and biting it thinking it was butter was such a bad experience that the next time I ate cheese was after almost fifteen years.
I never went to school during my life in Iran and was homeschooled because the nearest English medium school was in Bandar Abbas 300 km from where we lived. I think many of the Indian kids I knew also did not go to schools. With the revolution I remember that the TV that used to have Farsi versions of spiderman and other cartoons slowly switched into long times of prayer and Islamic discourses…. I remember once when we went to the market a few teens came up and pulled my mom’s hair, may be because she did not cover her hair. And I think she used to cover her hair there on…
I have heard my dad say that life was so westernized in Shah’s Iran as he lived there for a year before we joined him. And after the revolution started and Khomeini came to power many things changed. He used to say that liquor was banned, though I remember my dad and his Indian friends used to get together and have booze parties… I think Liquor must have been illegal and they must have got it from illegal sources then…
I remember a group of Keralites who once came to our house after they heard that the doctor in that area was a Malayali. This group were from various places in Kerala and bits and pieces of their stories I have heard my parents tell.. the ordeal they went through coming in launches and walking through deserts and in the back of pickup trucks for weeks with limited water and food…. The story about some of their fellow travelers dying during the journey and they having to abandon the body and carry on…. I still remember one of the guy saying that when they reached the border and entered Iran they were spotted by an Iranian who took them all to his place and gave them food, water and lodging…. This story of the Iranian (may be even a Khomeini Supporter) helping these illegal travelers have always reminded me that goodness and humanity always exists above and beyond belief systems….
My Dad had a lot of Iranian friends, I guess many were his patients who became his friends; merchants, shopkeepers and so on… I even now remember this one guy named Ibrahim who used to come to our house and bring us stuff when he returns from his travels… He also used to bring ‘Urud dal’ with him as it was not available where we lived and my mom would make Dosa for everyone…. These were the few times we get to eat Dosa in Iran….
We would let Ibrahim and his friends sit and eat and they would drink sambhar from the serving spoon and I would ask my dad, why they do so in such a unhygienic way and he would say, they do so because they are close to each other… I liked that but for some reason we always had our share of sambhar in a different bowl, not sure if it was hygiene or lack of closeness that prompted us to do that…. Iranians were not the only people who brought Urud dal, many north Indians and Pakistanis also brought it when they came and I think Dosa was the most precious food for us during that period…. I think it was during this same time that my mom started cooking and even eating non-vegetarian food.
One of the Iranian friends of dad also had a wife in Kerala and he even spoke some Malayalam. He must have had a family in most ports I would assume…. But I have heard him only speak Malayalam…..
We lived next to the beach, but no one ventured into the beach, it was not the one where you go swimming at least as far as I remember
Though it was tough times for the country as a kid I have had mostly good memories of that times….. May be that is why as I grew up I got attracted to movies from Iran and literature from the greater Persia…..
I remember that sometime after the Shah left, there was no more flights traveling out of Iran and I guess that was when my parents decided it was time to move. I remember vividly the 9 hour launch journey to escape to Dubai and take a flight to India. Lying on the deck on blankets along with many others getting out of the place. I was young back then and so now thinking I don’t feel we had the same problem we witness for many people. I don’t think there was a fear of life, or I don’t know…
But I guess my parents would have felt the pain having two kids aged 8 and 3 on the deck of a launch 9 hours in sea.. When I look back I think all these experiences have helped my view of this world, and to not take anything for granted, and how things could drastically change one day.
Why Am I writing this now? I don’t know, may be because I daily read the news of syrian refugees trying to get out and move to safe places. Our case was very different because we had a country to go but if there was no country to go to, if we were fleeing our own country, one can only imagine the length of the tunnel one enters.
If I remember correct my dad told us he was going to Dubai, but went back to Bandar Lengeh again taking the Launch and worked there for some more time and then left the place and moved to Dubai. Some memories remain so powerful that even after so many years they play an important role in defining a part of you. No wonder I feel quite homely when I go to a persian restaurant even today
The common man’s struggles exist in every place though some are more painfully edged than others. But beyond religion, beyond belief systems, beyond borders there is a sense of humanity that connects us all together. That is the chord we need to reach out to…