Saturday, December 25, 2004

Tehran- a place with great landscape, people

Streets of Tehran on the evening of December 21st appeared more dense with cars than other days. This was special day for Iranians – Yalda: a day in a year where night is the longest. All Iranians like every year celebrated this night by eating watermelons, special Iranian sweets (Gaz) and chatting with families and friends either at home or outside but celebrations were muted with no music or laughter from youngsters. This represent today’s Iran. A city and country where a younger generation is at cross roads with people who govern the country. It is as much similar when teenagers wish to rebel against “do’s and don’ts” imposed by elders but have no means or courage to do. And so are Iranians - they suffer in silence with a small measure of subjugation and fear with a hope that US would do something to liberate them but without any devastation as that of Iraq.

My second visit to Tehran gave me this opportunity to understand the psyche of young Iranians and also admire wonderful landscape draped with misty chilly weather of zero degree sprinkled with powdery snow. Tehran with a population of 12 million laid out in square blocks, tree lined long boulevards, buildings with long paned glass windows and sloping roads amidst backdrop of snow clad mountain range give a feeling of being in any German or Swiss town.

For most outsiders Iran represent another side of Islamic coin (the other being Saudi Arabia). Perhaps Iranian establishment, given a choice would outdo their Arab counterparts to prove as true inheritor of Islamic values. But what makes them hard to succeed is greater influence of culture over religion. Iranians appear fiercely loyal about their culture than religion. They feel that Islam in Iran is imported, thrust upon them - culture is what identifies them. This is reflected in almost negligible attendance in mosques and passion for western habits. Use of Farsi language is prevalent every where and so are the eating habits. Saffron sprinkled rice with Kebab- Meat, Chicken and Shrimps accompanied by Curd and Iranian roti is almost staple diet for meals, Visitors are greeted with platter of fresh fruits – Cucumber, Orange and Grapes. Nuts- Almond and Pistachio are all over streets. Young woman who are forced by authorities to cover their head do it symbolically with colorful silken scarves covering only half - making sure that carefully highlighted hair are noticeable and also their branded jeans and shoes. In Iran most of the workforce in factories are woman and they work in all there shifts. Alcohol which is strictly prohibited is available at short notice through contacts. State television that broadcast nothing but religious sermons and benign plays are replaced by satellite channels. Net cafes teeming with youngsters.

Few would notice the economic slide Iran has undergone since the Islamic revolution by Khomeni in 70’s. During Shah’s regime, exchange rate was 70 rials to a dollar and now it is 8,000. Population was 1/3rd (now it is 70 million plus). With almost 2/3rd of young population, unemployment and young restless mind- Islamic Mullahs are worried that their days could be numbered. But having said that they have ensured Tehran has an excellent infrastructure of wonderfully crisscrossed flyovers, modern buildings and no power shortage. With planting of Christmas trees on outskirts, Tehran maintains greenery even in winter. Roads are clean and drainage system immaculate. It is nice to see water melted from snow clad mountains is passed through planted trees. With petrol costing 10 cents a liter, cars are everywhere. Iran boasts their indigenous car and most of the cars are locally produced. Iran is one of few countries in the world that provides high quality hemodialysis treatment for all their citizens free lifelong. And this is despite having a war with Iraq that costed billions of dollars over 10 years.

As an Indian, I was amazed to see influence of Farsi on Hindi language. The words that I thought were derived from Urdu are actually Farsi. Words like Asman, Darya, Khoobsurat, Hum Shakal, Gawah, Kushti, Einak, Mohabatt, Dushman, Dost, Mehman and list is endless including numbers from Ek, Do, Teen .. till sow and hazar. If any Indian can know bit of Farsi grammar, it’s not so difficult to understand this rich language.

Tehran is a nice place to visit to enjoy natural landscapes, meet wonderful people. My only wish is - if it could come out of draconian shackles of Islamic Moolahs. When that happens: Yalda would be match to any winter carnival in the world.