Friday, October 09, 2009

Another visit to Tehran

A sign of a man and woman in a bedroom is enough for Iranian TV censor authorities to fudge the pictures. During my three day stay in Tehran , I only had BBC, Rai- Italian and DW German TV channels but they all went kaput as soon as there was any mention of Iran Nuclear story or a sight of man and woman in privacy. Equally surprise for me to read negative media coverage about India in English newspapers that are nothing but reproduction of Govt bulletins and wired news from elsewhere. I guess Iran is now reacting to India's coming under pressure of USA to ditch their old trusted ally . Topics ranging from ‘India losing out oil field project to China’ to ‘State sponsored perpetration of religious minority in Gujarat’ to ‘ Use of Endosulphon on cotton pesticides in Kerala making it as another Bhopal’ conveyed the tone of Iran Govt. Mahatma Gandhi Jayanti celebration at Kendriya Vidyalaya in Tehran had no Iranian govt presence. Chief Guest was a Sudan ambassador.

Images of Iran from the recent post election turmoil were not so visible except discussion on the dinner table. Arrival at the airport was smooth this time. No more closed corridor flanked by card boards. I had thought this as a sign of secrecy but now realized that it must have been due to some construction work . Benefit of choosing a seat on the first row was immediate but short lived. I was the first one to secure visa form but the person at the bank counter had gone for early morning errand . By the time he arrived , net result was the same as that of previous visit - One-hour delay. Hotel Esteghal – formerly Hilton is very strict with check in time.(They blame it on their computer system). If check in is before 7am then full day is charged. Hoard of people who arrive by 5am have no choice but to sit in the lounge. Luckily they allow to have breakfast that starts at 6am. For me, this was the most relaxed one-hour b’fast. This hotel was hosting Iranian Film festival and barring a man on the table organizing batches, there was no cinematic presence or excitement. Next two days, I realized that I have no access to SMS but their business center had an access to the Internet. International Tel calls more often than not, did not go through or when they did, it would get disconnected in next few minutes. Esteghal hotel is lavish with paintings and carpet but at US$200 per day, it is no more than three star hotels elsewhere. It was my first time to try Thai, Italian cuisine in Iran but the taste of fresh raw pistachios is still lingering on my tongue. Peeling up the pink white skin that looks like a rose bud and opening up the soft seed housed under not so hardened cover was a delight to taste. Salad and Fruits in Iran are always juicy and sweet and are the best in the world. Impact of US sanction is visible in the horrible Traffic congestion in Iran. Despite with huge gas reserves, Iran spends US$ 6.5 billion on the import of fuel. They have no access of technology to tap this oil. To make common person happy, govt. gives petrol at 10 cents a liter making life on road choked with cars. However, good roads and no honking tendency make the life little more bearable than being on Mumbai or Cairo roads.

While driving from airport to the city, the sight of Khomeini mausoleum with its illuminating lights under the cover of darkness had always beckoned me. This time, I did venture inside its campus but was disappointed to see it during the daylight. Baring taking a photo with its backdrop, it did not evoke any interest to go inside. This must also be true with few other Iranian families who preferred to camp on the green lawns and have kebabs while making use of its facilities .

Traveling on Valiasr Street makes me conjure the images of Iranian lifestyle during Shah’s regime. This street built in Shah’s time was known as Pahlavi Street. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution the street's name was changed initially to Mossadeq Street (former prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq) and later to Valiasr (Shi'ite Imam). This tree-lined 20 km street in Tehran flanked by glass façade stores, restaurants similar to Champs Elysee's of Paris still exudes a western touch amidst Islamic aura. Tehran university is close by and also is the grand estate of Mohd Reza Shah Pahlevi. If Indira Gandhi’s home in New Delhi portrays simplicity and elegance , Shah’s palace displays the stamp of regalia and royalty. This Royal palace of Saadabad show cases Persian artistry surrounded by greenery. A two-story palace has looks similar to that of US white House .Most of the possessions were looted during revolution but whatever is left with expensive carpets, huge chandeliers and ancient artifacts does show the rich lifestyle. This is just one of the many palaces he owned in Iran and elsewhere in the world as well . Seeing an artifact of 200 AD era in the showcase of the palace , my Iranian woman colleague commented ‘This is so beautiful …..because it belongs to Pre-Islam era’. This summed up the exasperation of young Iranians about current Islamic governance. ‘We don’t want this gift’ was another instant response to the hoarding at the airport that said ‘Hijab is the greatest gift to the Iranian Woman’.

Last day, I finally managed to catch up my date with Chello Kebab. This time it was at Al Borz , a famous restaurant frequented by trendy Iranians. My interest in Persian words continues. Shina, my friend has compiled a list of Persian words that are common in India. I intend to update this list as I gather more such words.

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