Creation of one soul

Creation of one soul

Funerals of soldiers, many heart-wrenchingly young, were routine.

Whether or not ‘Argo’ bags an Oscar, my husband and I consider it a winner. We were in Iran a few years after the crisis that inspired the film, and while we did not experience events as extraordinary as those portrayed in Ben Affleck’s thriller,  we lived through testing times. In 1986, as hostilities raged between Iran and Iraq, we were based in Ahvaz, a city near the border.

The power plant, which my husband was engaged in constructing, was a frequent target of air-raids. I was relatively safe at home but, occasionally, the sound of sirens would send me scurrying.

Dashing for cover, I was less afraid of losing my head than my headscarf! Foreigners, like Iranians, had to abide by a dress code. I was comfortable in the ‘monto’, a light coat worn over my usual attire, but since no unruly tresses could escape from beneath one’s headgear, keeping my ‘rusary’ (scarf) in place was a challenge.

I once came close to complaint. Travelling by train to Isfahan, we happened to meet the engine-driver. Over lunch in the dining-car, he asked if we found Iranian regulations restrictive. I began to bemoan the scarf but stopped abruptly, and muttered something akin to, ‘When in Rome...!’

It was unwise to be critical. Chatting with an Indian couple, their taxi-driver had casually enquired if anything in Iran displeased them. When they deplored the lack of entertainment, the husband and wife were promptly driven to an imposing building. There, the formidable ‘Pasdaran’ (Revolutionary Guards) rebuked them for craving merriment, while thousands were courting martyrdom.

Funerals of soldiers, many heart-wrenchingly young, were routine. Flag-draped coffins would be borne in procession, accompanied by defiant chants of ‘Jang, Jang Ta Pirouzi’ (‘War, War Till Victory’). The wailing of black-clad mourners remained with us — like the solitary reaper’s song by Wordsworth— ‘long after it was heard no more’.

Brave in bereavement, our Iranian friends invited us to share their Nouruz ceremonies; marked by fervour, not festivity. We observed rituals that went back 2,500 years, to the New Year celebrations of King Darius I at Persepolis. The remarkable ruins of that historic site are near Shiraz, where Iran’s literary luminaries, Hafez and Sa’adi, rest in majestic mausoleums. These lines by Sa’adi adorn the entrance to the UN Hall of Nations:

Human beings are members of a whole.
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain
The name of human you cannot retain.’

Sahar in ‘Argo’ exemplifies this poetic pronouncement, by courageously protecting the Americans hiding at the Canadian ambassador’s residence, where she is the housekeeper. The young Iranian views likely enemies as guests, in accordance with her country’s heritage of hospitality; a hospitality we enjoyed abundantly, thanks to the warm and welcoming people of Iran.

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