Ma's Iran memoirs '77-79... A Rocky landing at Tehran. Chapter 1

This is the first of a series of posts written by my Mom about our life in Iran. About how we landed there in the late 70s. Here memories of the life and culture there and the food which are coming subsequently. The retreat in the story post revolution days. And her reconnecting with Iran through her Parsi daughter in law and her family.

"(In this post I have tried to narrate the experiences that I had during the most transitional period in Iran. These views are purely mine. I was a young Indian housewife at that time. I might have misinterpreted a few of the political implications and some of the facts might have been blurred due to distance in time.  I sincerely apologize if I have hurt the feelings of anyone RK.)

The Iran story begins

I happened to live in Iran when the country was passing through the most turbulent and transitional period in its political history.

It was in the late seventies. Shahenshah (the king of kings) ruled over Iran. People seemed quite happy. Oil, underneath the ground, changed the fate of the country. The British, Americans, Japanese-all come in search of oil. With abundance of oil came abundance of money and arrogance. The country did not seem to be ready for the sudden outburst of money.

Iran in the 70s lacked infrastructure. Huge houses and cars were there but there were no roads to ride them on. The sense was that the country could not even take out oil on its own. They needed outsiders to do the job for them. So the need arose for engineers, who would build the nation, as well as doctors.

It was at this time that we met an Iranian doctor in U.K. who became quite friendly with us. He would talk about the oil of his country and show us slides of Iran. He painted a rosy picture of his country to the Indian doctors. Finally, he managed to convince my husband to work in Iran promising very high pay, a fully furnished bungalow and many other perks. After that he went back to Iran with his family. We still wonder what his interest was.

A rocky welcome and then a kind Samaritan

We took an Air France plane and bid adieu to the U.K. By that time K’s dad had already bagged a senior surgeon’s post in a hospital at Tehran with the help of the Iranian doctor. K was just a child at that time

After getting down at Tehran airport, we went straight to the designated bungalow, of which we had been dreaming for the last few months. What we found instead was a very modest apartment of two rooms. What a great shock it was! But K’ s dad was not the one to take things lying down. He refused to take the flat and all of us went straight to the Indian Embassy in Tehran. I think, you are all pretty well acquainted with the lacklustre attitude of the Indian Embassy abroad. However, they did provide us some shelter in a dormitory. We spent a day or two there.

After that we met a young British engineer named Vince. Hearing about our plight, he took us into his huge apartment and gave us shelter and treated us courteously. He was given a beautiful flat because he was a British national. They had different pay scales for different nations for the same post. For example, A grade pay for the Americans and the British, B grade pay for the Indians and the Pakistanis and so on forth. Bangladesh was not yet born or may have just been born.

Warming up to Tehran

We stayed in the big flat of Vince for a nearly a month. K’s dad was working in a hospital of Tehran during this time. Finally he threatened to quit and go back either to U.K. or India. Then the authorities relented and put us up in a 5 star hotel free of cost. We liked it quite well initially. We just had to take out the menu card and order different kinds of food like kebabs (both meat & fish) , caviar etc. But we soon got bored and longed for a meal of ‘aloo sheddo and bhat’ (Bengali mashed potato and rice).

After a month or so, the hospital authorities rented a fully furnished house for us. Things started looking up for us from this point. We slowly started liking Tehran. It was a beautiful city and hopefully it still is. There were beautiful gardens and mountains all around the city. There were narrow open drains on both sides of the road, like the ones we find in Kolkata. Not for passing dirty water though but for water which came down from the melted snow at the top of the mountains.

Firdousi square was one of the important junctions at Tehran. The climate was extreme-either too hot or freezing cold. All offices started at 8 am in the morning and continued till 1 p.m .Then there was a break for ‘siesta’( afternoon nap). People came back at 4 p.m and continued till 6 p.m. Friday was the day off in place of Sunday. Muslim religion was the most predominant one. In the evening, there was the sound of ‘namaz’ being read out.

Food was subsidized for everyone in the open market. People never cooked ‘rotis’ (bread) at home. Instead they bought hot ‘naans’ (in different sizes), wrapped in newspapers, and took them home. Food was pretty cheap. Girls dressed in Westernised clothes including mini skirts. Americans and the British were held in high esteem."                                                                                                                (To be continued)