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EPISODIC-45 ‘I’m sorry, Nilanjan. You can’t go in!’ I can see Tahmineh struggling to get these words out of her chest. I can see her face turn pink, her large eyes floating in deep disappointment. What? Someone puts out the bright November sky. We are standing outside the tight-shut gate of the Zahir-od-Dowleh cemetery. I [...]
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EPISODE-44 “Attar traveled all seven cities of love, While I’m still at the bend of its first valley.” I hear Fayizeh softly uttering these lines. I know this couplet. I also know most educated Iranian know this by heart. This is Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi paying his tribute to one of the great Sufi poets of [...]
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EPISODE-43 The fabled city of Neyshabur is about two hours’ car drive from Mashhad. The road offers the same monotony of dirty-yellowish undulated fields merging into nude grey hills in the horizon, which appears to remain unchanged all over Iran. It’s starkly different from the usual scenes we watch beside the highways or railway tracks: [...]
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EPISODE-42 Mashhad, the capital city of the Razavi Khorasan province in eastern Iran is known to the world for a shrine. I spend a whole day in that shrine. I have no friends in Mashhad, so I go alone. Haram-i-Imam Reza is about 10 minutes by taxi from my hotel. I leave the taxi mid-way [...]
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EPISODE-41 The word "Shiraz" always conjures up in my mind a nostalgic picture of my college-days. Late-1980s. As a boarder of the historic Hindu Hostel, which within its notorious walls had sheltered among numerous other celebrities, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President, my general routine was to swim past the day in deep slumber, wake-up [...]
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EPISODE-40 Architectural engineering, art, religion, tenets of kingship, dynamics and dimensions of socio-economic relations, history of empires: Persepolis offers all these, and more, depending on the Musafir’s interests. More than anything else, however, Persepolis proclaims the evanescence of human achievement. Lost for hours in the ruins of gates, halls, columns, staircases, bizarre animals and birds, [...]
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EPISODE-39 “So you see what your Alexander the Great had done!” says Somayeh as a deep sigh escapes her. The oblique emphasis on ‘your’ and ‘great’ doesn’t escape me. ‘Parsa’ in old Persian. Parseh in modern Farsi. Takht-i-Jamshid in popular parlance and Persepolis in English: the vast palace complex of the Achaemenid Empire, two and a half millennium [...]
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EPISODE-38 “Azizam, my friend, is this a town of closed small scale industries?” I ask Shahram. Yazd, central Iran. Located by the fierce Bafgh desert, it is one of the oldest living cities in the world, with its history firmly rooted in the Median empire in the 6th century BCE, if not before. As I [...]
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EPISODE-37 Returning from the salt-lake, just before entering Varzaneh, I am transported to this Bishnupur-afternoon, as I notice the pond, and ask my driver to stop the car so that I can spend a little time on its banks smoking a few cigarettes quietly. Of course no one is taking a bath here, nor is [...]
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EPISODE-36 Varzaneh, however, is not just about the Desert. Nor is it about the uncanny Salt Lake alone. Villages for me hold a deep attraction, no less fascinating for being tedious. I find it difficult to put my finger on the exact pulse, but villages seem to have an intrinsic rhythm of life that can [...]
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EPISODE-35 Someday I must traverse a desert. My first engagement with such a vast expanse of lifelessness left me unsettled. Flying from Chicago to San Diego I had seen from above the vast Death Valley. And the dark crumpled Badlands. It’s frightening. I was to see the same heart chilling face of Nature flying from [...]
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EPISODE-34 My initial plan was to head for Yazd city, the capital of the central Iranian province of the same name, from Isfahan. But my friend Javed insists that I visit his home-village Varzaneh, about an hour’s drive from Isfahan. Javed is a student of Mathematics at the Isfahan University. He, however, apologizes that his [...]
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EPISODE-33 I come out of the Sheikh Lotf-Allah Mosque drained. I come out lonely and sad. I am not a believer. I have no business hypothesizing on the subtleties of spiritual attainment in the scriptural sense. But the Sheikh Lotf-Allah mosque has driven into me the realization that intense art does not lead the heart [...]
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EPISODE-32 The engagement between a non-believer and a shrine is always fraught with tense uncertainties. In most cases the engagement doesn’t happen largely because of disinterest of the non-believer and at times due to the strict exclusive nature of the shrine. But when the heart is inquisitive enough and the sanctuary welcoming, the meeting is [...]
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EPISODE-31 Water in the Zayande-Rud was a happy spectacle of course, but it looked familiar. Much of my childhood memories are filled with very similar evening gatherings of lovers seeking a moment of proximity and old people seeking a moment of quiet breath on the bank of the Hooghly River, which was about three minutes [...]
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EPISODE-30 Hind – the magic of this name truly dawned on me in Iran. Only in two other countries have I confronted such deep interest in India: Pakistan and Bangladesh (It has never ceased to surprise me, however, that I haven’t met a single Bangladeshi, ever, who despite sharing my mother tongue, refers to my [...]
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EPISODE-29 The first thing that I notice on return from Iran is a friend request from my Neyshabour friend Malihe. Facebook is prohibited in Iran! In no country have I seen such widespread and random use of proxy servers. I wonder though, isn’t the regime watching? Foe sure it is. The number of people thrown [...]
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EPISODE-28 Walking around the streets of Tehran, Isfahan or for that matter any major city of Iran quickly leads you the intriguing experiment that this nation is. The memory of Tabriz, for example, conjures up in my mind a series of snapshots each of which could be translated into a huge note of interrogation, none [...]
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EPISODE-27 Our exploration of the culinary-cultural space of Nizam Restaurant continued even after I went to Presidency College and stayed at the Hindu Hostel, made famous by many ex-boarders, including Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President. Here of course there was no discipline at all. Indeed on the door of our room we had put up [...]
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EPISODE-26 Unlike the Americas, Christopher Columbus, or his ilk of civilization never arrived at Kandovan. This small village, therefore, is not a carefully preserved relic, unlike the Tyunyi Village, although it’s completely a different matter that a republic without a pub is a relic, and yet Iran does claim to be a republic without a [...]
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EPISODE-25 Murghi keh nawai dard ranad ishq ast Paikee keh zaban-i-ghayeb danad ishq ast Hasti keh keh bah neestit khawaneed ishq ast Wa-aanach keh az tu tura rahanad ishq ast What is here that is associated with the great Sufi Saint Shams-i-Tabrizi? ‘Nothing,’ says Mehdi with supreme disinterest. Mehdi looks typically Greek. Six feet tall. [...]
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EPISODE-24 I return to the Cultural Center with confused heart and mind. When I had planned my trip to Khoy to pay my respects to Hazrat Shams-i-Tabrizi, I had at the back of my mind a whole lot of curiosity buzzing about the place. The visit to the tomb had so prosaically put an end [...]
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EPISODE-23 In the tomb of the great Sufi Saint Shams-i-Tabrizi if there’s no high-strung celebration of faith, there’s no restriction either. This place surely is one of the holiest Sufi pilgrimages in the world, yet anyone, at anytime can come, spend a quiet moment and leave. Anyone indeed. As an Indian I find that phenomenal. [...]
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EPISODE-22 Allowing opportunities to the tongue to take rest is not among Iranians’ many virtues. They love to talk. So, between Khoy Airport and Mortaza Barin’s home, I once again hear from him all that I had read about Khoy on the net. I am also told that his friends are eagerly waiting to meet [...]
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EPISODE-21  I begin my journey to the land of Shams with a hundred butterflies in my tummy. Again. Because it involves flying, again, and indeed a little more.  Soon after Sayad drops me at Mehrabad domestic airport in Tehran, I realize not a single sign here is in English. Every announcement is being made in [...]
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EPISODE-20 “The flavour of the bait overcame the sufferings of the trap. Otherwise existence would have been impossible.” Mortaza Barin was deeply surprised. Khoy is not really a hot tourist destination, so what really induced me to mark it in bold fonts in my Iran tour plan – he asked point blank in his mail. [...]
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EPISODE-19 Our train is panting at a small nondescript station. It’s quite late in the evening. Namaz stop. Many passengers have gone to offer their evening prayers at the adjacent mosque. But not all. Many are using this as a cigarette break. Some others are simply stretching their legs. I see no point in sitting [...]
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EPISODE-18 Kalisa-i-Vank. The oldest Christian church in Isfahan’s Armenian quarters, New Julfa. A fairly large courtyard beyond the plain light-brown clock-tower gate. On my right is the main cathedral, a stern brick building with an Islamic dome, and on the far side of the courtyard is a belfry, some more buildings, and a black stone [...]
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EPISODE-16 Colours, flowers, fountains and gardens are not enough to hold me back too long from the raw hurly burly of the streets and bazaars. I am a guy lost in the labyrinth of life, as lost as we were the other day searching Tehran’s unmistakable landmark the Milad Tower. Milad was quite high in [...]
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EPISODE-15 But Ali Qapu is not the only palace that the Safavid kings had erected to entertain royal guests. Shah Abbas II had also got the Kakh-i-Chehel Satoon constructed in the middle of the 17th century. The comparatively small edifice again with a talar facing a long rectangular fountain studded pool, stands in the middle [...]
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EPISODE-14 In spite of being a terrible map-reader, I am a neat traveller. Barring once in Nepal’s lake-studded Pokhara, I have never found myself completely out of my depth after stepping into a new place. I always have an itinerary in place that leaves enough space for getting lost in between ‘must visit’ destinations. For [...]
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EPISODE-13 Opulence repulses me. It’s very difficult to explain. Opulence, I have noticed, evicts the natural bustle of life. It evicts “everything loud with big voices”. It evicts the “deep baying of feet and hands swelled in the streets”. And the deep hollow left by that eviction, opulence fills with measured nature, tranquillity, beauty and [...]
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EPISODE-12 Swiss educated Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was a very fine example of the falsity of the term ‘objective history’. He was full of himself. Shah was not good enough a title for him. On October 26, 1967, six years after a guy orbited the earth for the first time, and two years before another [...]
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EPISODE-11 The world order that the World War I devoured also included the Qajar reign in Iran. 1921. The Russians, the British and the Ottomans all wanted a piece of Iran. Sultan Ahmed Shah Qajar, in his early 20s, was completely out of depth. Brigadier General Reza Khan of the Cossack Brigade struck at the [...]
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EPISODE-10 In Iran’s history, Tehran is yesterday’s affair. At least the Tehran that we roamed around in the squeaking and groaning Peugeot Sedan, which Sayad had received as a gift from his dad. We followed the list of must-visits which Tahmineh had drawn-up on her dressing table mirror! That Tehran really came into being during [...]
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Episode 9 Reviewer Analysis The bazaar at Isfahan, which is often cited to have the most classical architecture of all the bazaars in Iran, is comparatively less crowded. I roam around freely, until at one point the rasteh appear to be completely jammed with a crowd that is clearly headed for one particular shop. I [...]
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EPISODE-8 We keep walking. At one point the crowd thins. An open space. A Timche. Colours. Carpets, laid out on wooden platforms, one after another, till the other side of the hall. Some hang from the walls. Others simply rolled and dumped on the floor. Most of them appear to have designs in blue, green, [...]
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EPISODE-7 One major Silk Route passed by Shahr-i-Ray (pronounced Rayi), which today is a residential district in south Tehran. This habitation was founded between 3000 and 2000 BCE. William Shepherd’s map of ‘medieval commerce’(1) is a wonderful guide to Asia’s Silk Routes. It shows how various silk routes originating from Beijing passed through Kashgar, went [...]
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EPISODE-6 I did see many things in Iran that appeared huge in my Bankura-borne small-town gaze. The Persian cat for example. Cats that I saw at Tehran’s parks, or the one that Mehdi, my friend from Tabriz, picked up from the road to cuddle in Kandovan, a strange village, about an hour’s drive from Tabriz, [...]
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EPISODE-5 My conservation with Tahmineh meanders into why doesn’t she have a child? Her reply is startlingly candid, “I do want a child very much. But Sayad is not willing.” “But why?” “You ask him.” I did. It was primarily economic insecurity. I did have a very long chat with Sayad over this. Tahmineh and [...]
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EPISODE-4 Much of the living room’s floor is covered with a beautiful rug, which Tahmineh informs me is really of a cheap quality. On that she has spread a table cloth, over which she arranges food. Wah! I tell myself, dastarkhawan, a pure Mughal tradition! Butter, honey, yogurt, olive pickle, walnuts and dates. I notice [...]
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EPISODE-3 ‘Breaking bread’, I was taught in a gruelling copy-editing training many many years ago, is a dated Biblical expression for sharing a meal with someone. But I will insist on calling the sharing of my first meal with my Tehran hosts, Sayad and his wife Tahmineh, breaking bread, even at the cost of sounding [...]
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EPISODE-2 By the clock, Tehran is exactly two hours behind India. Sharp at quarter to five, a voice - first in Farsi then in laboured English - announces that we are ready to land at Imam Khomeini International Airport. The enormous lattice of lights, fast closing in, tells me we have arrived at a bustling [...]
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EPISODE-1 “Musafir az Hind amad-ast. Ma beh zoodi beh khaneh khwahim raseed.” Even my tattered Farsi lets me understand that Sayad is telling his wife on cell phone that I have arrived at the Tehran airport and will be home soon. And my heart freezes. Musafir? Me a Musafir? A few lines flash in my [...]
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