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A tale of Kobra-Soghra
In they come, shrieking and slapping their heads, threatening to faint

By Alidad Vassigh
August 6, 2002
The Iranian

Two names, Kobra and Soghra seem to have acquired the worst reputation among the Persians. They reek, unjustly perhaps, of that peculiarly proletarian mix of sweat, vinegar [for torshi] and cooked fat that pervades the corridors of Iran's apartment blocks.

I remember when I was doing my national service in Iran, as a policeman, the officer telling us: "What will you do when a couple of Kobra-Soghras come and start complaining at the police station..?" or some such thing.

Can you manage people, he meant to say, the most difficult people? No doubt Kobra and Soghra would come in around eleven or midnight, when the officers are hoping for a quiet evening they could quietly doze through at the counter.

But no, in come Kobra and Soghra, shrieking and slapping their heads, threatening to faint, beside themselves because neighbour Morteza had an altercation with Soghra's husband Mehdi, or Gholam [or perhaps Morteza?].

Kobra is the more mature and portly of the two, a matron. They know her, and only her, as Kobra Khanum in the neighbourhood [it's a small neighbourhood], like the ancient Greeks who would simply say "the king" when referring to the King of Persia.

Soghra is the younger sister, more excitable, but assiduously cultivating her sister's "better" ways [like the way she gathers her chador when boarding the bus, pragmatic but chaste, there's your Iranian woman]. She will no doubt turn into a Kobra when she's sixty, when she will have mastered the art of struggling with daily life without complaining, and can supervise the "torshi" and answer the phone at the same time.

"Everything I know I know from Kobra, bless her," she will say then, when Kobra is in hospital with multiple ailments, such is life. "She taught me to make torshi and found me my man, Morteza." [no relation of the troublesome neighbour]

Morteza is "Mr. Engineer". He has a degree in business administration and international relations from the "Azad" [pay-as-you-go] University; so he drives a taxi while he's waiting to become prime minister, "Ra'is ol-Vozara", as his father is confident he will.

When pressed to talk about politics, as he is sometimes by deferential relatives ["khob donyaa dast-e kiyeh, Morteza-khan?"], Morteza will include his analytical tour-de-force on how "Tudeh made some big mistakes", though he won't say which. "These things were meant to be," he says if pressed to explain.

And if pressed again, he'll sweep the chessboard, as it were, declaring, "the ladies are tired of politics" and call on Kobra Khanum to peel him an orange. "Az dast-e Kobra khanum ye mazzeh-ye digeh mideh," he says, relieved to be in the less analytical world of pleasantries.

The ladies like his jokes: he's handsome. Not Kobra's uncle Mash-Mammad though, who wants to know about the Tudeh's mistakes even as the conversation takes off in another direction, leaving him on the verbal tarmac, thwarted and confused.

Kobra meanwhile asks Morteza if he has cleared the drains in the front yard. "Aqa Morteza mard-e khunast," she says, remembering with shame how she has stared at him in the past as he was clearing the selfsame drains or fixing his taxi in the yard, clad in pajama trousers and an old vest, his big feet almost bursting from his old plastic slippers.

These, let me add, are the yard and drain slippers. He has another pair to drive the taxi: a grimy, barely tolerated pair for an aggressive world beyond the garden walls. They all share a house, Kobra, Soghra, Morteza the husband, and Kobra's parents, very quiet now that they are in their nineties or so. They stare a lot and murmur.

The house consists of a main room with a big television, a vaporous kitchen, an outside room for bathroom and toilets, and two bedrooms, one for Morteza and Mrs. Morteza, and one for Kobra and her parents. All rooms are similar: plain, without furniture, cushions and mattresses against the walls, with various bits of chattel wrapped in blankets and sheets, stacked in corners.

These arouse the curiosity of visiting, and restless, children. The rooms are lit with neon strips, like government offices or kebab shops. The family often gathers on the veranda to eat or stare at the single tree in the yard, or listen to the traffic outside.

Though they have known each other for years, parents and children politely offer each other food or tea. "Naneh jun, hich-chi nakhordi," says, the mother; "Agha jun chayee biyaram?" Kobra or Soghra ask at intervals.

What, one wonders: do Kobra and Soghra think in their quiet moments, when sifting through rice grains on a tin tray - aubergine pickle, mother's diapers, or illusions perdues? Who can say? We may never know unless an idle writer were to develop these entirely fictional characters?

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Alidad Vassigh

By Alidad Vassigh

Ugliest city around
Tehran (astaghforellaa)

Plight of fashion
Moustache, pistachio suits, plastic slippers... where will it end?

Anything but you
United Nations High Commission for Ghorbuneh Cheshaat Beram




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