Blowing our cover
By Hamid Jalili
Poetry is a "play" that a poet directs in our mind to express messages of love, pain, passion, and yes, at times, social injustice. Whether you take Iraj Mirza's poem literally or symbolically, the characters of the play and its message are worth analyzing. As a reader, you are at the liberty to or not to identify with either character.
From the very beginning of the play, the poet gives us a crystal and clear picture of a scoundrel male character. The woman, on the other hand, is introduced to us as a character obscured by her chador which is covering and protecting her against men. Other than the message of chastity which she is radiating by her chador, initially no other preconceived opinion is suggested by the poet about this woman.
What should we expect from an immoral yet honest man? Immoral, because he is trying to seduce a married woman. Honest, because in advance, he is informing us (the audience, the readers) of his ultimate intention which is - through various schemes - to sleep with the woman.
As the pursuit progresses, although through different means, the intention of this manipulative rascal stays focused on the prize. The woman's principles however, alters and changes as she approaches the final act.
Rape or consensual sex?
Throughout the play, the rascal is skillfully examining this well-fortified woman to determine a "possible" weak point of entry. He would only pursue the options where he thinks he can penetrate. He is smart enough not to challenge the woman's solid principles(s). Notice he immediately retreats as soon as he senses that she is adamant about holing on to her chador. Eventually he was not able to convince her to remove her chador. However, he was able to force her to remove her panty. Now, I'm not a woman, so you tell me which is easier?
The question is, who is this woman. Whom and what does she represent? This icon of chastity, this ideal woman of the ayatollahs, who is she? Is she supposed to be the virtuous role model for all women of the Muslim world? Or is she a manipulative woman who is smart enough to use her chador as a powerful tool to function in a complex society?
Being "anonymous" or being practically "invisible" in public gives us almost limitless power. Humans have always taken advantage of this powerful phenomenon. A rich, successful and well-respected man flies thousands of miles to Bangkok to sleep with a teenage prostitute. A woman is Saudi Arabia who is not feeling too well, or does not feel like taking a shower or putting make up on, or has recently had a nose operation, can easily pull a cover on her face and go out in public to run her errands, talk to and observe many people without being recognized.
Men disguised as women have taken advantage of the power of chador for spying on others. Even women in Iran have used this cover to spy on the family members of their future-to-be in-laws. And recently the Internet has given us the power of anonymity where we can chat and say things that otherwise we would not dare to say due to fear of being recognized by others.
What if she is taking advantage?
Back to the woman in our play, what if she is taking advantage of this powerful cover to have a short, uncomplicated, and relatively safe relationship with someone who, even if he tried, would never be able to recognize her in public or private? What if she is not married and is manipulating this man as he is manipulating her?
What if she is a decent woman who is stuck in an unhappy arranged marriage? Is she wearing her chador by force of her husband or her family or is she wearing it by her own choice? Is she wearing it because the law of the land of the ayatollahs enforces such a dress code? What if she is a non-Muslim dressed in public according to the Muslim code? What if she truly felt powerless and confused, and eventually lost control, and was raped.
The poet proves that chador fails to function as a deterrent against men's intentions, moral or immoral. On the other hand, he is suggesting that education, knowledge, and an open mind are the best means for any woman - chadori or not - to deal with any kind of man, be he a rascal or not. In fact the "weakness" and "strength" of this rascal are clearly determined by the kind of woman he is dealing with. He himself acknowledges his weakness when it comes to dealing with a liberated woman, as he claims that he knows perfectly well that he has no chance of seducing an educated woman. But he gains and exercises his full STRENGTH when he sees a loose chadori with a tight chador...
And symbolically, if you will...
The woman, and who she is, is the main point of Iraj Mirza's play. The poet invites us to not to judge a book by its cover. He is proposing that on the stage of life, we will be faced with "uniforms" and "covers" that are merely the facade. He is inviting us to take RESPONSIBILITY for identifying the true nature of what is under each COVER.
The man in this play got what he wanted solely because he worked hard for it. We too, need to work extremely hard and take responsibility for identifying the true nature of a bearded man with a holy turban on his head and COVERED in a long robe. Did we ever ask "Who is this man?," -- this COVERED man -- when he took us to a corner and whispered the sweet words of freedom in our ears? Did we remove his cover to see at least the means of rape...!?
A proud son of a mother who is proud to wear the chador by choice.
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