Going to the movies in Tehran
March 24, 2005
Going to the movies was a paradox in my family: While it was
a common event and we probably went to the movies at least once
a week, it somehow maintained its novelty and remained an exciting
For us kids it was hardly ever the actual movie, it was rather
the whole process of going to the movies that was all the fun.
It was the KaalBus [Mozzarella] or Egg Sandwiches with a lot of
Khiar Shoor [dill pickled cucumbers] that my mom and my aunts made
which would make the entire theatre smell as if someone had farted
the moment we took them out of their bags. It was the Pepsi and
the Canada Dry treat which we would generally not have at home
until years later. It was the bus or the cab ride, even the walk
to the theater with a dozen or so cousins which made it all the
I loved hiding in every single alley and scaring my cousins,
busy trying to take turns sharing stories to make themselves
older and more mature ... And then there was always the miserable
trip back from the theater when the younger kids Aar Mizadan
because they were either hungry, or thirsty, or had to go to
the bathroom, or worst of all, they were tired or sleepy with no
to behave themselves: They already had it all.
Going to the movies with Dayee Ali, who is only 5 years older
than I, was my most favorite activity in the universe. First of
all, my mom or my aunts always took us to these Indian movies,
from Sangam to Avareh, which were loud musicals with exaggerated
acting, screeching singing, and silly dancing, which we hated with
vengeance. I have learned to appreciate the cliché Indian
movies as an adult but not as a 5 year old ... Dayee Ali took
us to the movies that he liked, which were the movies that we liked.
Second, and equally as important, although we liked Kaalbus or
egg sandwiches, Dayee Ali would buy us food that we loved like
Chaghaleh Badoom [baby almonds] with a lot of salt and Zoghal Lakhteh.
Finally, if a fight broke out between us kids, which always did
particularly on the way back, we always fight it -- There were
no parents to prevent us from getting it out! Ali was only 5 years
older than the rest of us, 4-5 years younger than my oldest cousin,
and he would be in the fight himself. Despite his threats that
he would never take us again, and despite our parents’ orders
that we HAVE TO listen to EVREYTHING Ali said, we never did and
we always returned home not exactly the same.
Although all of us
skillfully put on a good face, it was that torn shirt,
or ripped pants, or the little bruise on the arm or a scrape
on the knee that gave it away -- We would then all defend ourselves
at the same time, blaming someone else, at which point the moms
would threaten we will never be allowed to go to the movies again,
and we would do it again the following week.
It was just yesterday when Dayee Ali took us to see “Jason
and the Argonauts”.
I was not in school yet. I remember how kindly and responsibly
he helped Mansoori, my nagging cousin, after he fell in the waters
jumping over those impossible Tehrani Joobs. Although he made the
movie miserable for the rest of us, complaining about his hurt
knee and moaning about his wet socks and shoes, we gobbled up every
second of that movie to the point that after some 40 years, I still
remember that metal giant with the steam coming out of its ankle
and the fighting skeletons.
We were glued to that screen and none of Mansoori’s howlings
seemed to matter and we all ignored him even on the way back, as
we were trying to convince each other that metal giants and walking
skeletons were real and we had friends who had seen them -- They
As I grew older, 12, I started taking my younger sisters to the
movies. I loved taking Niloofar to Cinema Cine Monde, where they
always showed Farsi dubbed Disney movies or other animated films
from Europe. Niloofar and I would buy one bus ticket and catch
the route 215 bus to Takhte Jamsheed Ave to go to paradise.
like Ali bought us ChaGhale Badoom with his own allowance, I would
buy her ice cream with my allowance. Once this woman accidentally
hit Niloofar and she dropped her ice cream - Although she was a
crier, she didn’t this time. She just looked at me with those
big beautiful eyes. All I could say was “Eyb NadaReh” [it
doesn’t matter] and bought her another one ... Walking
home was fun that day.
As I grew even older, 15, and now in college, I started going
to the movies with my own friends, all at least three years older,
some would drive. We could be ourselves, we could be silly, we
could be... and we could smoke, even in the theaters. In 1973
as I reached forward to tap the ash on my cigarette, the guy in
front of me was also lifting his right arm to put on top of the
seat. My cigarette and his hand painfully collided. I got a bit
of it on my pants, but he got the whole burning tobacco right in
the middle of the back of his right hand, as if I had thoroughly
extinguished that cigarette on that hand.
I could not imagine the pain. Although close to our own age,
he cursed like a grown man. Apologizing repeatedly, with the lights
now on and everyone else cursing at all of us to shut up and watch
the film, my friends and I rushed out of the theater, laughing
in both embarrassment and the excitement of whole ordeal.
I never smoked in the theaters after that, and quit smoking completely
a few years after that.
A little over a month ago, we were invited to a friend’s
house for Christmas (2004) and the host had invited a large number
of guests -- Looking around the room, most guests seemed pretty
much the same age, with kids, also close in age.
This gathering of dressed up grown ups, the aroma of unmistakable
Persian food (e.g. Ghormeh Sabzi, Saffron, rice, Cutlets) and kids
chasing after each other, reminded me so much of our own gatherings
at my grandmother’s and how similar and yet how different
they were. By the way, yes, they did prepare Ham and Turkey and
different potatoes and cranberry sauce ...
Bored with the typical Iranian men discussions where every single
one of them knows everything and sure of it (e.g. I call it “whose
dick is bigger discussions”, but no one dares to show his),
I decided to join the women’s group. Unfortunately I think
women were talking about men, particularly about us the husbands
because as soon as I got close to them and was ready to sit down,
they stopped talking and started looking at me with a silly smile,
basically telling me to leave without exactly saying it.
I finally decided to join my most favorite group, the teenagers,
also heavily involved in their own discussion, which interesting
enough, was not about just boys or just girls, it was rather about
drugs, and alcohol, and addiction and even smoking!
My daughter, in the heat of the discussion, and to support her
point, turned to me and asked me to tell them the story about how
kids smoked in Iran and at what age and, and then “ye ye
dad, please tell them about how you burnt that guy in the theater” ...
Towards the end of my story, Sameera, the oldest daughter of
a family we had just met at that party, quickly got up and politely
asked me if I would tell her dad that story!
She rushed to her dad and dragged him out of the men’s
group - When she returned with her dad, he already knew the story. “Aghaa
Bahram” he asked, “do you remember which movie theater
this happened?” When I heard this, I froze in my place. The
joy and the pride that my story was so interesting that a teenager
wants even her dad to hear it, gave place to a dark and very uncomfortable
suspicion of why this man is asking such a specific question? Is
Before even asking him that question, I looked down and there
it was: a substantially bigger scar than a small cigarette burn
on his right hand!
I could not believe this recurred nightmare. “Beh Been[look],
I am sincerely so sorry. I no longer even smoke, it was just a
short few years, a period I went through as a teenager” I
explained. I was so embarrassed, so ashamed, and so pissed off
that people get away with fucking murder and here I am, in California,
several thousand miles away from Tehran, and 30 years later, facing
this man whom I so innocently injured.
To everyone but his daughter’s surprise, he came towards
me and although I had already raised my guard even a leg to defend
myself in case of an attack, he hugged me and “Ghorboon Sadaghe” me.
Because of all the commotion, his wife and the rest of the guests
joined, even the territorial guys -- I guess no one’s was
going to be bigger than mine that night!
After my friends and I had left the theater that night, Hamid
had too left in pain. Careless about his burn, he finally develops
a bad infection to the point that he was running fevers and becomes
seriously ill, requiring serious medical attention.
He was hospitalized at Mehr Hospital for several days -- On his
last day, a nurse’s aid who had come to his room to change
his bandage, would not stop staring at him to the point that she
even neglected why she was there and carelessly hurts the poor
man while replacing the bandages.
Hamid and his mother objected to the woman’s profoundly
rude and even improper behavior -- Although very apologetic, she
was crying that Hamid is her husband’s brother or his son.
In tears, she explained that Hamid, from head to toe, had an uncanny
resemblance to her husband, who had lost his entire family in the
earthquake, referring to the devastating quake of /Buin Zahra earthquake
of 1341 (1962) where over 10,000 innocent people were killed. “These
are my husband’s hands, this is his nose, bekhoda Khanoom,
and this is his hair” the nurse said.
Offended by the woman’s claims, Hamid’s mom asked
her to leave the room immediately, and in fact even pushed the
woman out of the room, threatening that she will have her fired.
Crying and apologetic, she would not quit. Despite his mother’s
gross objections, Hamid insisted her to stay and to finish her
Hamid’s father was a close friend of Takhtee’s, the
highly motivated and accomplished Iranian wrestling champion. After
the Qazvin quake, Takhtee heads up a relief effort and helped many
families to adopt orphans who had lost their parents in the quake.
Hamid, a first grader in 1341, dazed and confused after the quake
had hit, was assumed to have lost his entire family to the quake
and was adopted by his new family.
Hamid’s biological father, who was actually the only other
survivor of this killer quake, was transferred to Tehran immediately
for treatment after the quake, which is also where he met Simin
khanoom, the nurse’s aid, whom he married a year later.
Hamid stayed with his adopted family and regularly visited his
biological father and his four half siblings ...
He came to the states in 1977 after finishing college.
As I was listening to his stories about Takhtee’s visits
with his parents and how sad they were when Takhtee died (was killed),
I lit a cigarette and asked him: “Let me see your left hand”.