The bicycle posse of Maydane Hedayat
The gramophone years
June 11, 2002
It is the children's last day of school tomorrow and I find myself feeling an
ancient excitement about the summer. I remember this feeling from my own school days.
As the days got warmer at the school year's end they carried a gradually increasing
promise of fun filled days to come. You could feel the slow warming of Tehran like
a thin cotton shamad pulling over your skin an inch at a time, heralding the advent
Summer always signified a time when regular routine was suspended. A time when the
long and arduous process of learning came to a halt and play took over, completely,
shamelessly, as if it was sanctioned by the heavens. Of course there was the dreaded
tajdidi, or having to retake a subject's exam at the summer's end.
A tajdidi was a big curse. A tajdidi, or worse, several of them, meant
that the license to have fun in the summer was heavily restrained if not totally
suspended. It meant that a good part of the summer had to be spent studying or worrying
about not having studied. But if you finished the school year without one, if you
had passed all the many subject's final exams then you felt like you were entitled
to your summer: that extended recess in the kind of suspended time that only play
The first time I got a tajdidi was in the first grade. Yes, in Iran we had
final exams, with actual grades and possibility to fail, in all subjects, from the
first grade. I remember vividly having a hard time counting with my fingers and being
very nervous about it -- so the fear of failure was early on ingrained. It was my
failing grade of seven (out of twenty) that gave me a tajdidi in English Spelling
in the first grade.
I spent the entire summer with a tutor of English who had hennaed hair and a funny
musty smell, like wet sheepskin, which I still remember. He always ate all the petit
beurre biscuits that were served with his tea by my naneh, who was, in turn,
convinced that if she gave the guy enough of them I would pass my final test even
though he had nothing to do with grading or administrating it.
The summers that were free of tajdidi I was happy
to claim and run with. Where we lived in Shemiran I had many friends and cousins.
We would ride our bicycles in the shady streets and alleys of Daroos. At one point
we all had chopper/Easy Rider style bikes, which we showed off by raising on one
I remember putting wooden planks over the edge of the swimming pool and riding my
bike over it, Evil Knievel style, or so I thought, into the water. Mine was a metallic
blue, but my cousin's was gold and had a little attachment in the middle that made
a motorcycle noise! Those kids who were especially rich or spoiled or both got the
prize possession: a Mini Honda motorcycle.
At some point every kid wanted, dreamed and begged for this miniature motorbike.
Most our parents, like mine, would never accommodate saying that it was too dangerous.
So my cousin's bicycle with a fake motor was the closest we could get to the dream
of owning a Mini Honda.
Much of the summer was spent playing soccer in the street. Even though there were
big gardens in Daroos that most of us lived in, we preferred to congregate in the
dead end alley of one of my cousin's home and play.
The public nature of the street gave us more license and we, all of us spoiled and
pampered uptown kids, felt the tougher for hanging out in it. I was usually the only
girl. When there was World Cup or some big match, we all went out and picked teams,
which we would label with the names of different countries or our favorite clubs,
"maa Brezil hasteem, naa baabaa shomaa haa hamisheh Brezileen -- baasheh
pass maa Italyayeem" it used to go, or, "naa maa Perspoliseem shomaa
One of the favorite spots, for us kids on bikes, to hang out in our neighborhood,
was Maydane Hedayat. It was a leafy round about in the middle of Daroos with small
shops around it and an ice cream store. We would often go to Agha Reza's bicycle
shop for repairs. The ice cream store provided much cooling relief in sweaty summer
days. In the evenings there was a balali and a gerdooyee and those of us who could
stay out later would indulge.
When we reached our early teens we would ride to each other's homes and listen to
music on our gramophones and talk. My parents had a big TV, radio, and turntable
set, the kind that looked like it could be a chest and part of the furniture when
its sliding doors were closed. Later on I had this 45" record player that was
red vinyl and you had to push the single record into it to make it play -- they were
quite the rage at some point.
My older brother had left me some of his album's to albums which were my introduction
to Rock and Roll. It was Neil Young's Gold Rush and Elton John's early album with
Your Song as the title (which I knew by heart!), and The Beatles' Abbey
I remember listening to Jimi Hendrix for the first time at some friends, to Led Zeppelin
at one cousin's and Uriah Heep at another's. I still remember walking to an older
cousin's over-the-garage studio and hearing Pink Floyd for the first time. Several
of the guys in our group picked up the instrument of the moment: guitar. I remember
enduring, with the patience that only a schoolgirl crush can bestow, the most harrowing
renditions of Deep Purples' Smoke on the water, by various schoolboy soccer
players turned teenage Carlos Santanas.
Later as we grew up we started having dance parties
at each other's home. Some houses, with more lenient parents or adults were better
suited for this purpose. I still remember the smell of chlorine from the pool in
balmy summer nights that were filled with music, youthful desire and laughter. Those
were beautiful nights in which pleasure was sought with innocence as well as a certain
confidence that reflected perhaps both our youth and our privileged status.
We, the kids of our group, slowly started going abroad for school or college. We
would return for summers from various locations in Europe and the US, but our group
was never the same. When we stopped riding our bikes, life became more complicated
and before we knew it everyone was spread to a different lonely dorm room in some
corner of the world, and those summers abandoned, with such youthful certainty, to
play and pleasure became but a pleasant memory never to be recreated.