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Top of my lungs
Childhood story

October 8, 2001
The Iranian

I was singing at the top of my lungs when I heard a laugh, "Mom... you stink!"

-- "Do you want to know how much I stink? Let me tell you a story about singing when I was exactly your age."

My nine-year-old son Roshan loves to hear my childhood stories. He sat down and looked at me with eager eyes.

-- "I used to go to a public school in Tehran called Ferdowsi. There were two Ferdowsi schools; one for girls and a much larger one around the corner for boys. Every year on the 9th of Aban, which is sometime October, a large number of public school kids were taken to a stadium called Amjadieh, for perform in a big birthday celebration in honor of Reza, the Shah's oldest son.

"We would perform all sorts of synchronized movements (or what we called "narmesh"), accompanied by music, for thousands of people. And of course the Shah, the queen and their son were at the stadium too. Every year we would wear colorful uniforms and were given things like balls, batons or different colored ribbons. One year we were even given a hula-hoop to make the show more interesting.

"Mind you, only 5 days earlier, high school students had to do the same thing in honor of the Shah's birthday. In other words, he kind of threw himself a huge party and invited himself to it. Every day for more than a month, from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, we had to practice, practice, practice. When I came home I had to go straight to bed, too tired to even eat."

-- "Well, why did you even go?" Roshan said. "Didn't your mom just call and say you couldn't go?"

-- "Actually, one year she did try. She went to the principal and told her that I was too weak to attend. But she was told that the higher officials did not like excuses of any kid and that I better attend. So I did. Anyway, when I was in fourth grade, they decided that girls would perform together with the Ferdowsi boys, and in the middle of the program all of us would step out, form several rows, and sing a song in praise of the Shah, and then step back into our place.

"One day the fourth graders stayed back at school and our principal came into our class accompanied by a man whom she introduced as a music master. He was going to teach us the song. He gave each of us a sheet with the lyrics written on it, and told us to listen to him sing it a few times."

-- "What were the words?"

-- "Oh, things like: 'Dear Shah, you have been our ruler for years but you will stay in our hearts forever'. The whole song was in praise of the Shah."

-- "But it was his son's birthday, and you sang for his dad?"

-- "That's right. Anyway, the music master then asked us to start singing the song. And we did. Then he asked us to sing it again and listened silently with a frown on his face. On the third try, he started to walk around the classroom listening carefully. After we finished, he looked at us and said someone was singing really off key, but he couldn't figure who. So he divided the class into two groups. When the first half finished singing, our half started. And his frown deepened. Then he divided us into smaller groups. Let me tell you, I started to get a bad feeling at this point."

Horrified, Roshan shouted, "Oh my god, oh my god, don't tell me, I don't want to hear it, I know what happened..."

I continued against his protests: "And then there were only 4 of us left..."

Roshan covered his ears: "I can't stand it. It was you, wasn't it? You were the one! Oh my god!"

"Yes! It was me. I was good at writing. I was even taken to other classes to read my stories aloud. But I could not sing for the life of me. In front of the whole class and my principal, the music master pointed at me and said: 'She's the one'!"

-- "Oh my God!"

-- "I cried that day and went home really upset. I was a good student -- a shaagerde zerang -- so my parents came to school and made a compromise. The music master agreed that I would step out with the rest of the fourth graders, but would only lip-sync."

-- "But that's awful!"

-- "Oh yes it was. For the whole month in practice, I would step out with all the other students (boys included, to add to my humiliation) and just moved my lips. Then came the big day: 9th of Aban. We were taken to Amjadieh on a bus and waited patiently for our turn. There were at least 20,000 people there and I knew my Maman and Baba were there somewhere in the crowd.

"The program started and we moved our orange balls in harmony with the music and put out a pretty nice show. Then the music stopped and all of us stepped out and formed several rows. The music master came forward, stood in front of us and signaled: one, two, three..."

-- "And you lip-synched..."

-- "No! I started to sing at the top of my lungs! I sang louder than anyone else. Oh did I sing to make up for a whole month of silence! Of course I doubt that many people heard it, Amjadieh being such a large stadium and us a pretty small group. You should have seen the master,s face though, but what could he do?"

Roshan was now on the floor rolling with laughter.

-- "So don't you ever tell me my singing stinks! I already know and I don't care!"

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