One of the distinct sign of the importance of a community, in my childhood era, was the existence of important shops especially butcher shop and bread bakery. Our community, Maydan Mir, lacked both of them. We had to travel everyday to the adjacent communities to buy our everyday needs especially meat and bread. I was the one in charge of this unlikable task. I preferred to be a dog than to go to other communities for shopping. People treated me as if I was a second-class citizen. Sometimes, when I was walking back home, a large piece of bread, I was carrying, was ripped away by the kids as excise tax that had be paid only by non-residents. Meat and bread were not relatively expensive at that time. However, they were allocated, through non-price rationing mechanisms. You had to buy them early in the morning otherwise you had to go without them. Thank God, the butcher knew us and we had the honor to be his self-proclaimed friends. For this reason, he was nicer to me. He also sold to us on credit because my father’s credit rating was excellent, he was poor but creditworthy. Our daily allowance of meat was two and half seer of meat containing almost 40% fat we used to make delicious broth. Eating steak for us was a mistake!
While I do not remember what the exact weight of one seer is, I think it is a very small fraction of a kilo, about 7.5% of a kilo. Anytime I bought meat, I had to carry with me a smooth peace of wooden twig about a foot and half long. It was like a pre-historical form of monthly statement called Choobkhat. It was, however, very important since it was the only document showing the number of times we purchased our daily allowance of meat. Since such transactions were almost entirely based on honor system, the butcher trusted us with the safekeeping the choobkhat. Anytime we bought meat, the butcher made a V-shaped cut on the surface of the choobkhat which was like debiting our account for the value of the meat. It was like a recording of, and counted as, one transaction. Usually, at the end of each one or two months period came the payment time. Our payment then was calculated by multiplying the value of each transaction by the number of cuts, transactions, on Choobkhat.
Our community had a friendly relationship with other communities surrounding us. There was only one smaller community, named Pnaj Ali that was at odd with us. It was incidentally near our house. You would feel sorry for those families residing at the boarder between two adjacent communities with hostile relationship. We were like choob do sar najes, we neither fully welcomed by Maydan Mir nor by Pnaj ali. Lack of friendly relationship between these two communities was based on political, as well as, logistical reasons. First of all, Panj Ali was a little community with not much overall political clout; its population was also small. Secondly, this community could not assist with any of our strategic needs. We used to travel to other neighboring communities to buy bread, meat, fruits, or to go to the public bathhouse. We even didn’t have to walk through Panj Ali to go to the focal places in the central district of our town like the grand mosque, repair shops, or the business district. In other words, we had no vital interests in that community. Besides, Paj Ali was not big enough to support us in our conflicts with other communities. It was also customary, sign of kindly gestures, for the people living next to your community to attend our important public events, such as aza dari during the month of Moharram, political rallies, parades, funerals, in show of support. Panj Ali’s residents were not even willing or able, to lend a hand to us to make such events more successful.
Occasionally, there was a preemptive strike by some trouble-seeking kids against Panj Ali that often resulted in a group fight. I remember kids used to march toward the center of this community carrying with them the weapons of mass destruction like, Tirkamoon, slingshot, and chanting patriotic slogans such as: Down with Panj Ali, Death to Agh Shokrolla (the governor of Panj Ali), Maydan Mir’s kids are as brave as male lion, Panj Ali’s kids are as dumb as foal, Korreh Khar.
Although, the humanitarian purpose of such attacks was to free the people of Panj Ali from an oppressive regime, headed by a dictator, Agha Shokrolla, and to spread the badly needed democracy in that community, the end result, however, was a number of casualties; broken scalps, wounded and bruised bodies. At the end, both sides claimed victory. However, the real; winner of such fights was usually determined based on the number of injuries inflicted and the number of casualties suffered by the enemies, especially the number of broken heads was more of a decisive factor. Eventually, the gang fights were ended with intervention of the adults acting as peace brokers or sometimes it just ended at the chanting stage much like the verbal altercation between the US and Iran over the issues related to nuclear energy.
One of the memorable places at the center of our community was a rectangular building which was sort of a dormitory/school for the young theology students, Tollab oloom didni, students of religious jurisprudence. I remember vividly that it was as noisy as the floor of stock market especially during evening hours. There were either group discussions among the Tollab on the religious issues or the core chapters of their freshman textbook, Jaame Al Moghaddamat (A basic text book on Arabic grammar), or some senior students practiced their art of rozeh khani. In other words, they were preparing themselves for the job they ultimately sought, preaching.
Even though she never insisted stubbornly, my mother wanted me to become a theology student or, at least, to have a close relationship with the clergy. After a few casual encounters, I was able to establish a friendly relationship with one of them, a rather handsome young man, who was also Sayyed, let’s call him Mr. H. I liked him because he was moderate and reasonable when expressing his views, and embraced modernity. He even ke[t a radio in his room which was religiously a prohibited item for a theology student. We also knew his family. My friendship with him was actually my sly response to my mother’s request for having a relationship with the members of the clergy.
I was in high school at that time in my late teens and he was perhaps two or three years older than me. I used to go to his room occasionally in evening discussing with him and other students who came to his room various social and spiritual issues from the perspectives of science and religion. Often we engaged in never-ending debate because of normative nature of such issues thus our inability to find answers that are scientifically valid. Occasionally, our discussion was interrupted and eventually ended when my mother showed up with a kerosene lantern in her hand calling me: nane to hanooz injaee, are you still here my dear, showing her anxiety and motherly care for her son.
Later on Mr. H invited me to his Ammameh Gozaroon ceremony. It was really interesting to me. It was like a costumed-made graduation party, a crowning a prince, Taj Gozari. The pre-rolled black turban, which was placed at the top of his head by a high-ranking ayatollah in the midst of the jubilation and the chanting of Slavat by the audience, contrasted his bright-skin face so fittingly. I am sure Mr. H is now a highly regarded member of the clergy in Iran. I tried to find him last time I visited Iran to no avail. I wasn’t even sure about the way he would react to my visit or how he would receive me after so many years of pursuing a dichotomous career path and going in different directions.
There was no electricity in that building then, just like other buildings in our community. Mr. H, and other students, had to use a kerosene-burning lamp, Gerd Sooz, just as we did at home, for light and for study at night. Perhaps the Farsi proverb doode cheragh khordan has its origin in their experience. Any way, one night I was deeply inspired by this situation and put together a poem with this starting line: be shab neshinie tollabe din baram hasrat- - ke noghle mahfele anha cheraghe gerd sooz ast. Mr. H. who was also a talented calligrapher wrote the entire poem very nicely and posted it on the wall. I wish there was a copy machine so I could get my own copy. I am certain, if this handwritten piece is in existence now, it will be a highly-prized national historical document. My friendship with him continued even after I entered Tehran University.
It was a dream of most of the theology students to become eventually a professional preacher, Vaaez. Evolving into a popular preacher was not, of course, automatic. It mainly required good endowments of several personal attributes; ability to deliver convincing public sermons, good voice, comprehensive knowledge of Koran and Hadith, a bit sense of humor, and not to mention a God-given passion for public speaking. It took usually several years of hard work to accumulate enough experience and to satisfy all or most of those requirements. Evidently, because of inadequate experience and unknown reputation, it was difficult for the novice cleric like Mr. H. to get frequent invitations for rozeh khani especially in important places or for important occasions. In an attempt to give him a jump start I told him he can come to our house for rozeh khani sponsored by my mother on monthly basis. He was delighted to accept this invitation and promised not to let me down.
On his first day, Mr. H. came on time, our house was full of women waiting for him. He was delivering a touching sermon about rozeh panj tan which is a bit long but popular especially among women. At the end, as it is usual, he switched to reciting the tragedies of Karbala. However, he suddenly started chanting an Arabic poem from the opening page of Jameol moggadamat, totally irrelevant to what he was chanting about. However, no one realized his mishmash because the poem was in Arabic and none of the ladies present knew any Arabic. Unaware of what was going on, they kept weeping for the suffering of those who were martyred in Sahra ye Karbala.
When he finished, I was prepared to walk with him back to his room. I told him I believe you messed up at the end of your sermon. He said, between you and me, I forgot my line.