I've seen showers that only women can use, salons that only women can go to and I've even heard of a hospital for females alone when those crazy goats in parliament were talking of starting one. But this one I had not even dreamed of: a concert performed and attended only by females. It sounded too bizarre to be real. “Do they ask the guys standing outside to cover their ears?” I ask a friend.
The idea of going to something that would resemble a hamaam-e zanoone is sick. But in the end, the voice I am eager to hear wins over all those thoughts and on Thursday, July 26th I find myself standing in front of Talar-e Roudaki ,which under the mollas, for a reason I can't quite figure out, is called Talar-e Vahdat, without anyone giving a damn. “How can I find my way to Talar-e Roudaki?'' I've been asked a thousand times, but never Talar-e Vahdat.
The staff there, who are always males wearing light green, have given way to females for this exclusive performance. There is not a man in sight. I feel like I've stepped on another planet and I know I don't like the change.
Once inside the main hall, things are even more different. A concert I had planned to attend looks more like a fashion show. “This is sick,” I tell myself a million times. And I wonder what has brought these people all the way here today. The chance to show off their wardrobe and pretty hair? Boredom? The love of music?
But when the singer comes on stage looking older and more wrinkled up than her pictures, when she opens those lips to let out that heavenly voice that has been bottled up for two decades, and I see the tears rolling down the face of the old lady sitting beside me with that awful that tank top, I know that none of those reasons would be complete.
Khatereh Parvaneh sounds as beautiful as she did when she first stepped on stage more than 30 years ago. Bringing to life Parvaneh's memory better than anyone on earth. I am not an eyewitness, but I have all of my grandfather's tapes and records that clearly tell me that.
The crowd can't stop applauding, laughing and crying at the same time. For at least the next two hours, all things can be forgotten.
She is singing again like the old days but the only difference is that this time, she's only allowed to sing to half of her admirers. Above her, are two portraits of the inseparable duo which are everywhere — from hospitals, to cemeteries, to restaurants and concert halls — looking back at each of us, laughing their heads off.
Parvaneh goes through the old songs, my favorites being those that have been written by a mysterious, incredible cleric, who in a very unclerical kind of way has written some of the most beautiful pieces of Iranian music ever. And I know if I could go back a 100 years, I would have greatly enjoyed hearing Sheida sing away while playing on his tar.
Parvaneh sings Khaleghi, Tajvidi, Sheida and more. And looking at her eyes you can tell that each one brings back wonderful memories: First love, a summer's day, a wholehearted laugh, and more. Her eyes are sad, filled up with a kind of gham that is indescribable.
What would I have done to see her perform ages ago, when she and all these listeners here were young and full of life. The struggles and burdens that have so quickly wrinkled up so many of the women sitting in this room have not left her unscarred either, and maybe that's why all these people sing along in soft whispers, knowing that she too feels their pain.
Sometimes she allows her crowd to sing along — moments they impatiently anticipate. And how they've kept every single word fresh and unforgotten is a mystery which I can't quite figure out, until I hear Percy Bysshe Shelley answering me: “Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory.” And now, looking at this scene makes me understand those words better than ever.
She's a crowd pleaser, and willingly takes and gives back the love she is receiving. She sings the songs they ask for, even those not listed in the program, despite the fact that she has a hard time standing on her feet. But all good things must come to an end, and when she finishes her last song, it's time to go.
The number of flower bouquets she is showered with is unbelievable. But she finally turns to leave, walking a few steps… and comes back telling us that she'll sing us one more song if we promise to sing along, as if she doesn't want to go either; she wants to stay up there as long as she can. She sings “Ey Iran” and Khaleghi I know, is watching us with the greatest joy.
She finally leaves. And I pray for the “Bahar-e Delneshin” she sang about. I pray for the day when all these women here can look the same way they do now when they walk outside those doors. The day when they can comfortably hold any hand they please and listen away without having those two frightening, watchful eyes staring at them.
Najmeh Fakhraie is a 18-year-old student in Tehran.