To be or not to be Pahlavi

Continuation of “
Checkpoint Mehrabad

“Mr. Mehrdad Pahlavi. Tell me, are you related?” The Passport officer asked.

By this time he had a grin across the entire hemisphere of his thin face. It seemed he was beginning to have a ball with my name. I could see from his teeth that the officers of the new regime had not benefited from good dental care! Was that grin in good humour or was this serious trouble?

“No sir, I'm not related and I'm planning to stay here for two month. I am visiting some family members and perhaps a few old friends. My name is not Pahlavi. It is Pahlooi, Pah-looooo-eeeee…”

With a single sentence, I had denounced the family tradition of Royal worship! I felt like St. Peter when he denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed!

“My family for generations had tried to use a clerical error by a confused Birth Certificate Registrar to their advantage,” I explained. “They had lied so much about this Pahlavi / Pahlooi affair that they had started believing we were related.

“It had all started when grandfather went off to get his birth certificate and was asked where he lived. In those days they named you after the place of your birth or whatever came to the clerk's head. Grandfather had remarked 'next to the city of Ferdows' or as he would have put it in Farsi 'Ferdows, pahlooi Ferdows'. But the registrar could not understand him well and he gave him the name 'Mr Ferdows Pahlooi' but 'Pahlooi' was written exactly as 'Pahlavi'.

“To be called 'Pahlooi',” I added, “was ridiculous. But after the revolution those family members in Iran had dropped the Pahlavi name association like a ton of bricks. This time it was my turn. Funny how we idolised men of power and then dropped them like yesterday's newspapers.

“Some relatives whose wives and daughters would not be seen dead without the latest design of cocktail dresses, had turned Hezbolite to the bone like they had been Ayatollahs for five generations. Uncle was saying this lot were behaving like they were receiving holly messages from the All Mighty directly through their telephone. They might have been talking to God! But the rest of the family excommunicated them, unless in times of need for good contacts (party- baazi).”

“Pahlooi, as in next to what?” asked the officer. “Next to your mother's grave (gabreh nanat) perhaps? You think I'm stupid, don't you. Do you honestly think that a foreign sissy boy (bacheh soosooleh farangi) such as yourself is going to have me fooled?”' he asked.

“Sir, I'm not trying to fool you, my name is Pahlooi.”

“So, how come the English text on your passport says Pahlavi? Well come on then show me Pahlooi! Seyed. Seyed. Come on here. Yes, here,” He shouted.

You are not going to believe this. By now that wide grin was frozen solid on his face but the eyes had turned psychotic. A short man with a sun burnt face approached the officer.

“What's the matter? Why are you smiling like your mother-in-law has died?”

The Passport officer said “Check this guy's name out. Now we are receiving their unclean seedlings (tokhmeh harum). What a cheek? (Ajab rooie?)” He then turned to Seyed and said: “Get the Red Carpet. His Royal Highness has come to visit the land of his fathers.”

“Look, I am not related. I am telling you. It's Pahlooi, not Pahlavi.”

The short man appeared to be somewhat not surprised by the frantic behaviour of the officer. “Nevertheless, if you don't mind coming with me, this way,” he said to me.

By now the crowd behind me was beginning to show interest in the whole affair. I started to follow the short man. It was like trying to keep up with a hare.

“Look sir, I have people waiting for me,” I said.

“You better hurry up then. Come on let's get your luggage. The faster you move the sooner we will get this mess sorted.”

The luggage collection hall was more like a scene from old Baghdad in an old Hollywood movie rather than the Tehran Mehrabad Airport that I remembered as a kid. The smell of sweat filled the air. The air conditioning was not working and it was as if the air had stood solid in that hall. It was humid but hot.

The frantic movement of the crowd who were jumping over each other's legs and arms to get their luggage off the carousel was pushing me back and forth. The officer brushed a side the people who had not noticed him and were getting in his way. I guess being a small man, people did not notice his uniform at first sight, but that wasn't his problem; it was theirs. If they didn't move they were pushed.

He lifted my heavy suitcases like he was picking up pancakes off his plate and we approached a security office.

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