The vocalist opens her gig with a tribute to the arched eyebrows of the beloved accompanied by four 'daf' players all dressed in green beating hard on sheep skin, urging the audience to clap along.
It is the birth anniversary of Abol-Fazl, a Shiite saint and brother of the revered Imam Hussein — my mother-in-law's 'moloodi' that I have to attend every year.
The place is packed with women sitting on the floor — the lucky ones got there earlier and occupied the chairs around the room.
The fashionably late haj-khanum singer sure has a way with the crowd, eliciting 'kel' and 'salavat' and taking them door to door to ask favors and blessing of all good Shiite saints.
The music is upbeat and the people are moved, though many are sobbing and quite a few are welling up — a conflicting picture that is usual in all such ceremonies.
They are earnestly praying for their sick and troubled, an apartment they need to buy, a near and dear one's admittance to university, the boy friend to propose or simply more money.
Hands go up in unison extorting the birthday boy to push their cases with God.
Haj-khanum takes handfuls of bon-bons from the bowl in front of her and throws them at the crowd who crawl on the floor to snatch them from each other and save in their purses to pass to family members later.
She closes the act with calls to hasten the reappearance of the twelfth hidden Imam and repeats her phone number offering to do return-from-haj parties, engagement parties, bridal showers and “Khatne Sooran” (circumcision party) — well not really this one, but while we're at it I thought why not! — as well as religious ceremonies.
She has charged 150,000 tomans for 1.5 hours and has to rush to two other gigs with her musical entourage.
The crowd gets up to leave and it is, well, time for the goody bags: delicate homemade cookies to die for, fruit, small bags of problem-solver nuts (moshkel-gosha) packed in a disposable dish.
They kill to get an extra for their sister or neighbor who could not make it to the show and it usually ends with my mother-in-law embarrassed that the 80-odd years old respected great aunt did not get any.
She is not happy with the haj-khanum either who did not keep her side of the deal of a 2.5-hour thing.
I am not surprised; she says that every year, complaining about greedy entertainers who have the nerve to ask the guests for money too, in the name of selling them blessed coins for having their wishes come true!!!
Just like me, who pledges to call in sick and not show up the next year; nonetheless I do, not that it is a binding clause in our marriage contract that the spouse has to observe the in-laws' weird traditions.
But because of all those divine homemade jams that she supplies me with and I sometimes boast to be my own creation just to put down some smug house-proud cow.
Because of her calling before every visit to ask what I would like her to make me as lunch — and I am not even pregnant.
It is because of her treating me no different than a daughter and a lot more reasons that I have suffered through the moloodis for the past five years and put a smile on it too.