|One day you will understand
Now, I know what he was talking about
By Mehrdad Pishehgar
February 20, 2002
The whole family was doing something, hustling and bustling around me. The next
day I was to board a flight to London. I was only 17-years old. The year was 1978
and about 6 months before the revolution. Cinema Rex tragedy had just taken place
and daily demonstrations, burning of cinema theatres and banks had become normal
A couple of weeks prior to this, while my cousin who studied in England was visiting
us, it was decided that with all the uncertainty and turmoil to come, it would be
a good idea to send me, considered a gifted student, to England in order to ensure
continuity in my studies.
We belonged to the middle class. We were not rich in terms of money and my studies
abroad would have brought pressure on the financial resources of the family. But
my Parents were never ones to shy away from challenges specially if they involved
the welfare and studies of their children.
We were 7 brothers and sisters. My father worked for the state sugar mills. He was
transferred from one place to another every few years. He himself was originally
from Tehran but because of all these transfers almost each one of us was born in
a different town. When the older ones were in the mid high-school age, my father
decided to get himself transferred to Tehran for the sole reason that the children
could get a good education.
When four of us got admission into Hadaf (a private school with a very good reputation
in educational excellence, probably the second best after Alborz) my father could
not afford to pay the tuition fees as a lump sum and negotiated with the school so
that they could be paid in instalments. He did not have proper education himself
and wanted to make sure his children got the best he could make possible for them,
for which, amongst other things, I am eternally grateful to him.
Many of my fathers colleagues warned him of dangers in sending a 17-year-old boy
abroad on his own. I am sure he had all those fears himself too, but always told
them that he had great faith in me and knew that I will take this opportunity and
exploit it to the full. He said he would always be proud of me since he knew I would
do my best. Now after all these years, as a father myself, I do not believe I have
the courage or the guts to send my own children to such an adventure. I just have
to admire my parents for having the courage.
Anyway, the business of getting a passport and a ticket
with the aid of relatives and family friends was done in less than a week. Many people
were trying to leave the country at that time and the reasons for them leaving the
country were not always as honourable as mine was. With the demand for passports
and tickets being so high it was a bit difficult to get them so quickly.
Now back to the departure night. My father insisted I wear my suit which I did not
particularly like. I told him the flight would take many hours and I would be more
comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt. He would not hear of it, it had to be the suit.
I told him let's forget the whole thing because I am not leaving. Shuttle diplomacy
started, members of the family would go from one to the other trying to get one of
us to give in and after about an hour I was convinced to wear the suit. I did it
reluctantly and swore that the first opportunity I get I will burn the suit. My mother
said I could do anything I wanted with the suit.
They decided to phone my cousin and make sure that he was at Heathrow airport to
welcome me at the right time. They told him my arrival time and flight number. In
the end as it is usual with us, they asked him whether he needed anything from Iran.
He mentioned that it would be great if I could take with me a melon (kharboze mashadi).
I was furious. I couldn't understand, for the life of me, why would any body want
a kharboze taken to England? He left Iran only one week before I did, why couldn't
he take a donkey load of melons with himself?
I said I gave in to the suit but this is ridiculous. I am not going to carry a melon
with me into the plane like a dehaati (peasant). Once again the family started; it
is not nice to refuse taking to your cousin what he asked for especially since he
is doing so much to help you settle in England, they told me. I had to give in on
this too. My father used to buy melons, water melons and other kind of melons in
tens of kilos. He just hired a pick-up and bought about 200 kilos of various melons.
They were stored under the stairs. So he went downstairs and selected two of the
biggest melons and brought them to me very proud of his choice. I thought I would
I told him my cousin wanted only one, why did he bring two? To which he answered,
"The other one is for you. No son of mine will suffer from ack of kharboze in
England if he can help it." I wanted to scream and run out of the house, then
my older brother took me aside and told me what is the difference between one or
two kharbozes? When you are drowning there is not much difference whether your are
an inch or a mile under the water. I told him I appreciated him trying to ease my
agony but I am not going to resign to this without a fight.
You guessed it. I had to give in at the end and take the melons -- each one weighing
something like 20 kilos -- with me in a see-thru plastic bag to the passenger bay
of the plane, since my luggage was filled to the brim by all kinds of nuts, pickles
and dried vegetables.
Speaking the English language was always an ambition of mine. But I was not good
at it. I would get top grades in math, physics and chemistry but struggle badly with
English. I remember when we came to Tehran, on the first day of school we had English.
In the provinces we had got used to things starting very slowly. Lessons would properly
start about a week after the academic year had commenced. But not here. Oh no not
The teacher walks in and reads out the register and writes a sentence on the board
and asks us to write the same sentence in past, future and god knows what other tense.
I had studied English a year prior to this. I was flabbergasted. I turned to the
guy who was sitting next to me and asked him "Does English have these things
too?" he looked at me very strangely as if to say where have you been? We went
on to become best of friends.
Well, when I got on the plane -- and after disposing of the melons as quickly as
possible -- I sat down. A young woman sat next to me and asked me something which
I believed was whether I spoke English or not. I simply told her no, and hoped I
had answered right and she had not asked something else to which a "no"
would have been a very inappropriate answer. The answer seemed to be satisfactory
to her. I sat quietly the entire trip. But every time the plane hit air turbulence,
I dreaded the possibility of the melons falling on other passengers' head and killing
Iranians did not need an entry visa into the UK and I got through immigration procedure
after telling them I planned to study English for a year and if successful in getting
into a college study further. There was an Iran Air interpreter helping the passengers
in answering questions. I met my cousin who had waited almost two hours after the
landing of the plane and had almost lost hope and was about to call Iran and ask
whether I had left. I gave him his melon and told him that I will avenge this someday.
He just laughed.
It was just the beginning of the Punk era and the sight of guys looking like parrots
was very amusing. My cousin asked me to restrain myself and not to stare unless I
wanted to get into a fight. I stopped immediately since I thought they looked frightening
with all those needles pierced into various parts of their face and body. We were
going to Newcastle, or Gateshead to be exact, in the north-east of England.
We got on the train at King's Cross and the trip was to take about three hours (280
miles). After about 45 minutes I noticed there were still houses and buildings on
both sides of the track. I asked my cousin, "How big is London anyway?"
He smiled and said we had left London a long time ago and south of England is a
very densely populated area. He was right. The number of houses and buildings on
both sides of the track never came to an end.
We arrived at about 10 PM. It was very dark and misty. We got in a taxi. Street lights
were orange and together with the mist it seemed like riding toward death. I expected
to be attacked by a knife-wielding maniac any moment.
Our destination was the house of an English family, middle-aged couple, where I was
going to spend the next 12 months. This was to help me learn the language because
I could have easily lived with my cousin but my parents decided that this was the
best solution and it turned out to be a very wise decision indeed.
The next day when I decided to examine the neighbourhood
I was confronted with row houses about 100-years old. There was a strange smell in
the air due to the use of coal for heating. The brick walls were almost black because
of the pollution. This was a working class neighbourhood. I thought, "Europe
never looked like this on TV. What the hell is this?" I saw the Europe shown
on Iranian TV a year later when I travelled to Germany. But that is another story.
We had about a week before college started. I was the first lodger there and in a
week there were five other guys. They were from Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, England and
Iraq. We forged a very good friendship between all of us. I would listen to Tim's
(the English guy) Genesis LP records and read the lyrics from the cover. The
host couple treated me very well.
Oh I almost forget about the infamous kharbozeh. I gave it to the landlady, Gwen
(I thought this a very strange name, one which I had never heard watching TV in Iran.
The husband had a more conventional name to my Iranian taste. He was Roy, nothing
exotic.) and asked her to put it in the fridge for me. She wondered what the hell
this massive thing could be. But apparently not to hurt a young boy's heart from
a far away land, she kindly found space for it in her small fridge and tried to cover
A few days later she comes to me and I don't understand a word she is saying. She
takes my hand and drags me into the kitchen and opens the fridge door and shows me
the melon. I hit myself in the head trying to convey to her that I had forgotten
all about the damn thing. I decided to let her taste a bit of this thing. I got a
knife and I cut a thin slice from it and handed it to her. She was reluctant to take
it, almost afraid. I think she thought may be in some way this could kill her.
To make her trust me I ate some myself and after insisting that she should try it
also, she very cautiously took a small bite. She just closed her eyes and after a
moment opened them very wide and said something. Later when I learned the language
I asked her what she had told me. She had thanked me for letting her taste the best
fruit she had ever tasted in her life. I have never since tasted a melon as sweet.
I am going to remember that melon for as long as I live. I told her she could have
the whole thing. She would sit every evening and take a small piece of the melon
and enjoy eating it. I was amazed of the effect a melon can have on a person.
Abbas, my Iraqi roommate, was about 20-years old. He was a special case. He had
come to England to study. His parents had also come with him and they were looking
for a place for him to stay. One day when I was out, they came to see if this place
is suitable. They asked who else was staying there and as soon as Abbas hears that
there is an Iranian in the house, he says he wants this place and won't go any where
You see Abbas was a Shia Muslim and from Iranian ancestry. He simply loved Iranians.
We became great friends and we were like brothers to each other. He learnt Persian
and after a few years nobody would notice that he was not Iranian. He spoke the language
without a trace of an accent.
In the beginning he asked me if I liked the Shah and Farah. I told him no and he
would be very surprised and dismayed. He could not understand how an Iranian could
not like them. I tried to explain but as a 17-year-old boy I was not very good at
it. I did not know of enough reasons then. I told him what I remembered others saying.
At nights we would sit in the attic room and listen to Radio Iran. By that time the
unrest and the demonstrations were at their peak and the Shah had left the country.
One night we were listening to the radio when the announcer (I think it was Hosseini)
said something like "Thhis is the voice of the revolution." I could not
believe what I had just heard. I was so happy that I jumped up and down for a few
minutes. Me and Abbas kissed and congratulated each other. Abbas was a full fledged
revolutionary by this time and wanted the revolution more than anybody else. He admired
Khomeini, like many others.
I believe that was the happiest moment I ever experienced: when the word revolution
was mentioned. Since then, the Iranian revolution in my mind is associated with betrayal,
killing, torture, executions, sufferings, war and misery.
Roy, the landlord, told me after the victory of the
revolution that this is the worst thing that could happen to Iran with the Mullahs
taking power. I told him his sentiments were quite understandable since it was against
the interest of the British. He told me I was very young and one day will understand
what he was talking about. Now, I know what he was talking about.
Between then and now a lot has happened. I have experienced like many of you a lot
of ups and downs. The journey of life has continued for me and I am still learning
something new every single day, very often through my own children. My parents are
still very proud of me and say they never regretted sending me abroad to become a
better human being. I know they are partial and biased but I hope they are right.
Life goes on regardless. I am still hoping that my fellow countrymen and women can
once again experience the sweet taste of freedom they tasted in the early days of
the revolution especially the young generation who has been the greatest victim of