Write for The Iranian
Editorial policy

Emamzadeh Saleh
I can sit in the courtyard, think about my life, and shed some tears

January 10, 2002
The Iranian

There are days when you wake up as if in a cocoon spun gently around you by sadness. The cause of your sadness seems illusive, intangible, and even at times irrelevant. All that matters is that you feel wrapped tightly inside it, unable to lift a finger to break its silken threads, unable to breathe.

On such a day, I decided to head North, towards the mountains, towards Bazaar-e Tajrish, hoping that the bustle of people, their bumping into you as they rush about their shopping, their unnecessary catcalls that result in unexpected bursts of laughter or a faint smile, will help me break through my sadness.

As I was walking around in the fruit section, eyeing the lettuce and the tomatoes that were stacked up high, I heard the faint sound of the Quran and saw a sign pointing towards Imamzadeh Saleh. The streets of Tehran for me are saturated with memories of someone I loved and have lost, and I had been walking around with a large lump of grief in my throat waiting to burst into tears. In the courtyard of the shrine, I can sit down and cry and it won't seem strange to anyone, I thought as I headed towards the blue dome.

I walked out of the bazaar, right outside the gates of the shrine where a policeman was shooing away two men, one old, one young, who were crouched against a wall drinking tea out of plastic cups. "You can't sit here," he said listlessly motioning them away with his arms as if the men were pigeons. "Baba, khodaa pedaret ro biyaamorzeh, let us finish our tea," the old man said as they both got up and moved two steps further up.

By now, I had reached the women's entrance. I walked in and saw a woman in her 40s studying a book assiduously. "Excuse me, can I just walk into the courtyard?" I asked, shifting the 8 porcelain plates, one bottle of olive oil, one jar of olives, and a jar of torshi-ye Bijar in my hands.

She looked up and motioned towards a horizontal metal pipe that had several flowery prayer chadors thrown on it. With great difficulty, I stuffed some of my purchases in my book bag causing it to bulge unnaturally, grabbed a chador that smelled of pretty much every kind of body odor imaginable, and tried to pull it over my head. "What are you doing?" the lady said clearly annoyed after which she pulled my chador over my head, straightened it out in the back and gave me a little push towards the door. "You can go now."

Great! Now I can sit in the courtyard, think about my life, and shed some tears.

The minute I stepped out in the sun, an old woman walked towards me. "Buy my candles. My hands are blessed and will make your wish come true." Having failed to achieve happiness in a modern way, I was ready for any alternative. What better thing than to light a candle and ask God for a favor, especially if this woman's hands are blessed?

"Can I light just one?"

"Sure azizam, you can light as many as you want."

"Okay. One candle please," I said smiling.

"You have to buy six," she said looking away scouting the courtyard for other customers.

"But I want one."

"You still have to pay for six."

I was in no mood to argue, I took one, paid for 6, and asked where I could light it.

"You light it as you leave the Imamzadeh," she responded making a motion towards the entrance.

Cool. So now I'm holding a greasy, off-white candle in my hand, trying to formulate my wish such that I don't give God a loophole to trick me with it. It's the pre-azan Quran, and I take in the holy atmosphere, the little howz of water, the people going towards the shrine, walking around the courtyard, sitting in the sun, mostly older but a good number of young people too, andthe construction? There's construction going on in the shrine, I realize with great irritation. Is there anywhere in this city where you can be spared the site of these ugly yellow bricks and creamy colored dust and the sound of large hammers chipping away at something or another?

Apparently not. I refocus: Remember, you're here to meditate, be calm, take stock of your life, and of course SHED SOME TEARS.

As I head towards the women's entrance to the building of the shrine itself, I see a sign: The office of the representative of Ayatollah Khamenei. I look through the window: Two turbaned clergymen in a room smaller than my bathroom, sitting behind a computer. I look at the sign again: Above it was written: Responses to your religious questions, and an arrow pointing to the right. I go to the right. It's the men's entrance.

"Excuse me," I say in my most innocent girly voice to the man responsible for the pilgrims' shoes, "I have a religious question to ask the leader's representative. Where can I go to ask it?"

If he had doubts about my sincerity, he didn't show it. "Go to the women's entrance, there's a phone there, it connects you to them and you can ask your question then."

Okay. So now I need a religious question. I rack my brainBless me father for I have sinned? Too Christian. I have problems with figures of authority? Too psychobabble. What kind of religious questions can I ask? I figured once on the phone, I'll decide something. The main entrance to the shrine is crowded with women going in and out. A beautiful young woman with sorrowful eyes is standing at the entrance, under the mirrored ceiling, handing dates to everyone. I don't see a phone.

There is, of course, construction going on in the women's entrance. I move down and stick my head into the entry under construction: A phone!!! I move towards it excitedly when I hear someone yell at me from behind. I turn around. It is an old bearded man wearing a dusty short dark blue uniform and matching pants, holding what looks like a duster in the shape of a very large multi-colored Popsicle. I thought he was a janitor and probably used it to shake off cobwebs and other dusty things in the shrine. Shaking the Popsicle duster towards me, he shouted "Dokhtar, get out of there!"

"I wanted to ask a religious question."

"You can't. Anyway, they've all gone to prayer," he said sternly and waved me away again.

By now, I just wanted to light my candle, which had broken in two during my shuttling back and forth, and leave. I saw another kinder gentler looking uniformed old man, holding a Popsicle duster.

"Where can I light a candle?"

"At the entrance, outside the shrine when you leave," he said smiling.

"I was wondering, what is this you're holding?" I asked pointing to his duster.

"This?" he said, searching for an answer. "This has various uses. I use it to point people this way and that," he said demonstrating what he meant, "I also use it for this," upon which he began tapping my shoulders as if he were knighting me (should I kneel? I began to wonder) and muttering things to himself.

"Go now my dear. You've been blessed."

Happy in my new blessed state, I returned to the entrance, gave back my light blue chador, and exited, candle in hand. I looked around at the empty area in front of the shrine. Not a single sign of where I could light my candle.

"Where can I light my candle?" I asked the bored guard sitting in front of the gates.

"Nowhere, the municipality came and swept it all away. It's not permitted anymore."

"Hmmm..." I said with a fake knowing nod of the head.

As I began to walk away, another younger looking woman approached me.

"Buy my candles, my hands are blessed."

Geez, should I take this as a sign? I wondered. "I already have a candle, but I thought it was not permitted here anymore."

"It's not, you have to go to the other entrance," she said shoving her candles and bags of birdfeed towards me. "Go there across the courtyard over there where there's construction and at least buy some birdfeed from me. My hands are blessed."

Fine. My bag is heavy with 8 porcelain plates and other things, my back is killing me, but this broken candle, I will light even if I have to do it illegally.

I buy birdfeed from her, slip into the women's entrance and quietly take another chador so that the women reading her book won't notice me again, and start walking diagonally across the courtyard. On other side there is a fenced section with lots of pigeons picking at the seeds that cover the ground.

I stand next to a little boy, a tiny tiny boy, wearing a warm poofy orange-red jacket and a knit cap. He's holding the fence and staring intently at the pigeons. His father is crouched behind him quietly. They are Afghani.

I sat down too and asked the kid, Mahdi, if he wanted to feed the pigeons. His face was all eyes and his eyes just stared at me. When his father gave him permission, he brought out his small hands that held at the most 5 seeds and turned to the pigeons and threw them. They fell two steps in front of his feet. He took a shy step back.

"He's sick," his father said. "We've brought him here from the provinces to see a doctor but no one can tell what his illness is. No one can cure him. He has a fever all the time and throws up."

I look at Mahdi who's gone back to holding the fence and quietly watching the pigeons while on his other side a young boy chats up two teenage girls.

"He's been sick since he was born. No one can say what's wrong with him. So we're going back but before we do, I brought him to the shrine to ask God to cure him. He is our last hope."

"Do you want me to introduce you to other doctors?" I asked but the father shook his head and said "Doctors can't do anything anymore. It's all in the hands of God now."

I took the bag of birdfeed, prayed for Mahdi's health and threw the seeds in the middle of the area; the pigeons all flocked to it. Mahdi did not move.

Click Here to Pay Learn More Amazon Honor SystemThe candle was still in my hands and after asking many many people, I was directed to another exit to the shrine and was told I could light my candle in one of the alleyways near the shrine. I finally came upon it: A cardboard makeshift box standing above a square plate covered in milky wax and holding four lit candles. The keeper of the flames approached me out of nowhere took my candle and lit it.

"It took me a while to find you," I said.

"May God bring the heavens down on their heads," he said with a shake of his head. He then launched into a monologue about politics, about the municipality, about how it was the university people's faults for all of Iran's misery, how going to school was a waste of time, about the power struggle between the Parliament and the Judiciary, and about his sister who had finally married at the age of 38 all because she insisted on going to university.

"Let me give you a piece of advice: Don't read so much, go live life a little," he ended his speech with a twinkle in his eyes. I nodded, rather impressed by his breath of knowledge and said goodbye.

As I walked away, I turned around and saw the flame had gone out on the candle I had lit. I realized after all this, I had forgotten to ask God for something. I also realized that I wasn't sad anymore.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Naghmeh Sohrabi

By Naghmeh Sohrabi

Sohrabi's features index


* Recent

* Covers

* Writers

* Music

* All sections

Flower delivery in Iran
Copyright © All Rights Reserved. Legal Terms for more information contact:
Web design by BTC Consultants
Internet server Global Publishing Group