Sunday, March 19, 2006

Will Nowrooz ever come back?

I can never forget the Nowrooz (Iranian New Year) celebrations while I was in Iran. There was that unforgettable spring fragrance and freshness all around. Although I am colour blind but even I could enjoy the sudden birth of colours in nature. It was as if an artist has finally coloured his preliminary pencil sketches. One could not escape the fact that the old had been replaced by the new. We all wore our new clothes, the house was made spotless after a thorough spring cleaning. Family, friends and neighbours visited each other unannounced. If there had been any personal fall outs, Nowrooz was a good occasion to patch things up, let the by gones be gone and new friendships to start.

Most important of all, the schools were closed for 13 days (hooray!) and we waited anxiously the night before the new year to open up our presents. On the new year day itself, we sat around the Haft-sin new year table. The table was decorated with all signs of life and new birth. Painted eggs, hyacinth, candles, frondescence, and colourful Iranian patisserie, and two gold fish in a large glass bowl. The actual time in hours and minutes for the earth to have revolved a full orbit around the sun is calculated and announced as the official new year time. So as the final seconds of the old year approached, we would shout aloud the countdown seconds. 10, 9, 8, ...0 Happy New Year!
Then we would jump up, kiss the other family members and friends and wish each other a healthy and happy new year ahead. For the next 13 days, it was a period of sheer bliss. No one expected us to do any home work, it was play, see friends and be merry.

On the 13th day, Iranians go out to parks and countryside for a picnic. We usually used to go to a distant relative, who had a house in the countryside with a big garden. The adults would play backgammon, bingo or similar games, while we the kids would play more energetic games like football and piggy in the middle.
What a horrible feeling though when we got back from the picnic. Suddenly it would dawn on me that from tomorrow, it was back to school again. What a horrible thought! I could never understand how 13 days would pass so quickly and now I would have to wait for another three hundred and fifty two days for Nowrooz again. I really hated the Iranian schools. We were treated like tape recorders. The teacher would come and repeat what was in the text books, and we basically had to memorise what we were told and read. The exams were all about what we could remember. In what year did so and so king come to the throne? In what year did so and so poet die? were our typical exam questions. We had to give black and white answers. There was no room for debate or creativity, no room for thinking for oneself. I firmly believe our education system was hugely responsible for producing the very low intellect intellectuals who steered the 1979 revolution and helped the clerics come to power.

Worst of all were the religious education classes, which I feared most. The number of times I was physically beaten up by the maniacs who taught this subject, I could not count. Two occasions are more memorable than others however.

Once the RE teacher kept going on about how the Almighty is capable of doing absolutely anything. I thought I could challenge him and asked him if the Almighty can create a stone so heavy that he couldnt lift himself? The answer was no in each case, so to me it was proof that the statement was false. To my surprise, rather than being congratulated for my power of logic, the teacher asked me if was a Bahaii?
"Certainly not!" I firmly replied.
"Because such questions are normally asked by Bahaiis" He shouted back at me.
Then grabbed my shirt and tried to pull me from behind the four man bench, that pupils sit on in Iranian schools. I held on to the bench as he was trying to pull me out, but at the same time he was hitting me on my back and head. Even my friends who sat behind the same bench with me but had nothing to do with my question received a few of his blows and had to stand back. When the maniac teacher ran out of breath from hitting me, he told me to apologise. For what? I only asked a question, but I did apologise and asked him to forgive me just to save myself from his strikes and my new shirt I had got for Nowrooz from being ruined.

Another occasion was when we had cornered the class prefect behind the classroom door by throwing at him everything we could. Suddenly the RE teacher walked in at the same time I threw a large piece of chalk. I aimed at the prefect but the teacher walked right into it. He saw me and asked me to come by the blackboard. He then started asking me the meanings of some Arabic words. I was never keen on the subject, pronouncing Arabic words hurt my throat and twisted my tongue, but on that day, everything he was asking me I knew. As I answered every word, I could see the disappointment in his face. I knew an onslaught was coming, I kept looking in his eyes preparing to block his blows while my heart was pounding in anticipation of the moment. Finally he asked me a word I had forgotten. What does Nessian mean?
"I can't remember that one Sir!" I said nervously. That was it, he was off like a raging bull. The RE text book he was holding and I loathed, became a weapon. In between his kicks and the RE text book being slammed on my head, I could hear him shout "I'll show you what you should remember and what you shouldn't". Finally a push kick up the arse threw me off the platform by the blackboard and out of the classroom. I learned later, Nessian in Arabic, actually means to forget and since then I have never forgotten what Nessian means.
Blatant proof perhaps that corporal punishment does work. It never did me any harm :)

Coming back to Nowrooz. Since coming to England and making this lovely country my new home, I have tried to keep up the traditions of my forefathers, but its not the same.

Tomorrow is Nowrooz, yet it is still freezing cold. None of that spring fragrance is in the air. Nothing is green yet, let alone any sign of blossoms. There is no 13 day holiday to look forward to. Even the hyacinth in my Haft-sin table looks pale and lifeless. Even in Iran, Nowrooz is not the same. The clerics have never been too kin on this "pagan" festival. In fact Ayatollah Khomeini attempted unsuccessfully to ban it shortly after the revolution. This year the Nowrooz celebrations again coincide with the Islamic mourning month of Moharram in the lunar Arab calendar and so the clerics are hoping for a muted Nowrooz festivity.

Will Nowrooz ever come back, the way we knew it? History has shown that Nowrooz is a survivor. Nowrooz will always overcome its enemies. Winters can be long and bitter, but Nowrooz will always prevail.


Unknown said...

azarmehr, eid shouma mubarak and happy greetings. Hope you have a great new year.

Al Razi

Azarmehr said...

sepAs. nowrooze shomA niz shAd o khojasteh bAd.

Khashayar said...

Very moving read. I related to it a lot.