Reading Lolita in Tehran

Today’s post was supposed to be about Steve Jobs and how the internet has hurried up the speed of everything, including the time period it took for the eulogies to move onto the bad parts of the person.

But then I got hooked into reading Reading Lolita in Tehran. I’d long avoided the book… I’d never read Lolita, because I picked up soon after I read a book by Marquez and was a little tired of old men and young girls. (Yes, horrible conceptions, I know!)

I like most of my books to have happy endings or a vaguely happy ending, like To Kill A Mockingbird or even Catcher In The Rye. And Reading Lolita… did not seem to have any of those aspects.

But the book just draws you in with the mere quality of its writing. Phrases that continue to haunt you long after you’ve turned the page that you are just compelled to go back to savor the statement and try to imagine it in various ways.

It gets more disturbing… more compelling halfway through the book. Images of Iran’s revolution, bloody universities and imposing a veil over the country – an act that be interpreted as a literal act of throwing a black cloth over the culture and the beauty of the entire region.

My first brush with the Iranian revolution was when I was 15. I was reading a book – the title I barely remember now – about a love story set in the backdrop of the revolution in Tehran. It was in an university, as they are the hotbeds of both revolution and romance, and it was forbidden. The book was more of a political commentary about two individual viewpoints that are supposed to co-exist but actually end up hating each other.

Of course, at the age of 15, I heard only the burning buildings and the murders and the gore.

I met a number of Iranians in college, all of whom seemed to be so affluent and absolutely removed from the trouble ‘back home’. They proclaimed themselves to be non-religious… infact, the only sign of turmoil was a caption signed on a peace campaign – Save Iran! Stop the fighting!

I was not even aware that there were Iranians and all that political turmoil was something that was ongoing. The world was focussed more on Iraq and its fight with the U.S.

Every country has a bloody history and I guess Iran is undergoing that now. But as I read RLT, what disturbs me is the volte-face the country has taken in terms of its stand on Islam. The radical interpretations of Islam, imposing the veil on women and… does it only get worse from there? Is it wear the veil today and stop driving and voting tomorrow?

The world has ways to go to really accept women as equals… as people who are capable of things more than cooking and raising a child – two REALLY difficult acts, btw.

But what would one do if the liberties we take for granted are taken away? The liberty to wear what I choose, when I choose and walk down the street without being hassled by ‘moral police’. That every little act is interpreted as a possible disturbance to peace, as the author says.

Do we women really have so much power that just by the image of a strand of hair or exposing a partial wrist we can incite people to wars and furies? Are these the same people that are thought capable of not having the intelligence to do anything more than cook and bear kids? 

These statements seem funny… and yet hold a particular kind of horror. Horror that there are people – both men and women – who believe in this.

Mr.Bahri is a particularly interesting character in the book. I wonder how often one has heard his statement – ‘there are better issues to focus on right now than a woman being mistreated.’

What is a better issue? Wars? The environment? Perhaps. But how can we win battles with one whole segment of the population locked away, without having a say? Particularly in a place like Iran, where every person’s voice in important, if women are not allowed to come out, to have a say, where is the revolution?


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