Tarun Vijay recounts his Persian experience while driving through major Iran cities
Iran is not just a highly significant strategic partner of India and the third largest oil exporter to us, it is also an ancient civilisational ally whose influence on our language, literature, architecture and in the highly Persianised language of the local courts in the north can still be felt. Its poetry and culture, from Ferdowsi to Omar Khayyam and Hafiz Shiraji has influenced Indian poets. The Persian words are found in a large number in Punjabi and Marathi languages also- the word Punjab itself is Persian and the word- Shaheer- for classical poets in Marathi is derived from Persian Shayar.
But Persian references remind us Hindus or war, plunder and attacks also. Guru Nanak's famous lines - Khorasaan Khasmana Keeya Hindustan Daraiya - describing assaulters from Khorasaan who plundered in Hindostan remain etched on our minds and Zafarnama-the famous ‘epistle of victory ‘ written by Guru Govind Singh to Aurangzeb- is in a powerful Persian verse form which remains a treasure of our history.
Parsees came to India from Persia- they ruled the land for more than two thousand years- as Zorostrians and saw a great civilisation flowing, whose remains we still see in Persepolis- the city eternal that is a great testimony to the rule of King Darius and Cyrus. Each smallest stone of the Darius era tells the immense scholarship, beauty and the vast political and military influence it wielded two thousand years before. More than foreigners, I saw Iranian men, women and children, families and friends coming to spend hours at the awesome site. I wish some of pour own great places of architectural and historical significance like Hampi, Tanjavur, Raigarh fort etc will be maintained like this. The site reminds us Indians about the brilliance and entrepreneurship of Parsee people, who had to leave their home and hearth because of Arab/Islamic intolerant and violent invaders' persecution but they merged into India's Hindu milieu like sugar in milk. The contributions of Parsees in India's industrial growth, military might, art and culture has been immense with the house of Tata, Godrej, Wadia, on one side and Homi Jehangir Bhabha , Homi Sethna , Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Nani Palkhiwala..the list is endless. This Persia belongs to them and this was the Persia I was seeing with mixed feelings of warmth, connectivity and, pain.
Persian society is very proud of their Aryan roots. The very name of their country- Iran, which was adopted as late as thirties , has been derived from Aryan word. Many of my local Muslim friends said it that they are aryans and they feel happy to celebrate the pre-Islmaic festival of Navroj- welcoming the new year , which is Iran's most fabulous and popular day of festivities. In Shiraz, known for its natural splendor and poets, we paid homage to great Persian poet Hafiz Shirazi. His tomb is a place of tourist attraction and here I found a number of Iranian bird astrologers, who would keep many cards segregated and ask there bird to pick one, to tell the tourist whats hidden in his future. Iranian women were as much in number visiting and paying their respects at the Hafiz Shirazi tomb as were men. The small statuettes of Hafiz Shirazi and his classical creations were on sale in a campus shop. This was all so close to our own traditions that I forgot, hey, I am in a land of Islamic revolutionaries!!
Iranians love food and outings with family- in an extraordinary way. Perhaps the kind of changes this beautiful country has witnessed since last one century, has made their family institution more stronger because there they find a source of strength to face and withstand all vicissitudes of time. All through the highways we drove in Iran- on. other sides of the roads- wherever there was a good spot, a clean, green field, or inside the city, in parks and on lawns of places of tourist interest, we saw hundreds of families chatting, eating g, and having a fun time. At many places when they saw us, they would come to our group- and request to have some Mithai- sweets. Their warmth to Hindostani people was spontaneous , quite disarmingly charming and undiluted. Fruits, olives, were overwhelmingly being seen in the markets. Once so much of olive shops we saw, I said- oh my, it is a real olive country!! Persian walnuts, muskmelons, limes, and pomegranates, Apple, Apricot, Grape, Fig, Citron, and many more. Iran is world's largest pomegranates producing country.
Music and movies is in Iranian's blood and they have created some of the best movies world has admired. Asghar Farhadi has won two Academy awards , Majid Majidi and Ghorban Mohamadpour are two other renowned directors.
In Tehran’s famous ancient bridge , we saw dozens of young boys and girls singing in open Cornes , sitting and chatting on the bridge over a river which once would have been a beautiful stream of water passing through the city. For women, my local interceptor said- Iran is safest. But what about those who do not want to wear Hijab ? There was no answer.
We were passibgthrosgh Iran on an ambitious and one of the most thrilling driving experience on INSTC -a very significant and strategic trade route nurtured by India and Russia. The 7200 sms long International North-South Trade Corridor (INSTC) connects India, Iran, and Russia through Central Asia. According to a study by the Freight Forwarder Associations of India concluded that implementation of the INSTC will reduce trade costs by 30 percent and distances by 40 percent compared to the existing routes, which involve routing goods through Rotterdam Port in the Netherlands. It will help India speed up its trade with Russia , which had seen a declining trend on the past , to a level of 30 bn US $ over the next ten years as has been the joint ledge between two countries. Iran remains a key factor in the completion of the INSTC project. Prime Minister Modi’s Tehran visit was great success. Iran with second largest reserves of natural gas in world and remains a trusted ally in area of energy cooperation. Even during US sanctions, India imported oil from the country through a rupee payment agreement. Pm Modi signed many strategic agreements with Iran. Not only the development of Chabahar port and connectivity with Afghanistan, "The centrepiece of the trip was the basket of agreements on the development of the Chabahar port and onward connectivity with Afghanistan. The government deserves praise for the manner in which various pieces of this were put in place. The ground was prepared by extensive interaction of key Ministries — External Affairs, Transport, Finance and Petroleum — with their Iranian counterparts to overcome persistent hurdles and ensure synergies. In consequence, we have a set of interlinked outcomes: a contract for the development and operation for 10 years of two terminals and five berths; the extension of credit lines of $500 million for the port and of Rs.3,000 crore for importing steel rails and implementation of the port; memorandums of understanding on provision of services by Indian Railways, including financing to the tune of $1.6 billion, for the Chabahar-Zahedan railway line — a line that is also part of the trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan on a transit and trade corridor." (https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Modis-Iran-visit-key-takeaways/article14335305.ece).
Iranian President Dr. Hassan Rouhani's reciprocal India visit in February this year too was a success. He became the first he'd of the state to address a gathering in Hyderabad's Mecca masjid.
That was an Iran, that reminded me of the old Persia, that has still a fragrance in each gulab ( rose) we see, and each time we recite Firdausi, Hafiz Shirazi and attend a new government’s swearing- in with an Iranian painting gazing at us from ceiling.
My three days in Iran, just a month back changed a lot I had been perceiving about it. Iran, as reported to us by western agencies, is everything that stands against human values and democratic practices. The videos on the whats app, the news clips of the girl throwing her hijab in the air and then, perhaps getting arrested later. The movies that are banned for showing women without a hijab. And then, that over joyous lady’s 20 second video clip that went viral just because she was an Iranian shouting for her nation’s team in FIFA without a hijab!
Iran is much more. When we were in Iran, we could see a softer, liberal side of the society. We roamed freely, mixed with local people, saw their bazar, had hundreds of selfies with Iranian families, boys, girls, who were simply thrilled to see scores of Hindostani vehicles that were hundred percent ‘made in India’ . Restaurants were as noisy and chaotic as in Kolkata or Bangalore, with cokes, pastas, kebabs, and “KFC’s outlets ( of course K stands for some local variety of some K’ish sounding name-and doesn’t mean ‘Kentucky’). We visited at least one or two restaurants, in all major tourist places in four Iranian cities. In not a single restaurant, inside its serving area, none of the women wore hijab. A large number of the cars on road were women driven who not just waved at our caravan but shouted with their necks out- ‘Hello ,welcome to Iran'.
We also visited a temple and a gurudwara in the same campus in Bandar Abbas which are meticulously preserved maintained by Iran govt's cultural department . The caretaker, a Muslim, said the temple was constructed in the year 1310 AH. (1932 CE) during the rule of Mohammad Hassan Khan Sa’ad-ol-Molk. It should be the endeavor of our govt to see that the temple and gurudwara become functional places of worship and we can have it managed properly . It will be a very positive contribution to our friendship.
The climax of my Iran sojourn was a meeting with the President of Iran Arts academy Mr Mohammad-Ali Mo’allem Damghani, a close literary figure to the supreme leader Ali Khamenei. We discussed literature and the ancient threads that still create good, positive vibes for more than an hour. As we sat to have a session of India Iran relations through the prism of literature, he asked 'do you know the meaning of Hoindostan ? And then immediately answered Hindostan means friend of duniya- a land that is dost to the world. You have influenced immensely our literature and culture. you have so many religions, castes, different colors of culture, yet you have managed to live together. thats how the world should be. Make this world a Hindostan and all problems will be solved- he smiled . It wa s pleasant surprise. Here I was talking to a contemporary Iran's important literary figure and a leader who represents the government. He was , from his heart all praise for the contemporary India, and good words of appreciation for our Prime Minister . Diplomacy is the art of serving my national interest. He also presented me - a Persian version of Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya’s Devdas, translated into Persian.
When the interest of two countries converge the friendship flowers. We might be having many differences with Iran on certain issues, but is there any court try with which we have agreement on hundred percent issues? So lets move in a way that helps us walk together with as many countries as possible and that exactly is a great success story of Modi's foreign policy. He has very prudently maintained good rations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, USA, Japan, and china- just look at the [post wuhan development.