02 May 2009 15:00
What's it like not to see Iran, but smell, touch and hear it? "A Scent of Iran" is the second installment of UNSEEN IRAN, Mani's travel log. Part 1, "Middle Man," was about his flight from London to Tehran.
A Scent of Iran
By MANI DJAZMI in Tehran
The first thing I always notice when I arrive in Iran, after the smell of pumping fumes, is the reassuring and distinctive odor of good old Iranian sweat. It's very different from European sweat, for instance: sweeter smelling and it hits the nose further back. In fact if sweat was wine, Europe would export dry, slightly acidic bottles while a bottle of Iranian would be much easier on the palate.
I recently returned to Iran after four years for New Year, or Nowrouz. I stumbled down the steps of the aeroplane, half carried by a multitude of hands belonging to hitherto silent owners -- silent until I told them in Farsi that "khodam miyam," I'll come myself. Then, as I continued to try and shake some life back into my limbs and remove the dams built in my blood stream by what can best be described as a model aeroplane, I smelled the fumes and felt the warmth -- the kind of warmth you get when you mix a spring dawn in Asia with the more prosaic heat emanating off a variety of humming and revving airport vehicles.
In my right hand was my white stick. In my left, a short-sleeved, hairy arm attached to an unusually cheery Iranian airport employee who tried his best to make chatty conversation over the blasts of polite radio traffic. Between my two arms was my t-shirt which had become horribly coffee-stained during the flight when the inconsiderate passenger in front of me, in an emphatic declaration of intention to sleep, suddenly launched his seat into the recline position. Did I say recline? More like horizontal -- just as I was lifting a cup of very hot coffee. The result: scorching molten beverage, soaking my top and perpetuating the belief of some that blind people really shouldn't be allowed out unsupervised.
Beneath my feet was what I imagined to be an oil-stained airport floor. But this floor was also Iranian ground. "One moment," I said to Cheeery. I then did what I always do when arriving in Iran: kissed my fingers, stooped and touched that oil-stained ground.
All this was but a variation on the sensual experience of my first return to Iran, ten years after I left. The headline smell then was the far more fragrant aroma of flowers. But those sensations were overwhelmed by the descent and sheer magnitude of my family, who descended on Tehran's Mehrabad airport. This was the first time I'd gone to Iran alone. Before, I always had my mum or both my parents to carry out the diplomacy of making sure we got to see everyone while placating those who were upset at not having seen enough of us. I was a mumbling teenager back then, confident in the company of my brother and school friends, but resentful if I had to speak to anyone else. Despite my best efforts, a few years earlier, to fit in with the English kids at school by telling them that my parents had English names and trying to persuade my mum and dad to copy some other Iranians and give me an English name to go alongside my Iranian one, I remained relatively routed. I knew who most relatives were and had memories of most of them. But I wasn't prepared to meet most of them, all at once.
One of my mum's brothers was first to greet us. I knew who he was -- he'd even visited us a few years earlier in England. One of my dad's brothers was next on the scene, coming up to my mum and I in tears. Then, they all came. Wet kisses on my cheeks and tight hugs squeezing my unresisting body and squashing the several bouquets which had been thrust into my arms amid a soundscape of an almost-forgotten language and rustling wrapping paper and stalks. The blood tide bore me away from my parents and my brother as those names suddenly became real people.
"Do you remember me, Mani jan?" was the question of choice, asked more in hope than expectation, I'm sure. "Yeah ... I mean baleh," was my reply on at least two occasions. Oh dear. This could be a long old six weeks away from McDonald's and cable TV.
I left the airport overwhelmed, trying to make sense of the familial storm which had just broken around me. I was squeezed up against the door on the back seat of a car belonging to someone or other, amid a forest of welcoming flora, next to my mum who was jabbering excitedly to someone else.
In 2009, cousins, who have grown up, got married and had children, drove me. This time, I held my own in the jabbering stakes. The question of choice this time: "When are you getting married then?"
Also by Mani Djazmi: Blind Luck