An old proverb says when poverty comes in at the door, love
flies out the window. In Iran, Khomeini kicked open the door, decreed English
the devil’s language, and out the window it would have to go, together with me,
the devil’s disciple, as I promoted it despite the teachers in the province of
Sistan and Baluchistan signing a petition asking that I be allowed to stay.
The civil war, rewritten as the “Revolution”, resulted in a mass exodus of expatriates (and Iranians) of all colours and nationalities. Being Indian, at least I wasn’t hated, and left without my visa being cancelled.
It was 1978, and I had been posted to Zahedan, capital of the province of Sistan and Baluchistan in the south, as an English Language Adviser. The city had a large settlement of Punjabis, most of them Iran-born and citizens. To cater to their needs, there was an Indian consulate. They were the reason the city got its name.
The British were building a railway line before Independence to connect India to the farthest reaches of Europe. The line was laid from Quetta up to Zahedan, capital of Iranian Baluchistan. There remained only a small gap before completion. The British had employed Punjabi workers but after Partition, these Punjabis found that their homes were in Pakistan, not India. Fearing for their lives, they decided to remain in Iranian Baluchistan, where they put down roots and prospered.
Just before all this, then Shah (Reza Shah) had been
consolidating his kingdom and
established his suzerainty over Baluchistan. He led his troops into the town and asked for its name. They said it was “Dustaab” or “Waterhole of Thieves”, a place where the raiders of caravans shared their booty.
The Shah saw a disproportionate number of men with turbans and beards and mistook the Sikhs for Iranian holy men. He decreed that henceforth the city be called “Zahedan” or “City of the Holy”.
The Sikhs didn’t bother to disillusion him. They settled
there, built a gurdwara, and carried on undisturbed by the Baluchis, who had
always been pro-Indian anyway. The railway line ended at Zahedan and was never
completed. Independence put an end to the
I was staying with the director of education in Zahedan, a Mr Hosrusefat, who spoke several languages fluently including German and Turkish. His English was good, but he wanted to practice to improve, so he put me up in his four-bedroom house with a swimming pool. His wife and kid were at his home in Tehran where his son attended the German school, so there was plenty of space for us.
Hosrusefat was a great aficionado of one of the popular female Iranian singers of the time. He had speakers everywhere so that her voice would accompany him whichever room he was in. The Iranians would exclaim appreciatively, “Beh! Beh!” whenever she ended a song, the equivalent of the north Indian “Wah!” Unfortunately her voice drove me to distraction. It was a peculiar yodel followed by atonal utterances. Her appearance was on the other hand quite appealing, as she wore apparel revealing more of her body than strictly permitted under their religious observances, but those were liberal times. Once the “Revolution” succeeded she had to flee for being such a brazen hussy.
It was only by retreating to my room and cramming toilet paper around the frame of my door that I could succeed to a large extent in cutting out her dulcet tones.
On coming out of my room after my initial retreat, Hosrusefat looked at me compassionately and said, “Mr Padman, I know how difficult it is for you to hold back tears when you hear Googoo (name changed in case I get attacked) and you have to hide in your room to show your true feelings. It is all right. I understand. I too feel the same way and I am not ashamed to show my tears, so please sit in the living room and cry openly.”
osrusefat was a decent man, trying to do his job under trying circumstances. He decided to take me to all the major towns in the province which was larger than many European countries. We would either be driven in his official air-conditioned SUV or fly in a tiny four-seater plane used to ferry post from one city to the other.
Once we drove from Zahedan to Chabahar, a city on the Gulf
coast in the south. On our way we passed through semi-desert rocky
surroundings. It looked like pictures of the lunar surface: sharp black pointed
rocks, but strangely with seashells embedded in them.
Apparently all this lay under the sea millennia ago. In fact there was a huge area in the north of Zahedan called Dust-e-Lut or “Desert of Lot”, a massive salt flat hundreds of miles across. Ruins of an ancient city had been uncovered there which the locals called “The Burnt City”.
As we proceeded along the undulating road, I caught a glimpse of a tiny white peak over the horizon. As we approached, it grew bigger and bigger until I perceived a massive mountain range running parallel on our left, culminating in a peak covered with snow and a cloud hovering above it. This was the dormant Taftan volcano and the melting snows on its slopes fed mountain streams and vegetation. Wild animals thrived in its green cover.
We reached Chabahar where I had been entrusted with a job: to deliver letters from fellow Indian doctors of Zahedan who were running that hospital, to their friend Dr Reddy. Prior to his arrival, no Iranian doctors were willing to serve there and no Baluchis had been trained. So it was hardly surprising to find Dr Reddy so well known at the hospital.
Everyone knew his name. He was unmissable; everywhere he went there was a crocodile of nurses following, taking in his every word. He had mastered the language (as had all the other Indian doctors who had undergone a language training course) and virtually passed off as one of the locals.
The chief of SAVAK offered to drop us back in his helicopter, a huge American army one. Its interiors had been modified to become a luxury cabin and there were four stuffed armchairs set around a table.
Having delivered my missives, I went to visit a couple of
schools. The first we went to, the Iranian lady teacher, on spying us arriving,
fled in tears from her classroom, intimidated at the thought of strange faces
observing her working. It took some persuasion to get her to venture out from
the room in which she had locked herself. I had to explain that my job was to
find out what difficulties she faced and, if possible, to make her job easier.
I had brought recordings of different lessons so she and the children could
listen to learn the accent for spoken English. This encouraged her, and she was
soon happily playing the cassettes and thanking us, her confidence restored.
Just as I was dreading the thought of enduring the return journey over hundreds of miles, Hosrusefat brought happy news. He had just been to meet the general who was the chief of SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police based in Zahedan, and he had offered to drop us back in his helicopter, a huge American army one. Its interiors had been modified to become a luxury cabin and there were four stuffed armchairs set around a table and others against the walls. Hosrusefat introduced me to him and he offered the limpest handshake I had ever experienced, fingers like a cold bunch of leeches. He was in what looked like a bandmaster’s uniform, gold braided with epaulettes and tassels.
We met the two pilots—slim and well-spoken Iranians with American accents—who told us our path would take us by the Taftan volcano. This was exciting and I could hardly pay attention to the general who, once we were seated in the cabin, questioned me in English whether I had been to Washington.
He had been trained there, he said, and added, “You meet Mr Hoover? Very nice man. I know him.” He accompanied this with a chilling smile that made my blood run cold. The general was later to flee from his country to Pakistan across the border but was caught and executed. His police station was filled with implements that he had been trained to use to torture and extract confessions from his victims.
The director—on hearing my enthusiastic description of Taftan—asked the general if he could fly a bit closer to the volcano. He asked the pilots and one of them said, “I’ll try to get as close as possible sir, but there are gases which are pouring out of its crater and we do not want to be downwind of them; it can be dangerous.”
We could see the mountains ahead and were soon flying by the edge of the crater. It was a terrifying sight and I felt the size of a fly hovering over a gigantic mouth blowing smoke rings.
The experience has stayed with me and I often visualise it whenever I feel upset to regain my perspective; to realise how trivial we are.
here were several other unusual experiences, especially one in Zabol, in Sistan. My Iranian colleague, Ferradoon Samurai, who acted as my unofficial translator, came from this area and his family was from a prominent tribe. He said he would take me around once the director and I reached his town.
Zabol was next to a massive freshwater lake in the middle of the desert. The Helmand River which fed it flowed from the mountains of Afghanistan to form the Hamun-e-Helmand Lake. It was over 50 miles long and part of it lay within Afghanistan.
The water was crystal clear. Water reeds grew in high bunches along its shores. The locals cut the reeds, laid them down in overlapping bundles, and tied them to form a boat with a long prow, like those pictured in ancient Egypt hieroglyphs. The boat would be punted using long poles, as the lake was quite shallow in places. Wild birds nested there, coming from regions as far off as Russia and northern Europe.
We arrived at the start of the hunting season. I was picked up by my colleague and we drove along a desert road bordering Afghanistan. It was a dangerous route. Afghan raiders were constantly on the prowl for victims and had come up with various ploys to trick travellers. An early one was to get some men to lie on the road as if unconscious and park their vehicle at an angle, feigning an accident. Stopping to help the “victims” would result in the rescuers’ vehicle being surrounded, the driver and passengers robbed and killed, and the bodies dumped in the desert sands. The vehicle would be driven across the border to be sold.
There were frequent raids on Iranian villages near the border, and young women would be abducted for ransom. A note would be sent for the amount demanded with the assurance that the abductees would be returned virginitas intactus.
Almost all border villagers owned guns though the government had banned them. Once when raiders were attacking Feradoon’s village, all the policemen ran leaving the villagers to fend for themselves, which they did. They laid traps for the raiders and in a shootout, finished off many, with the rest retreating across the border.
The policemen returned to the village and were embarrassed to find the villagers waiting in triumph. A compromise was reached. The police would say nothing about the guns; the villagers would not reveal to authorities that the policemen had abandoned their posts. Subsequently the policemen were called to Tehran and awarded medals for bravery by the Shah himself.
A massive grayish-brown wave confronted us, rising thousands of feet into the skies. It was a sandstorm. We were engulfed in minutes, the sand whistling by and scouring the sides of our van.
At the lake, Feradoon had arranged for the hire of three reed boats. Each had a young lad with a punting pole at the helm and took two passengers. Feradoon, the punter and I set off, each armed with a 12 bore loaded with cartridges.
We could hear shots in the distance. As we got further from the shore, wild geese began to circle above the lake and we managed to shoot a few in the air. As mine came crashing into the water, Feradoon ordered the lad to punt faster to where the bird now floated on the lake’s surface. I didn’t understand his hurry as the bird was obviously going nowhere.
He grabbed it and intoned something under his breath before cutting the goose’s throat with a knife pulled from his belt. Apparently no animal could be eaten unless it was halal, and this meant it ought to be alive and kicking so that it could be bled to death.
I must say the hunters seemed to take a very laissez faire attitude and declared all the geese had died the halal way, though it seemed to me they had hit the water dead ducks.
n the drive from Zahedan to Zabol, I noticed large pillars set at intervals along the road side. I couldn’t fathom the purpose. I was soon to find out their importance. As our four-wheel drive sped along, a massive grayish-brown wave confronted us, rising thousands of feet into the skies. It was a sandstorm.
Our driver asked us to make sure all windows were tightly shut, reversed the vehicle to the side of the road, and turned off the engine. We were engulfed in minutes, the sand whistling by and scouring the sides of our van. Despite the windows being shut, fine dust—like talcum powder—entered. We wet our handkerchiefs and placed them over our faces to act as air filters, to keep out as much dust as possible from entering our lungs. The air conditioner had been switched off as sand would have clogged it.
The storm passed in 45 minutes and there was silence. The skies were overcast and it felt cool. The road had disappeared under newly formed sand dunes. However the stones were clearly visible above the dunes, marking our direction. That was why they had been put there.
Our driver reversed the vehicle to face the way back. The
storm had sand-blasted the rear windows to an opaque white. Had the vehicle
been facing the storm, the windshield would have been covered with scratches,
impossible to drive.
Just as we were getting ready to restart our journey, wild camels appeared over the sand dunes in front of us. They were walking in their usual peculiar, ungainly fashion, crossing the now invisible road, when the unexpected happened.
It started to rain.
Cold droplets fell on the camels and they went berserk, tossing and turning and jumping like demented disco dancers. Each camel was completely absorbed in its own gyrations and ignored the others, as if it had ingested an illicit substance. Their large dark eyes focused inwards under long, luxuriant lashes. It was a hilarious sight and we were in fits of laughter. We waited for the show to end and eventually, the camels danced their way across the road and disappeared over a large sand dune; another first to add to my experiences.
y now I had picked up the necessary basics to interact with locals in an acceptable manner. This required careful observation, as it was both a combination of body language and an instinctive understanding of the implied meaning behind a request or invitation. For example, one did not immediately accept an invitation to lunch or dinner as it might have been offered out of politeness.
I unintentionally got it right the first time I was invited to my colleague Tabatabaye’s home. I was busy preparing a lecture to be delivered the following day and so I asked him to excuse my attending. He asked again and I explained that I had to complete the assignment. He suggested I do it the next morning as the lecture was only in the evening. I agreed and he said, “See Mr Padman, how well you have understood our customs. When I invited Mr Pope (an American teacher), he immediately asked if 8 p.m. would be okay. I was shocked and my hanuma (wife) was most upset, as we were not expecting anyone that evening. She sent me out to buy things to eat!”
I had observed the twice refusal and third time acceptance rule of correct etiquette.
Similarly, whenever one was with a group of people and approached a doorway, one never passed through without first bowing and, with a sweeping gesture, exclaiming, “Befermaid!” which basically meant “After you”. However it was expected that the most important person went first, followed in order by the others.
Zahedan was in a peculiar position. Although there were a number of Shia Iranians from the north, the majority of Baluchis were Sunni Muslim. So far there had been no antagonism between the two groups.
I expressed my surprise to Feradoon that these niceties were
dispensed with once an Iranian male got behind the wheel of his car. Then it
would become a macho challenge to see who would overtake whom. Every day I saw
smashed vehicles, either in the ditch on the roadside or mangled on a road
divider. I was informed that most patients in the local hospital were accident
victims. In fact, an Indian doctor with whom I was friendly said, “Thank god
for Ford, otherwise half of us wouldn’t be needed here!”
It was also expected that when one entered the staffroom, all those seated got up, waited until you were seated, and then sat. This went on as each teacher arrived and the earlier one arrived, obviously the greater number of times one had to stand up and sit; so I always made it a point to arrive just as the bell was ringing and the teachers were heading for their classes.
s time passed, there was palpable tension, with resentment building over the Shah and his government. People were beginning to agitate. Zahedan was in a peculiar position. Although there were a considerable number of Shia Iranians from the north, the majority of Baluchis were Sunni Muslim. So far there had been no antagonism between the two groups.
Uneasily caught between were the Sikhs. They had lived there without problems.
I made friends with one of the most prominent Sikhs, a millionaire property owner, financier and distributor of liquor for the whole province. I had been to the offices of Pakistan Airlines to meet the manager to get a ticket to India. It was the only airline operating out of Zahedan which flew to Quetta and on to Karachi. From there one took a flight to Bombay. The manager was Morad Khan, nephew of General Yahya Khan who had been the military dictator of Pakistan.
Morad was the spitting image of his uncle, with thick eyebrows and moustache, and smoked a pipe. However he was an extremely friendly and helpful individual who had a soft spot for Indians. It was here that I met K. Singh, the business magnate. He had come to get a ticket to London for himself and his family. He was a jovial, plump Sikh with a keen sense of humour and subsequently we three used to meet at his massive home to laugh and joke over drinks and food.
Singh was well-known to local bigwigs. He had taken it upon himself to meet the heads of the Sunni and Shia sects and obtained written assurances of their appreciation of the Sikhs’ presence and contributions to the town’s prosperity. They both exhorted their followers to protect and not harm them in any way. Singh stuck the notices on the gates of the gurdwara and there were no problems from anyone.
However, the antagonism was directed towards the Americans and British whom they blamed for the Shah’s regime. A Sikh came to Morad’s office and insisted he get the quickest flight out of the country. He said he was British and felt vulnerable. No doubt the locals would have picked him out among all the other Sikhs as British. Morad, Singh and I often joked about this. In fact, K. Singh would often make jokes at the expense of his own community.
The first time I made a joke, he extended his hand for some unknown reason and I dutifully shook it, which resulted in further peals of laughter. Apparently the custom among Hindi speakers was to slap each others’ palms in appreciation—not shake them. The custom had crossed the borders as Morad was quite adept at palm slapping. I became a custom-changing chameleon depending upon which group I socialised with: back clapping, table thumping, or palm slapping.
Morad had a Parsi woman from Karachi as his secretary. I usually had a chat with her before going in to see her boss and on one occasion, I was introduced to a Colonel Raja, employed by a British road building company based in Zahedan. He frequently drove across the border to collect mail addressed to the company and delivered to the border town in Pakistan.
This was because most Middle East countries just dumped post in mail boxes in the central post office; there was no home delivery unlike in India and Pakistan. Letters were often put in the wrong box and it was an unwritten courtesy that each box owner pushed the wrong post he had received into the box for which it was intended. This didn’t always happen though—sometimes letters were indifferently left on the floor or put in the wrong box—hence Raja’s frequent trips to the Pakistani border town.
The colonel had previously managed the Pakistani hockey team. He became friendly with me, and asked me and the Parsi woman to accompany him across the border any weekend. He said the guards on both sides merely counted the occupants and waved him on as they were used to frequently seeing him.
I accepted his offer. It would be a day trip, starting in the morning and returning in the evening. What tempted me was that he would bring back loaves of bread. I was tired of eating naan since bread was not available in Iran. This was before I discovered that Morad got his quota through Pakistan Airlines and I could get bread through him.
The weekend came and we set off for Pakistan. As predicted, the two guards behind the barricades at each border recognised the colonel and let us through. Raja drove to the military quarters of the Pakistani colonel in charge of the border post. He was a typical army type: starched uniform with polished boots and curled moustache. He shook hands as Raja introduced us and led us into the officer’s mess for lunch.
The walls were decorated with shields, crossed swords, and other army paraphernalia, just as I had seen in the Indian army mess. There was a huge teak table on which orderlies laid out plates, and we were served an array of food, almost all non-vegetarian. That was the only time the colonel asked if Indians ate meat. I was a bit surprised as I didn’t think he was aware where I was from.
It was a pleasant meal and we returned after Raja had collected his mail for the company and himself, and several loaves of bread! If only the borders now were that easy to cross!
discovered that most of the furniture for the schools had been provided by a firm from Israel. In fact the furniture in the director’s house had also been installed by the company. No wonder it was so plain. The company representative came over to stay for a week with the director and I got to know him pretty well. His name was Mike and he had emigrated from Bulgaria to Israel.
Mike spoke English fluently and I found that the Israelites were involved in reclaiming the desert. They had planted casuarina around the semi-desert and, using drip irrigation, had succeeded in getting the trees to grow. Their roots went very deep and by the third year had reached the water table and didn’t need further looking after. The sparse rainfall became heavier, though whether this could be attributed to the increase in vegetation cover was never quite proven.
Mike had lived in Iran off and on for years and spoke the
language fluently. He could easily pass for an Iranian. He even was engaged to
an Iranian girl in Tehran, where there was a large community of Jews who had
lived there from pre-Islamic times. They had their schools and synagogue and
lived in relative peace among the Muslim
There were also Iranian Christians and, of course, the Zoroastrians. In fact, many Iranians names were from this ancient culture, like Porus and Feradoon. They were dismissive of the Arabs and considered themselves far superior. They thought they were Aryans, not Semitic, hence the king’s title which was roughly translated to “King of Kings and of the Aryans”.
This basic all-inclusive culture was changing. Now teachers began to sprout beards and show their new revolutionary personas. On one of my visits to a school accompanied by Feradoon, an arrogant bearded member of the staff verbally attacked me. Assuming I was British since I had come from London, he said the British were awful and had harmed Iran.
As the polarisation grew, people found a way around it. For instance, pictures of the Shah were pasted on the inside of the windshields of vehicles, and of Khomeini on others.
Feradoon translated his diatribe efficiently and I asked him
to translate exactly the words I used, saying I agreed with him, and that India
too had suffered many invasions. In fact, Nadir Shah had attacked India and
taken away the Peacock Throne, the one on which his Shah sat. Once Feradoon
explained I was from India and then hearing the rest of my answer, the staff
stood up and clapped, and the arrogant staff member sat quietly. Not many of
the staff liked him as he was also the one who had clapped the loudest whenever
he heard the Shah or Shahbanu’s name mentioned in speeches.
The students at the teachers’ training college where I taught were getting moody and restless. A number had started growing beards and looking scruffy. They had fixed ideas about everything. It came as a shock when a group of male students complained to me that a female had attained the highest score in the English test I had conducted. “Obviously there has been a mistake,” the leader of the group told me. “You see, no woman is cleverer than a man; they have smaller brains, so obviously a man has to have come first.”
As the polarisation grew, some people found a way around it. For instance, pictures of the Shah were pasted on the inside of the windshields of vehicles, and of Khomeini on others. Morad got the picture of the Shah and Khomeini laminated back to back so that when he drove through a Sunni-dominated area he displayed the Ayatollah and reversed it when passing through Shia areas. Eventually he pasted a photo of Jinnah inside his windscreen and informed armed interceptors that he was a Pakistani and was allowed to proceed.
Soon, colleges shut down and the students began taking out marches. They began to grow beards. So did I, but for a different reason. Shops were forced to close in support of the “Revolution” and this included the barbers. I wore jeans and with my growing hair, I looked like a revolutionary and so felt safe wandering around.
Then I received an excited call from my Iranian colleague Tabatabaye—he was in much of in need of a haircut as I was, and had discovered a barber shop that was still open. Parking his car at my house, we walked a mile or so down the main road to the shop. The two middle-aged men running the place greeted us effusively as we seemed to be the first customers. They were worried that the revolution would leave them jobless.
We sat in the chairs. Tabatabaye had his luxuriant beard lathered with foam while my attendant began giving me a haircut.
As we sat there chatting, we heard a chanting in the distance,
increasing as the sounds drew nearer. It was a mob marching and shouting slogans like, “Long live the Revolution! Only traitors keep their shops open!” Our barbers trembled and told us, “Please sirs, we have to close our shop. You will have to leave!”
Before we knew it, we were ousted and the shutters were lowered from the inside.
We stood on the pavement, ahead of an angry crowd tearing down the street.
“We must run Agha Padman,” said Tabatabaye. We ran.
It was like a scene from a silent movie starring Buster Keaton running from the cops. Sometimes even the most fraught incidents can evoke amusing memories.
Tabatabaye was one of the few plump Iranians I had seen and, struggling to keep up, he weakly mumbled, “We must run Agha Padman, but not so fast!”
I decided that it would be better to get away from the main street where the mob was catching up with us and to take one of the tiny by-lanes between the crowded buildings. We saw one blocked by some empty barrels of oil and pushed them apart to squeeze through, arranging them back once we’d passed. The crowd surged down the main road and so we managed to return to my place, taking tiny back street alleys and byways.
It was only when we had got back behind closed gates that we looked at each other and burst out laughing. We still had the white cloths around our shoulders. Half of Tabatabaye’s beard had been shaved off and half of my head of hair had been neatly trimmed. I found a pair of scissors and we amateurishly cut each other’s unfinished locks.
That was the last hair cut I had in Iran.
I knew we were near the end when Hosrusefat went on his usual weekend visit to Tehran but didn’t return for over a week. Then I received a call from him asking me to supervise the packing of his clothes and to send them to Tehran. He wasn’t returning. He had planned his escape very carefully and left with his family for Germany just before the Shah was ousted. He had packed as many of his valuable carpets as he could and was assured of buyers there. Banks had been ordered to stop all foreign transactions so he had resorted to this as a means of getting his assets out of the country.
I had expected this from the banks and had already transferred most of my money abroad, with only a couple of months’ salary left in my account. Luckily the bank manager’s son was one of my students, and so he allowed me to convert the remainder of my money into gold coins or aazadis, struck to commemorate the “Revolution”. Each account holder was allowed a couple of these pure gold coins but the manager allowed me to convert all my money into as many coins as they were worth.
I was now in a peculiar position. I was living in a house assigned to the director, not me. Luckily the deputy director allowed me to stay till my contract wound up by the end of the month.
eradoon Samurai left for America. I had conducted a test the previous month for selection of teachers who would be admitted to an American university for further studies on a scholarship, and he had stood at the top of the list. It was with a sense of loss that I saw him off at the airport. He had been a great friend and help during my stay, and I was glad he escaped just in time. There was no hope in the foreseeable future for teachers of English.
K. Singh insisted I move to his home before I left for good and Morad said he would upgrade my flight ticket from Tehran to London. They flew to Tehran to see me off. He gave me the last bottle of champagne made in Iran to take with me. He had got rid of all his stock as liquor was now banned throughout the country and the Revolutionary Guards had destroyed all the bottles they could find in hotels.
In Tehran, we went to an Indian tandoori restaurant. The waiter came up to us and we placed our orders. He asked us what we would like to drink and I jokingly said whisky. He didn’t bat an eyelid and said it would be brought mixed in any soft drink of our choice. So we all had whisky added to Coke and as we raised our glasses, other customers too smiled at us and tapped their glasses, co-conspirators in this illicit endeavour. It was unlikely that they would get drinks much longer as the waiter informed us the hidden stock was running low and soon there would be no alcohol available anywhere.
At the airport there were bearded youngsters with AK47s keeping watch on the passengers. At the emigration counter, one of them asked me where I was from as he saw my destination was London. When he realised I was Indian, he said, “Iranians and Indians are brothers. Long live the Revolution. Now donate one of your suitcases to your Iranian brothers!” I pointed to one and two bearded brotherly comrades slung it on top of an ever-increasing pile of luggage seized from fleeing expatriates.
I breathed a sigh of relief once I was in the plane, on my way to London. I had been warned by my Iranian friends to expect the seizure of one of my suitcases so I had filled it with newspapers, torn underwear, and even a brocade curtain I had unhooked from my Tehran hotel room. Revolutions cannot constrain greed.