Category Archives: Mamma Knife

>Mom’s UK diaries 1: The tale of an Indian doctor’s wife

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I have been down with a bad back for a while. So not much action happening – eating out or cooking. Writing’s a bad idea. Need to prime myself up for my Australia trip, end next week. Most of my time is spent getting slow roasted on heating pads. 
But then when you are down and out then who else but Mommy comes to the rescue? In this case through her writing blog posts. Mom’s written down her memories from her stay in the UK in the mid 70’s. Fifty hand written pages. She got nine pages typed out so far.  The posts would be a bit sporadic from now on as she is getting the house painted. Hope you like them like you liked her earlier ones on Iran and Delhi. Please write in if you do and I will send the comments to her. My sis in law is getting photos scanned too but I thought I will just go with the flow  and post the articles as they come given my travel plans and mercurial back. So happy reading … K
“In this post , I have tried to describe the lives of the Indian doctors of National Health Service(NHS) in the U.K. in the seventies purely from my point of view. I went to England in 1973 and stayed there for quite a few years. At that time I had the chance to observe closely the lives of the Indian doctors. However, some of the memories might have faded due to time, I also sincerely apologize if I have hurt the feelings of anyone … RK
From Delhi to the land of the sahebs
It was India in the seventies. The country was still trying to grapple with the independence that it had achieved two and a half decades ago. Colonial hangover on the one hand and the need for an all out effort to build the nation on the other hand, made the youth of the seventies very uncertain. Whereas a few wanted to join the Indian Administrative service/ be an engineer or a doctor, the others wanted to go abroad for further studies and career development. There was a craze for going to Britain, the land of  the  Sahibs. People did not want to go to America, Canada, Australia or Singapore so much
It was at this time that I got married to a doctor who had gone to the U.K. for further studies and then settled there. I left my country, my family and college job holding the hand of a person who was almost a stranger to me, for an unknown land of the Sahibs i.e. the U.K
We left India by an Air India jumbo jet named’ Kanishka’ with the symbol of the little Maharaja painted on its tail. Sadly enough, this same Air India jumbo jet later crashed while going to Canada
After landing at Heathrow, we went to an Indian friend’s house and stayed there for a few days. In the evening, the first thing we did was to buy a coat for me which would be suitable for the freezing cold of London. (Reminds me of K and my first evening at Istabul where the first thing we did was buy her a coat …KK)
We stayed in London for one or two days. After that we started for Canterbury in Kent, where my husband was posted after our marriage. My husband was a surgeon employed in the National Health Service (NHS) of the U.K.
Canterbury Tales
Canterbury is a city in Kent county. Kent was supposed to be the ‘garden of England’. People were very posh and a bit snobbish compared to the other parts of England. But we gelled very well with the people of Canterbury and made the most number of friends there
Every student of English literature is familiar with the name of Canterbury through “Canterbury Tales” written by Chaucer, the father of English literature, in the 14th Century .
It is the story of a group of pilgrims, who gathered in the Cathedral of Canterbury and narrated their tales. This cathedral dates back to the sixth century. It belongs to the Anglican Church and is a world Heritage Site. I was thrilled to the hilt when I saw the Cathedral for the first time. The Cathedral of Canterbury has grandeur of its own and is very awe-inspiring. It was in the vicinity of v hospital as well as our house, which was at the back of the hospital
While writing about the U.K., I am a bit confused as to what to write and what not to write. Due to globalization, everyone knows everything about the U.K. There is nothing new in what I shall be writing. But everyone has his or her own way of looking at things. May be I shall speak about some very minor or trivial things which nobody has thought of recording.
The Indian doctors of the NHS
Indian doctors formed the backbone of the N.H.S. Their lives centred around the hospital where they worked. A nearby fully furnished house, usually a minutes walk from the hospital, used to be rented for the doctors so that they could be ‘on call’ during emergency. At that time, there were no ‘mobiles’ so for emergency purpose, the NHS doctors were given a small electronic instrument called’blip’. During emergency, it 
 used to make a sound like’blip’, ‘blip’. And the doctor ‘on call’ wherever he was, used to run towards the emergency ward.
National Health Service or NHSspick and span. Cleaning, mopping and polishing of floors were done regularly. There was no trace of dirt anywhere.
I had the chance to observe the activities of the NHS hospitals very closely when my first son K was born in The Kent and Canterbury Hospital. The doctors and nurses of the hospital took great care of us. Apart from Indian doctors, I saw quite a few Ugandan and Kenyan nurses of Indian origin in the NHS hospitals. Their forefathers, who were originally from India, had migrated to Uganda and Kenya. But after so many generations, these nurses did not want to be known as Indians though their skin and facial features loudly proclaimed their origin. These nurses were very efficient in their work and took utmost care of me when I was in Canterbury Hospital, without getting too close and personal.
After I went home with my child, Miss Olson, a social  security worker appointed by the NHS, used to visit us quite often and look  after the baby. She was like my guardian angel and advised me on every little thing of child rearing. Pre-natal and post-natal clinics  were held regularly.
During weekends, the Indian doctors, who were mostly Bengalis, usually used to assemble at one of the doctors’ houses. Whenever a few Bengalis got together, one thing is sure to follow. That is ‘adda’. Roughly speaking you cal call it ‘chatting’. This ‘adda’ continued incessantly for two to three days and made us very happy.
Another pastime of the Indian doctors during weekends was to go to the sea-beaches and other  tourist centres.
The Island Nation
England, being an island, is surrounded by beautiful sea beaches on all sides.
We too loved going to the sea beaches whenever K’s dad visited any hospital situated by the sea, he used to take K and me along with him if the day was sunny. He used to drop us by the seaside. We spent the whole day on the beach, roaming about and eating fish n chips, sandwiches etc. K used to make sand castles with his spade and bucket. When tired, we used to go inside the hospital for hot coffee and biscuits. These short trips helped me to get relief from my everyday household drudgery.
Among these sea side hospitals, we liked the one in Dover, Kent  most. Dover was by the side of English Channel. If you remember , this English channel was crossed over by a Bengali swimmer named Mihir Sen. You could go over to the French border city named Calais simply by crossing over English Channel from Dover. Above the sea were the famous chalky white rocks, which seemed to be whitewashed with white chalk solution
K and I loved to spend the day on the sea beach of Dover Hospital while Ks dad used to work inside the hospital.
Communtig from one place to another place was no problem. Roads were very well maintained. Once you were on the motorway, you could drive miles after miles with ease. You could get down at petrol pumps, buy food and relax. Most of these doctors used to drive to far off places by car”         To be contd
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>Ma’s Iran memoirs ’77-79… This one’s for Mamma. Chapter 5/5

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 This is the last mom’s posts on Iran. She is writing on Iran now. I was planning to post this later till Sharmila, Madhu and Pinku wrote in asking for more. The ending was quite Bourdainish if you ask me. 

“This one’s for Mamma… may she rest in peace
So this is the story of all the experiences that I had in Iran during that transitional period. I had long wanted to share these tales with others but the daily grind of everyday life did not allow me to. While writing this article I went through different emotions- some made me ecstatic and some touched raw nerves.
Many years have passed after this.  I do not know what happened in Iran after we left it except for a stray newspaper report here and there or some news on TV.
Funnily enough, after many years I met a group of people who were very much interested in knowing about Iran and its culture. They are my bahu Kainaz’s (daughter in law’s) family. They belong to the Parsi community. Most interested among them was her maternal grandmother. Kainaz called her ‘mamma’ and doted on her.
Parsi’s are originally from Iran. But for some reasons, they were ousted from Iran centuries back. So were the ‘Bahais’ in recent years. We met quite a few Bahai doctors in the U.K. I am ignorant about the causes of exile in both the cases. The ‘Lotus Temple’ in Delhi is built by the Bahais.
Whenever we met Mamma, the good old lady would ask me about Iran and its people. But at that time I had not collected all my thoughts about Iran. Moreover, the language barrier also prevented me from saying much to her. (Mamma was extremely fond of my Mom and would keep asking ‘when is Rekha coming back to Mumbai’: Kalyan).
I appreciated Mamma’s feelings for Iran. Her desire to know more about it. I remember having seen similar sentiments among the migrants from East Pakistan when we were young. They would ask anybody, who came from that country about how things were in ‘daish’/ ‘desh’. They always referred to East Pakistan as their ‘daish’ / ‘desh’ or native place whatever the political reason for their migration might be. Now that generation is almost extinct and East Pakistan is referred to as Bangladesh, without being called anybody’s ‘daish’/’desh’ or ‘native land’. (Guess, its similar for Parsi’s after having spent so many centuries in India. But then you always want to know more about your origins…Kalyan)
While writing this post, I often remembered that good old Parsi lady who is  no more with us. I felt like saying, ‘Mamma, this is for you. Sorry. I could not say much before.’
Rk                                                                                                                              Kolkata30/12/2010.”
                                                                     THE END     
Here are the links to the earlier posts:



                         

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>Ma’s Iran memoirs ’77-79… The Islamic Revolution and our Great Escape. Chapter 4

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“Disclaimer: In this post I have tried to narrate the experiences that I had during the most transitional period in Iran. These views are purely mine. I was a young Indian housewife at that time. I might have misinterpreted a few of the political implications and some of the facts might have been blurred due to distance in time.  I sincerely apologize if I have hurt the feelings of anyone. ” RK.
And then came the storm
We returned to Rasht after the Kyoto Conference. Life went on as usual. We came to know that a new International School had come up in Rasht. We shifted K to that school. The teachers were all British and Americans. K was very happy
Then came that fatal day. It was 1 p.m.  K’s dad called me from the hospital and said that something was amiss. We should close all doors and windows and must not come out of the house at any cost. He missed his lunch in the hospital, which was served free for the doctors, usually consisting of ‘polo’, ‘gosht’, vegetables etc.
The bell rang. I opened the door after the checking for who it was through the key-hole. It was K’s dad. He told me excitedly that Sahenshah’s reign had been taken over by the Islamic religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Shahenshah had fled the country with his family in his private jet whose interior was rumoured to be made of pure gold. All we could hear was the sound of guns and bombs. We were terribly shaken. Even in the morning, we did not have an inkling of what was going to happen later in the day. For three to four days, we kept ourselves locked inside the house. We managed to survive with whatever food we had at home. All around we could only hear sounds of bombs and gun shots. We had a TV at home which used to broadcast news in Farsi. But the TV became erratic too. There was no proper news. We did not know what was going around us. All communication lines were snapped.
Away from home and family, we felt very miserable. In order to divert our mind, we started reading books. We had very few books though. Incidentally, I got hold of a novel on a concentration camp of Hitler. I do not remember how we got hold of it. Perhaps one of our Indian friends had lent it to us but we did not have time to read it before. You can imagine my state of mind- bomb sounds outside and reading a book on Hitler’s concentration camp inside!
After more than thirty years, it is not possible for me to recreate our feelings at that time because time heals everything. But we were in a very sorry state, caught in the crossfire of another country, for no fault of ours.
Life after the Islamic revolution
Things improved after a few days. We heard from Haji Aga that most of the British and Americans had fled as their hotels were targeted. With them, K’s ‘International School’ also vanished in thin year. Thankfully, Indians were spared.
Gradually people started coming out of their houses. K’s dad too started going to hospital. But there were very few doctors in the hospital.  Roads were almost deserted. There was chaos all around which is usual in a transitional period
Photos of Shahenshah, which previously adorned the walls of offices, hospitals and houses were replaced by photos of the Islamic religious leader Ayatollaha Khomeni.
One day an Iranian friend called me up and said, ‘ khanume suma tamasa didi?’ when I expressed my ignorance, she asked me to go to a nearby ground where quite a few people were executed and hung from the trees
In the evening, when we went there, we found a ‘mela’/ fair  like atmosphere. People had come from for off places to see the ‘tamasa’. Balloons, food stalls  – all were there. But we did not have the courage to go inside the ground and see the ‘bodies’. We hurried back home.
After the initial euphoria subsided, things looked quite grim. Fear was writ large on everybody’s faces. The smile vanished from Haji Aga’s face too. People became devoutly religious. Girls, who wore mini-skirts in public before, started wearing burkhas while going out. Men gave up their favourite drink, vodka, which presumably came from Russia, across the border of Rasht. Soon most of them were in such a sorry state that they became fit to be sent to detoxication centers.
Many of the Indians also returned to India. But K’s dad wanted to stay back for one or two more months so that he could complete his contract of two years.
Everything looked different. The city looked like a ‘bhaanga haat’ or broken fair. Many heads rolled. Literally. We never expressed our curiosity and kept to ourselves. The Iranians too did not confide in us. But we could realize that there were many changes and arrests of those in power.
If you ask me which regime was better- this or that, I would not be able to say because I am not a historian but only a chronicler who simply records facts.
The great escape
Soon the time to leave came. We packed only two or three suitcases leaving everything else behind. Haji Aga came to see us off with tears in his eyes. We left for Tehran with heavy hearts, to go to international airport.
We waited in the airport the whole night without getting our designated flight. Then K’s dad thought of changing our route. We took a flight to Heathrow airport and reached the U.K. safely.  
K’s dad could have got a job in NHS. But he was very home-sick after staying abroad for so many years. We were also emotionally shattered due to the political upheaval in Iran.
We stayed in U.K for a fortnight with our friends and finally returned to India in 1979.”              
RK                                                                                                                            TO BE CONTINUED
32 years later Kainaz is at Heathrow today on her way to LA! 
I also remember stories of how we were scheduled to leave by a PIA flight which took off without us. Intentionally as my dad said.Doctors were scarce and they didn’t want to let go of any.  There was  a little girl waiting to escape who beat me up and scratched me too. We finally returned  to England via a Bangladesh Biman flight. l vaguely remember eating rice and chicken curry in the lounge. I was only five so can’t  vouch for any of this. Kalyan) 

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>Ma’s Iran memoirs ’77-79… The City of Ramsar. The gold & meat markets of Rasht Chapter 3

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“Disclaimer: In this post I have tried to narrate the experiences that I had during the most transitional period in Iran. These views are purely mine. I was a young Indian housewife at that time. I might have misinterpreted a few of the political implications and some of the facts might have been blurred due to distance in time.  I sincerely apologize if I have hurt the feelings of anyone. ” RK.
“Trips to Ramsar, the land of gold
During winter, we used to go to different tourist spots. At times with friends and at times by ourselves.
Once we visited a nearby city named Ramsar. I do not know if Ramsar had any connection with Lord Rama. But it was the most beautiful city that I had ever seen. Roads were lined on both sides by orange trees. They were not exactly oranges but something called ‘malta’ that we found in Delhi too. They were larger and more golden than regular oranges. The trees were full of ripe oranges/maltas hanging from the branches. It seemed as if we were in a city of gold with golden fruits hanging from the trees. It was the most wonderful sight that I had ever seen in my life.
I have not seen any of the seven wonders apart from the Taj Mahal. But I have drawn a list of seven most wonderful scenes that I have seen abroad and in India in my mind. Ramsar was one of them. When I am down and out and feeling low, I conjure up those beautiful scenes in my mind’s eyes as the poet William Wordworth did. They rejuvenate me and I rise like the legendary Phoenix from the ashes.
Recently we have been seeing Ramsar’s name in the newspapers. Every year conferences are held in Ramsar to accord ‘international heritage’ status to different places in the world. This city is called ‘Ramsar site for international heritage’. Not many people know that Sunderban and its swamps in West Bengal have been accorded the status of ‘international heritage’. It is a matter of great pride for us at Kolkata.

The markets of Iran…the glint of gold and fatty meat
The golden fruit of Ramsar reminded me of the gold in Iran. Ornaments there were made of 18 carat gold. There used to be a separate market for gold ornaments. A lot like the ‘Meena Bazar’. Dazzling golden ornaments of all sizes and shapes were heaped in  bowls and sold. They were kept in the open. You could easily touch the ornaments and see the designs. I often wonder about how they kept track of these.
They had exquisite craftsmanship and resembled some of the Indian ornaments. But Indians were not interested in buying them as they were made of 18 ct gold though many of the gold ornaments sold by local goldsmiths in India as 22 ct are in reality 18 /19 ct gold. But then ignorance is bliss. In the evenings, we would sometimes go to the gold market and do ‘window shopping’.
As time passed, I came to know the alleys and would sometimes go to the local markets for shopping with K. It was an open market like the ones we have at Kolkata. Vegetables were very fresh, so were the fish. There were shops selling mutton too. One funny thing was that if you bought mutton, you would compulsorily be given a lump of fat. For example, if you bought 1 kg mutton, 900 gm would be meat and 100 gm fat. Previously I would ask them to exchange the fat with mutton. But they never agreed. So I would keep it there only with a show of temper.
Later on I would bring the ‘fat’ home and then throw it away. I realized that they would, otherwise, sell the ‘fat’ to the next customer.
Iranian currency was rial. It still is. Funnily enough, I observed that there was another word in circulation in the currency market which was colloquially used but not officially recognized. That word was ‘tuman’ Ten rials were supposed to make one ‘tuman’. Ten ‘tumans’ meant 100 rials  though in the price tag it would be written 100 rials and not 10 ‘tuamans’. At that point of time, rials were exchangeable in international market too. I used to save up my household money and buy Channel 5 / Channel 19 perfume on board of international flights.

Bol Radha Bol

 

Even at that time, the Iranians knew about Hindi flims like ‘Sangam’. Any saree clad Indian woman would make them sing, ‘bol Radha bol…..’  No bad intention meant. I felt happy that they knew about Hindi cinema. All Americans and British films were dubbed in Farsi and shown in cinema halls. Once we went to see ‘Jaws’ in a hall dubbed in Farsi. The floor of the theatre was covered with the shells of the cheaper variety of nuts as Iran was a nut– eating nation. They loved to munch on nuts when they were not engaged in any serious work.
Holding the Iranian Flag high
It was at this time that K’s dad was selected to read a paper and represent Iran in SICOT,
an international orthopaedic conference, held at Kyoto in Japan in ‘78!  Strange are the ways of God. The same country which had treated him so shabbily as he was an Indian, despite his experience and qualifications in India & U.K, selected him to represent their country! All expenses were paid for him by Iran Govt. But K’s dad decided to take K and me also to Japan. On our way back, we visited Thailand and Philippines. Those days, these places were not ‘hot’ spots for tourism especially for the Indians. But we had a wonderful trip. That’s another story.”                                                                                 …..TO BE CONTINUED

RK

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>Ma’s Iran memoirs ’77-79… Settling down at Rasht. Getting to know its people & its food. Chapter 2

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I was overwhelmed by your responses to Ma’s first post on Iran. Poli, Farriemist, Harman, Somoo, Sharmila…I shared your feedback with Ma and it made her very happy. I thought of putting the rest of the parts that I had proofed. Stories of Ramsar, our escape from Iran and Ma’s reconnecting with Iran through her Parsi daughter in law yet to come once I finish editing them. Any copy errors here are a result of my editing. The words are hers. Now Ma’s writing her stories from England in the mid 7os. And I have the privilege of sharing this with you
 “Disclaimer: In this post I have tried to narrate the experiences that I had during the most transitional period in Iran. These views are purely mine. I was a young Indian housewife at that time. I might have misinterpreted a few of the political implications and some of the facts might have been blurred due to distance in time.  I sincerely apologize if I have hurt the feelings of anyone. ” RK.
“Settling down by the Caspian Sea: Rasht
Our next phase in Iran was at Rasht
After a few months at Tehran my husband was posted to a hospital in Rasht, in the south of Iran. This time we were given a proper bungalow. People were quite good and gentle
Rasht is a city which is situated near the Caspian Sea. In school, we had read about it. Though the name suggests it to be a sea, in reality it is not a sea but only a lake.  I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would one day stand on the shore of the Caspian Sea. It was a beautiful feeling. It, however, did not seem any different from the sea that I had seen in the U.K. I could hear the ripples of the blue waves that ran towards the blue azure sky to be one with it. I was spell bound.
I was pained to see that a large part of the beach was privatized. The newly rich Iranians bought the beaches and built luxurious sea resorts where they spent their holidays with friends & relatives. We too were invited later to some of these villas. Very few parts of the beach was left for the masses. It was a great shock after coming from U.K.where most of the beaches are open to all
Ma with Haji Aga
The people of Rasht liked us and welcomed us in their fraternity. We made many friends. Best amongst them was Haji Aga. .’Aga’ in Farsi means ‘Mr’.He was called a Haji because his mother had gone on ‘Haj’ (holy pilgrimage) when she was expecting him. ‘Haji’ was a very respectable title. Haji Aga himself wanted to go on ‘Haj’ but he had not been able to do so till then.
Haji Aga owned a very big fish shop in the market where he sold both fresh and dried fish. I don’t remember how  we 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        became friends. May be a Bengali’s affinity towards fish drew us towards the fish seller.
We were often invited to the house of our Iranian friends. A doctor was respected like God here. They were ever so grateful to the ‘Aga doktor’ (Mr. Doctor) for curing them. I was called ‘Khanume doctor’ which meant ‘wife of a doctor’. But a lady doctor was called ‘Khanum doktor’. Farsi has similarity with Sanskrit, the mother of all languages.
Breaking bread with the kind folks at Rasht …pulao & takit, chelo kebabs, black teas in samovars, feasts, fish
Now about food. ‘Polo/pulao was the most important item in any feast. There were different types of ‘polo’. Sag-polo (made with rice & green leaves like coriander, sauf/mouri leaves etc) . Then there would be plain ‘polo’ and ‘polo’ with mutton. Rarely with chicken. Along with it, there used to be different kinds of kebabs made with mince meat and meat pieces.
‘Polo’ used to be cooked in an intricate and time consuming way. It was very tasty but different from Indian (read Bengali) ‘polao’ . ‘Takit’ was the most important feature of the Persian ‘polo’. As it was cooked for a very long time, the lower layer of the ‘polo’ used to be hardened and formed into a sort of crust. This  hardened crust was called ‘takit’. While serving the ‘polo’, the ‘takit’ used to be broken into small pieces and kept on the top . It was the tastiest part of the ‘polo’. (I vouch for that … Kalyan)
They sometimes used to cook a vegetable curry which resembled our ‘bharta’ to some extent. They peeled & mashed roasted brinjal.They then fried it with onions & tomatoes. When it was almost ready, they would break 1/2 eggs over it and mix the whole thing. It looked like’ bharta with scrambled egg’. (Wonder if it’s baba ganoush – Kalyan)
Salad was a must in every feast. Green chilies, called ‘fel fel’ in Farsi, used to be in a separate plate. You could eat as many as you wanted as they were not hot at all. The feast was followed by ‘Shirni’/sweets
I must not forget to mention ‘chelo kabab’ without which this post would be incomplete. It was similar to the one we get at the ‘Peter Cat’ restaurant of Kolkata. Two/three kebabs, made with mince meat, covered with freshly boiled long- grained white rice. Floating over it was a dollop of butter. It was a very common dish in road side restaurants. It did not occupy a high place in the social ladder of Iranian menu. I do not seem to remember anyone serving us ‘chelo kebab’ when we were invited for a feast
Food was served in abundance. They would cook for 20 people if they invited 10 people. Food would be heaped on huge plates. I always wondered what they did with the left over food as the servants were given only naans and onions. We were supposed to be asked at least ten times before we touched any of the food. The hosts would repeatedly say, ‘Aga bokhor, khanum bokhor’ ( Eat sir, eat madam). We would be called ‘greedy’ if we did not wait for a while before we begun eating. Funny how different customs can be. In Britain, biscuits, cookies and apple pies would vanish (be taken away) if we refused them even once. But then that’s the Orient for you.
If one’s best friend was Haji Aga, a fish seller, then how could one forget to say a few words about the fish of Iran? Haji Aga was a perfect gentleman. He did not stink of fish at all! His major earning came from selling dried fish, which I never touched. ‘Mahi safed’ ( as far as I remember the name) was the most aristocratic fish in the whole fish clan. You could very well compare with the ‘trout’ fish of Britain.
An Iranian way of eating the ‘mahi safed’ fish was to wrap the fish in newspaper, put it in the tandoor and roast it. There were other types of fish too which were not that expensive. We Indianized/ Bengalized them according to their taste. If it was ‘parshe’ or ‘ Illish’ type, we would cook it with mustard paste.  
We would grind mustard, put in a bit of water and salt, slit chillies (green) and make a paste. Then pour the paste over the curry when it was almost ready.  If it was of ‘rui’ or ‘bhetki’ type, we would cook it with potatoes and cauliflowers.
Going native at Rasht… of garlic breath, majestic carpets and a beautiful language
K’s 5’th birthday party (that’s me in a white tee) where Indians and Iranians met
During the weekend, we would invite over Indian friends for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They were mostly engineers and doctors. They came from all parts of India. When you go abroad, all Indians become one. The ‘doctor’ would merrily cook for all of them. These gatherings did not include the Iranians. The Indian community there liked to keep to themselves and drew a ‘Lakshman Rekha’ around themselves which seemed to say , ‘‘so far and no farther’. Only on occasions such as K’s birthday party, did we invite both Iranians and Indians together.
Iran was a garlic eating nation. They would immerse whole bulbs of the garlic in vinegar and preserve them. Men would greet other men by embracing them and kissing them on their cheeks with garlic flavoured breath. The Indian men were rather wary of this Iranian tradition.
The Iranians were very proud of their carpets. The carpets were mostly woollen and priceless. They were real works of art and could be matched only by Kashmiri carpets. We were gifted a small woollen Persian carpet as a token of appreciation by a patient whose life was saved due to a surgery performed by K’s dad. We brought the carpet back to India where it drew a lot of admiration.
We started  picking up the Persian/Farsi language. We could manage to communicate with each other in Farsi. This court language of Mughal Emperors is very courteous & modest. For example, in Parsi you would say, ‘khanumesuma izazat bede’ meaning ‘please give me permission to leave’ almost as if we had chained them. When they met us, they would bend a little forward and greet us by saying ,’Nafare suma’. It meant, ‘I am your servant’. What a stark contrast between the two languages -English and Farsi!
Learning English from an Indian

Ma and me with her students

Farsi was the official language as well as the colloquial language. But with the arrival of the British, the Americans and other foreigners, the need to learn English arose. Men started picking up ‘broken English’. Some of them went to the British and the Americans to learn English paying high fees. Somehow they came to know to know that ‘khanume doktor’ could also speak English and teach it. They preferred female teachers for the ladies. I had no objection as I was getting a bit bored. I had also taken a special course for teaching spoken English in a Summer Institute at Delhi University organized by British Council, Australian Embassy and Delhi University.
But they were not willing to pay me much as I was an India. After all English was not my native language! Still I did not mind and started experimenting new techniques of teaching spoken English. At that time ‘situational method’ of teaching English was in vogue and I found that method very useful. Later on it gave way to ‘functional communicative approach’ of teaching English. I framed my own curriculum and experimented with new techniques which filled me with happiness & success. Ladies would come to our house in the afternoon to study. I would form groups and teach them how to greet people, how to serve food and how to carry on a conversation in a party. Young people would be taught how to face the interview board and greet people of the opposite sex (I too was young once!).
Mothers sent their children after morning schools to learn English from me. But when I started paying attention to the other kids, the green monster in K (that’s me, Kalyan) made him beat the other children.  K was, otherwise, the best kid in the world. I realized what the matter was and suspended that batch immediately. I found this experience of teaching in Iran very useful in my later life.
Persepolis…the women of Iran
K was getting restless. I decided to put him in a Farsi school so that he could get habituated to schools. Primary education was free. K  picked up a few Farsi poems. The best part was that the children were each given a packet of pistachio, kismis & other nuts weighing at least 100 gm as Tiffin. Like a dutiful son, K would keep it till the school was over. Then the mother & the son would happily eat the packet on their way home. Pistachio, different types of nuts and zafran were easily available. (I loved this image – Kalyan)
It was here in K’s school that I met a few of K’s teachers & became quite friendly with them. We visited each others houses. They often opened up to me. They were facing a strange dilemma. Due to modern times, arranged marriages were no longer the trend. Yet, they were not permitted to mix freely with men to choose their own husbands. They were a bit envious of the Indian women as their husbands were chosen by their parents, if the need arose.
There were very few women who worked. Most of them stayed at home. Modern and rich women wore dresses whereas ordinary women wore burkhas while going out. Iranian men and women were very fair complexioned and well built. Many of the women could put Cleopatra to  shame when it came to looks. But forty per cent of beauty comes from inside. The women of Rasht seemed unsure of themselves and seemed more subdued than their Indian counterparts. Indian women seemed to have more access to education at that time than the Iranian women had. Iranian society was quite conservative. It was in sharp contrast with the free society that we found in the UK.”…                                                                                                     (To Be continued)

RK
With the women of Iran (my teachers I think, Kalyan)

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>Ma’s Iran memoirs ’77-79… A Rocky landing at Tehran. Chapter 1

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This is the first of a series of posts written by my Mom about our life in Iran. About how we landed there in the late 70s. Here memories of the life and culture there and the food which are coming subsequently. The retreat in the story post revolution days. And her reconnecting with Iran through her Parsi daughter in law and her family.
“(In this post I have tried to narrate the experiences that I had during the most transitional period in Iran. These views are purely mine. I was a young Indian housewife at that time. I might have misinterpreted a few of the political implications and some of the facts might have been blurred due to distance in time.  I sincerely apologize if I have hurt the feelings of anyone RK.)
The Iran story begins
I happened to live in Iran when the country was passing through the most turbulent and transitional period in its political history.
It was in the late seventies. Shahenshah (the king of kings) ruled over Iran. People seemed quite happy. Oil, underneath the ground, changed the fate of the country. The British, Americans, Japanese-all come in search of oil. With abundance of oil came abundance of money and arrogance. The country did not seem to be ready for the sudden outburst of money.
Iran in the 70s lacked infrastructure. Huge houses and cars were there but there were no roads to ride them on. The sense was that the country could not even take out oil on its own. They needed outsiders to do the job for them. So the need arose for engineers, who would build the nation, as well as doctors.
It was at this time that we met an Iranian doctor in U.K. who became quite friendly with us. He would talk about the oil of his country and show us slides of Iran. He painted a rosy picture of his country to the Indian doctors. Finally, he managed to convince my husband to work in Iran promising very high pay, a fully furnished bungalow and many other perks. After that he went back to Iran with his family. We still wonder what his interest was.
A rocky welcome and then a kind Samaritan
We took an Air France plane and bid adieu to the U.K. By that time K’s dad had already bagged a senior surgeon’s post in a hospital at Tehran with the help of the Iranian doctor. K was just a child at that time
After getting down at Tehran airport, we went straight to the designated bungalow, of which we had been dreaming for the last few months. What we found instead was a very modest apartment of two rooms. What a great shock it was! But K’ s dad was not the one to take things lying down. He refused to take the flat and all of us went straight to the Indian Embassy in Tehran. I think, you are all pretty well acquainted with the lacklustre attitude of the Indian Embassy abroad. However, they did provide us some shelter in a dormitory. We spent a day or two there.
After that we met a young British engineer named Vince. Hearing about our plight, he took us into his huge apartment and gave us shelter and treated us courteously. He was given a beautiful flat because he was a British national. They had different pay scales for different nations for the same post. For example, A grade pay for the Americans and the British, B grade pay for the Indians and the Pakistanis and so on forth. Bangladesh was not yet born or may have just been born.
Warming up to Tehran
We stayed in the big flat of Vince for a nearly a month. K’s dad was working in a hospital of Tehran during this time. Finally he threatened to quit and go back either to U.K. or India. Then the authorities relented and put us up in a 5 star hotel free of cost. We liked it quite well initially. We just had to take out the menu card and order different kinds of food like kebabs (both meat & fish) , caviar etc. But we soon got bored and longed for a meal of ‘aloo sheddo and bhat’ (Bengali mashed potato and rice).
After a month or so, the hospital authorities rented a fully furnished house for us. Things started looking up for us from this point. We slowly started liking Tehran. It was a beautiful city and hopefully it still is. There were beautiful gardens and mountains all around the city. There were narrow open drains on both sides of the road, like the ones we find in Kolkata. Not for passing dirty water though but for water which came down from the melted snow at the top of the mountains.
Firdousi square was one of the important junctions at Tehran. The climate was extreme-either too hot or freezing cold. All offices started at 8 am in the morning and continued till 1 p.m .Then there was a break for ‘siesta’( afternoon nap). People came back at 4 p.m and continued till 6 p.m. Friday was the day off in place of Sunday. Muslim religion was the most predominant one. In the evening, there was the sound of ‘namaz’ being read out.
Food was subsidized for everyone in the open market. People never cooked ‘rotis’ (bread) at home. Instead they bought hot ‘naans’ (in different sizes), wrapped in newspapers, and took them home. Food was pretty cheap. Girls dressed in Westernised clothes including mini skirts. Americans and the British were held in high esteem.”                                                                                                                (To be continued)

RK

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