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They say Tehran has more than eight million permanent residents. They say it is the nineteenth most populated city in the world. These are the official statistics. Millions more live in grinding poverty in the shantytowns and cardboard houses that sprout like mushrooms in the southern and northern outreaches of the city. To walk about their dark streets and alleys is to travel the world of Oliver Twist , with one big difference: the gift of modern medicine.
On these streets, “vendors” pass out hand-written notes such as, “kidneys for sale; young; urgent; financial need; call this number.” There is a vibrant market for human organs. What transpires in these neighborhoods is not life, but a struggle, by every means imaginable, to stymie death. The leaders of the revolution had promised us an end to the infamy of such neighborhoods. You shall never see them again, they said.
Elsewhere, a different world exists. A tiny percentage of Tehran’s population inhabits this world of newly built mansions, all glitz but no beauty. The residents hold lavish parties and travel the globe for vacation. In spite of their plentiful comforts, their inner lives are as constricted as those of their impoverished neighbors.
Last June yet another Tehran was born when a million Iranians participated in a silent demonstration. They are Tehran’s middle classes: college-educated, anxious for a better future, keen on nonviolent change, angry at lies and at wars, even angrier at bombs. They wish for friendship with the world. How do these men and women of Tehran live?
In spite, or perhaps because, of a serious economic crisis and constant fear for their jobs, they work hard. Getting a university education is a moral imperative; invariably they spend a disproportionate share of their incomes learning a foreign language, accessing the Internet, buying books, or improving their physical fitness. They shop for groceries with a frugal eye; boutiques and hair salons are off-limits. They celebrate modestly the birthdays of family and friends. The real goal, they know, is simply to get together, consult one another, exchange information about upcoming events or news of favorite social sites. They talk about the nonfiction books they have read or the novel by their new favorite woman writer. They exchange addresses of a new music school or therapist. They make plans for a yoga class or a hike in the mountains.
This Tehran is connected through an invisible but sturdy green thread. And in this women play a crucial role. They weave and they weave and turn this place that is, in their oft-repeated phrase, a city occupied by “bloody, brutal invaders” into a habitable space. They seek a new Iran and a government that exists amicably with the rest of the world, without a nuclear bomb, laws of retribution, and a tradition of revenge.
This green Tehran is like and unlike any other big city in the world. This Tehran has seen the infamous Kahrizak prison, where those who protested their stolen votes were killed, and it has wept blood. In this Tehran, nothing is as before, or will be again. We live in a post-Kahrizak Tehran. At every moment the air is filled with the echoes of that beloved’s voice crying out, “we strive for only one goal: peace with ourselves, peace with the world.”
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Reflecting on three monumental works of modernism—James Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus—a hundred years on.
Both regulators and employers have embraced new technologies for on-the-job monitoring, turning a blind eye to unjust working conditions.
But I do miss the hymns, / the small, hard apples with their dimpled skin. I do miss / things.