By Shadi Sadri
Translated by Iran Press Watch
Bringing parallel lines together
It is the academic year of 1995-1996. I am in my last year of studying law and preparing for my post graduate studies. I have a full time job at Aftabgardan Newspaper, a subsidiary publication of Hamshahri Newspaper. I converted my job to part time, and now I am responsible for the “Setareha” (Stars) page. My job entails choosing articles for junior youth, editing and publishing them. It has been agreed that I will organise the First Friday Book Fair for Children and Junior Youth. We have advertised that the children can bring their second hand books to sell, and they can also buy other books.
That time was the high point of Karbaschi’s Cultural Projects Development at the Municipal Office in Tehran. The Khavaran Cultural Centre¹ had been recently completed.
It had been decided to have the “Book Festival” at that Centre. On the previous Thursday, my colleagues and I had gone there to organize the place, tag, price the books and to make sure no other books were there for exhibition other than children’s books. On the way everybody talked about how Karbaschi had converted a far-off deserted area and slaughterhouse into a very modern and beautiful Cultural Centre. A few minutes later I arrived and was surprised to see how beautiful the Centre was, with its concert and exhibition halls, in those unhappy and dim years.
People had brought so many boxes of books that we had to stay till morning to get the books ready with tags, make a price list and discard the books which were not for children.
Twenty years later, it is 2015 and I am miles away from those working days of Junior Youth and the Children’s Section of the Cultural Centre. I recently started a research project about Baha’is who have disappeared and been executed for “Justice for Iran”. In a Skype conversation with a knowledgeable Baha’i, he explained about the history of the present Baha’i burial ground in Tehran and mentioned, “When the previous Baha’i Cemetery was bulldozed and destroyed, and later the new Cultural Centre was built in its stead”…….. I interrupted and corrected him. I said that Khavaran Cultural Centre had been built in a deserted area. He replied, “No, the Cultural Centre has been built on the ruins of the Baha’i Cemetery”. I kept quiet. My mind went far away to the night in that Cultural Centre when I worked until morning to classify, tag and price the books. He continued, “My mother was buried there, too”.
We continued our conversation and I said, “We were always told that Karbaschi converted a slaughterhouse and a desert into a Cultural Centre. He kept quiet, while both our minds remembered days long gone. I said “We had a “Festival of Books” there”. He smiled uncheerfully and said, “You have built your culture on the desecrated tombs of Baha’is…” and then another silence. He resumed the conversation and continued on the main topic about which we had previously been talking.
That day and many days later, I think about that calamitous sentence and the history which has been censored, about convoluted sayings from here and there. The past seems like some parallel lines which never get closer together.
The feeling of shame because I do not know the history of the land beneath that modern complex in which I worked so proudly has not left me, and never will.
Is it possible that parallel lines can reach each other after all?
1. The following link shows the Khavaran Centre. As can be seen, it won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007. This award required the architect to complete a detailed questionnaire pertaining to use, cost, environmental and climatic factors, construction materials, building schedule, design concepts and the project’s significance. http://archnet.org/authorities/1718/publications/1592