Hope - and disappointment - in Tehran (Special to IANS)June 14th, 2009 - 6:25 pm ICT by IANS
By Alex Verghese
Just a few days ago, the same street in Central Tehran where my taxi had to slow down due to joyful opposition supporters, had now turned into an obstacle race as we walked and ran to escape the teargas and passed burning garbage bins. On Saturday, it was a harrowing experience while returning home from work.
In the office on Saturday nobody was in a mood to work, I did not hear a single voice rejoicing at the outcome. The girl next to me openly said “it was plain cheating”. Throughout the meeting everybody was discussing election results. They apologised for the distraction but could not avoid it.
At 2 p.m. there was formal announcement of the results - that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won - and everybody in the meeting felt so disappointed. They told me that there was great support for a change among Iranian people at all levels and they were sure of a win by reformist leader Mir Hossein Moussavi.
I had to cut short our meeting seeing the mood of the people. They called a taxi for us - as in other days. The taxi took off but could not move beyond 100 metres. There was a huge traffic jam due to demonstration against the election result; and people started walking. The taxi took a different route and brought us back to the office. We thought we would start walking since we knew our way to the hotel.
But the office people did not let us go since we could be in trouble if caught by the police. They said there was widespread demonstration in the city and no transport is available. After waiting for 30 minutes they allowed us to proceed to the hotel with two of their persons accompanying us.
The road to the hotel was slightly uphill and I was soon out of breath keeping pace with our escorts who were on a brisk walk. They took us through lanes and by-lanes to avoid the trouble spots. At a certain stretch they forced us to run since everybody else was running. Our eyes were burning and throats irritating us due to tear gas being used a little distance away. We could see smoke rising at several places. In a number of places garbage dumps were set on fire.
At last I could see our hotel from a distance. The road in front of it was full of police personnel in ant-riot gear. Finally we scampered into our hotel some 20 minutes later and profusely thanked our escorts. We noticed two big fires raging in front of the hotel. And I am now safe in the hotel room. I have to see the TV for any coverage.
The mood had changed dramatically in just 24 hours.
I arrived only a week before the poll date - June 12. With the Great Indian Election 2009 still fresh in mind, I expected posters, placards, banners and graffiti galore while driving down to Tehran. None came my way. The city appeared to be unusually peaceful for an election time. In the next couple of days while commuting between work place and hotel, I was disappointed by the sheer lack of campaigning fever.
Our short route to work place, although fairly busy with vehicular traffic, was devoid of any familiar election activity - no procession blocking the road, no slogan-shouting. I was dismayed and finally, on the third day, pointed out to one of my young Iranian colleagues about my impression.
He took me out to the road and pointed to the fluttering green ribbon on some of the streaming vehicles; others were displaying different type of ribbons signifying the support to the rival candidate. I could also now see pictures of candidates pasted on the wind shield - none bigger than A4 size - in a few vehicles. At last, I felt somewhat assured.
In the hotel, I surfed through the local channels for dramatic election campaign visuals; none could meet my expectation, my lack of knowledge of the local language notwithstanding. BBC and France 24 did mention that people are very enthusiastic in regular news broadcast - mostly carried over telephone from their correspondent.
Being a proud politically conscious Indian, I could not but explore the views of my local contacts with whom I interacted during the last couple of days. Initially tentative, our discussion on this issue later became more open and they spoke with passion. I could gather that the younger generation were looking for some change and were more pro-reformist. I must admit that I met only a limited number of people and that too from a particular class - young professionals with technical background.
On the fourth day while returning from work place we were, mercifully, caught in a procession campaigning for the most promising opposition candidate. Supporters were riding in multitude of vehicles - cars, trucks and two-wheelers. There was shouting and gesturing as it should be; young men were distributing pamphlets to eager hands. But surprisingly our car kept on moving albeit at a very slow pace.
In some street corners, supporters gathered and started shouting slogans and waving banners. But when the cars including ours approached these corners, there was no forceful stoppage; instead there was conscious effort to make way for us to move on. I was so impressed!
The road was lined on either side with supporters forming a human chain with interlinking hands - but traffic continued to move. We finally arrived at our hotel; it took forty five minutes instead of usual fifteen minutes. I greatly appreciated the campaigning modality and the restraint; supporters’ attitude to general public and friendliness are worth emulating.
Those events now seem such a long time ago.
(The writer is on assignment in Tehran for a multinational company. His name has been changed for reasons of security.)
Tags: brisk walk, burning garbage, central tehran, disappointment, distraction, election result, election results, formal announcement, garbage bins, keeping pace, mahmoud ahmadinejad, moussavi, obstacle race, opposition supporters, returning home, single voice, teargas, traffic jam, trouble spots, verghese