I FIRST MET Zarah Ghahramani on Tehran’s Revolution Boulevard in June 2003, just down the road from the northern campus of the city’s university. She was dressed in the tunic of all young urban women in the Islamic Republic of Iran: dark scarf drawn tight over her head, lightweight coat (pale blue this day) reaching almost to her ankles. She asked me in her accomplished English whether it would not be too impolite to inquire what I was writing in my notebook. I told her that I was gathering material for newspaper articles on Iranian politics. “I thought as much,” she said without explanation, then offered her hand and spoke her name. As we walked along in the gathering dusk for a minute or more, I could only assume that Zarah had made a habit of approaching people who looked as if they might have a newspaper to report to in the West. But why? At the intersection of Revolution and Azari, where we might courteously have parted, Zarah stopped and made some comment about the rowdy traffic. Then she added that she had a few things to say about Iranian politics herself. Would I listen?
We sat at a kiosk in the Laleh Gardens not so far from where we’d met, and Zarah told her story over two hours. All around us, Tehrani mums and dads feted their children on the peculiarly flavourless ice-cream that Iranians favour, while young men in mock-Benetton tops engaged in air-courtship (the right motions, but no action) of young women dressed like Zarah. Fairy lights blinked on the garden’s laurels and date palms.
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