My special ticket to the said event.
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"Daveed, what are you doing tomorrow?", my uncle phoned and asked, curious as to how I planned to spend the national holiday marking the end of Ramazan. "Do you want to come and see the Spiritual Leader?", he asked, finally getting round to a long spoken about moment. "Of course!", I responded without hesitation, "but what do I need to wear?", I went on, confused as to whether we are celebrating or not; because at times it's difficult to tell here. "Wear Basiji stuff", he said partly in jest, referring to the type of clothing worn by the moral police, by which he simply means an open-collar white shirt, ill-fitting trousers, sandals and overgrowth in facial hair.
I sat twiddling with my finest tasbi (praying beads that is), besides my uncle whom I kept close for translation purposes as the sporadic chanting continued while we awaited the Spiritual Leader. Gradually the room filled up, for which I took great amusement in watching varying ranks arrive in order of reverse-importance. Army, navy, air force and police personal took seats bringing increasingly decorative uniforms and commanding a larger fuss on entry.
Some socks crossed my face and an apology followed and with little sign of shame, a Basiji looking chap had practically sat on my uncle's lap. "Are you going to stay there?", I ask this man, "If you'll allow me", he responded, "you're sitting on my uncle", I reminded him, "yes, I'm sorry", he politely added. Maybe I was out of line but I thought I'd see it through, "don't apologise to me, it's his legs you are sitting on", I exclaimed, arousing the attention of those around us. He came back at me calmly, "when the leader arrives everyone will rush forward and everyone will be on everybody else's legs". My uncle gave me a blink, that indicated that I should leave it, after which this guy sought new legs to sit on.
Somebody shouted something, a name maybe, to which the entire room raced to their feet. I didn't think, I just joined them to which the next few seconds seemed to arrive in slow motion. "Khaamenei, the leader!", came the chants as scores of men raced in front of me, followed by us being pushed forward as the crowd condensed. I tip-toed to look ahead and saw the Spiritual Leader snap out from behind the curtains, to my utter surprised there followed Ahmadinejad, the president, appearing from his left, and then Rafsanjani, the former president, appearing from his right. I was astonished at this fan of cards that was put before me, a full-house for sure.
With a slight lapse in security, the whole of the regime would surely be gone – I was sitting in a dream American target!I scanned the room; the head of the parliament, the head of the judiciary, the nuclear negotiator guy, two former presidents, the most senior ranking members of the institutions, and these were just the faces I knew of. With a slight lapse in security, the whole of the regime would surely be gone I thought to myself in horror - conscious that I'm sitting in a dream American target.
The resulting mosh-pit calmed as the stars took their seats on the stage; we joined them, and arranged ourselves on each other's laps as the Basiji guy had previously mentioned. The president took to the microphone first, for which I understood pretty much nothing of what he had said. I got the impression that he was reading poetry but it's always so difficult for me to understand Iranians when they use the formal 'book' language. There then followed the stern tone of the Spiritual Leader, of whom I understood a fair amount more; although I found myself rather distracted by his prosthetic arm, that I'd heard so much about, yet never seen. I was mesmerised by its ability and its strange strained look when in the open position. This appendage turned in time with his other hand as he accentuated his agitation; being very critical of American ambitions and very supported of the Hizbollah cause citing concerns for the Palestinian people, yet mostly he referred to the region developing though indigenous desires.
Although there were roars of supportive cheers, there was no encore as the stage emptied. This moment seemed to have been as snappy as the entrance with large volumes of the attendees rushing off to try and get backstage. I joined them; not entirely with reason but rather with curiosity, yet all I had seemed to do is get in the way of the top brass as they wished each other well on this celebratory day.
I rather enjoyed the fact that I may have been surrounded by some of Iran's most influential names and not have been aware of it. In fact, this became a bit of a game to me; guessing the value of these cards as they shuffled themselves around at the end. Yet in this moment I was reminded; this is the only way in which I am a player among them.