For all who are interested in deep insights into Iranian day-to-day life should take a look at Ramit Navi’s book: „City of lies. Love, Sex and death in Teheran“, an interesting and complex reading. Eight stories portrait the city and the people living in it. The narrations result from interviews being taken by the author with the corresponding protagonists – sometimes funny, sometimes irritating and sometimes sad. Such is life – not only in Teheran. The book demonstrates one thing clearly: How little we know about living conditions within Iran – is it despite or because of (social) media? And: Does our way of life, our needs and wishes really differ that much from one another?
Lying as a survival strategy
Lying, that’s the book’s bottom line, is essential in Teheran in order to survive. And it happens often, no matter whether it is self-deception or the cheating of another person. Lies are being used in order to protect oneself on the one hand. On the other hand to gain some personal freedom that cannot be achieved with honesty. Everybody is aware of this dirty work and everybody does it.
From our western perspective this kind of behaviour might feel awkward or even disgusting. But, in the first place we are not forced to do so by a despotic regime. Secondly, double standards are also in our latitudes an appropriate means.
The biographies are about five men and three women. The stories focus on individual motives and experience which either collide with governmental or social expectations. In the end the protagonists loose, win or resign. And there is another specific characteristic: the narratives are all taking place on Valiasr Street, Teherans 20 km long arterial road, which connects the wealthy parts of North Teheran with the poor part in the south.
In order to illustrate the different stories I pick three characterize as an example.
There is Darius. He actually does not live in Teheran because he left the country during the revolution in 1979. He returns to the Iranian capital as a religious fighter with the mission to kill former captain of the municipal police. The assault fails, Dariush is sent to prison. That’s the place where Dariush turns into a lyer. He makes an agreement with the government to save his life. At the same time he struggles with his guilty conscience, having deceit his friends and thus lost them.
In many Muslim countries the worth of a women complies with her virginity. Whether the maidenhood is still sound upon marriage also depends on the financial circumstances of that person – in the end the hymen can undergo cosmetic surgeon.
But even the ones who are really virtuous are being faced with sanctimonious husbands – as the story of Somayeh tells us. The girl has been brought up in an ultraconservative background with dogmas such as “psychiatrists say whoever is unbecomingly dressed and uses make-up has problems with its personality.”
She is unvarnished and she is religious. For these reasons she is being chosen by her sleeky cousin. Soon he loses his interest in her and prefers to hang out with the upper-class-girls who are rouged with plastic surgery, sexually explicit. When Somayeh discover her husband’s double life it is already too late for her to have a decent existence in the future. She gets divorced however but she pays a price for it: loneliness. Iranian men consider her “second hand” for Iranian men and thus no candidate for a remarriage.
I found this story most touching, the story of Asghar and Pari. It is about a guy making promises to his wife time and again but never keeps them. Still, Pari is the love of his life. Only once he betrayed her with another woman, before their marriage. It took him six months to get her back – sleeping on the stairs of her house begging for another chance. He never took such a risk again.
Do such mentally strong men exist?
Well, they both suffer from a difficult background. Pari grows up in poor circumstances. Her parents are addicted to drugs and thus sell her to an old guy for money. After having abused her for a while the old men sells her to a brothel. Finally she ends up as a dancer in a nightclub. That definitely makes a remarriage impossible for her. Asghar has undergone the career of a gangster. He does not look down on Pari and bravely defies conventions (obviously being a gangster is more reputable than being a B-girl).
However, he is not true to his promises. Then, Pari dies and Asghar feels sorry. After all this time he finally keeps his promises hoping to see her again in heaven. And even though it is not a happy-end story a wonderful perception remains: “The most wonderful thing about Pari was that even if he had done something wrong, she would still understand.”