May the wind caress your hair

Despite four decades away from Iran and thousands of kilometers away, there is something that unites Elham and Anahita with the country that gave them life: the right to have the wind caress your hair if you want.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 September 2023 Friday 10:21
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May the wind caress your hair

Despite four decades away from Iran and thousands of kilometers away, there is something that unites Elham and Anahita with the country that gave them life: the right to have the wind caress your hair if you want.

“The poem is not standing before a firing squad,” writes the Persian poet.

To go by metro to the National Library of Iran, with its Garden of Books and House of Poems, you must take line 1 and get off at Shahid Haqqani, a station operational since the year 1380 of the Persian calendar, 2001 after of Christ.

Through that subway entrance, at six in the afternoon on September 13, 2022, a 22-year-old girl came out. She was accompanied by her 17-year-old brother Kiaresh. They came from the Kurdish provinces of northwest Iran and she took advantage of the fact that university classes had not yet started to visit relatives in Tehran.

An Islamic-oriented patrol detained her near the subway entrance. She accused him of not wearing the hijab properly. The sensuality of a woman's hair must be shrouded, as if a man's hair were not sensual.

The orientation patrol oriented the girl, indeed, towards the darkness. First they slapped her. Then they hit her hands and feet with one of her batons. They sprayed her brother's face with pepper spray. They forced them into a van and took them to the police station on Vezarat Street. On the way, she was hit on the head with the baton and lost consciousness.

“He's making a scene,” said one of the morality police.

Once at the police station, it was at least another hour and a half before she was taken to Kasra Hospital, where, after three days in a coma, she was officially declared dead. She did exactly one year ago.

As in hundreds of cities around the world, the Iranian Community Association of Catalonia will remember her today in a rally at six in the afternoon in the Plaza Sant Jaume in Barcelona.

“Shout her name,” asks the global mobilization network – Women, Life, Freedom – and too many times they only shout Mahsa Amini, forgetting her Kurdish name, Jina, prohibited in official Persian documentation. While she was being tortured, Jina asked for help in the language that came from inside her: Kurdish. Because languages, before communicating with others, are used to cry.

“The solution lies with the Iranians within. We just give them a voice,” says Anahita over coffee in Eixample. The daughter of an Iranian and a Catalan woman, she was four years old when in 1980 she went into exile with her family, first to Italy and then to Barcelona. “I have only returned to Iran once, in 2001, for emotional tourism. They were the years of Khatami's openness and I saw a vibrant country. Three times my hijab fell off and three times they caught my attention.”

We are joined in the cafe by Elham, who was born in Iran in 1968 and was almost twelve years old when, also in 1980, he went into exile with his family to the Catalan capital. “I have never returned. Out of fear, why lie –he says–. When he was 17 years old they called home. They were from the Iranian embassy. They subjected me to a third degree. I ended up shaking. When faced with the idea of ​​returning to Iran I always ask myself: what if...?”

“My parents' generation aspired to change, but what came had nothing to do with what they wanted,” adds Elham. It is a medium and long-term fight. Slow. Young people now know very well what they could have.”

“Islam has been instilled in us as if it were a cultural, national, identity thing, and it is not,” he laments.

“Iran is fascinating,” says Anahita. She never respects conventional theories. It is a very refined country and culture is in our DNA.”

“The fight goes far beyond women,” she says. And far beyond Iran: “The Afghan community in Catalonia is small, but it accompanies us.”

“Leaving Iran and coming to Barcelona lowered our standard of living,” Elham recalls. My friends called me from Tehran to tell me that they had gotten their license and bought a car, things that I couldn't afford here. But in Barcelona I was free and they in Tehran were not. “Our fathers paid a very high price for freedom.”

“My father told us every day that the regime would change and that we could return,” Anahita remembers. The Iran that I kept in his mind was not the one I found. Shiraz is bigger than Barcelona and I saw it covered by pollution. I didn't reproach him. “Iranians tend towards poetry.”

Persian lyric permeated my first foreign coverage as a journalist. It was in 1989, at Khomeini's funeral, with the regime's TV ecstatically repeating the scene of the ayatollah's body swinging like a boat over the mourning mass of humans rocking him. In slow motion, the Islamist screens broadcast the images over and over again, with the adagietto from the Fifth Symphony in the background: Mahler has this, it works for the torso of an ephebe in Venice and for the corpse of an old man in Tehran.

In the country of the Persians, as in the rest of the world, poetry, memory and reality attract and despise each other. But there is something that – despite four decades of separation and thousands of kilometers apart – unites Elham and Anahita with the country that gave them life: the right to have the wind caress your hair, if you want.

“Iranian women have the most beautiful hair in the world. If the woman wins, Iran's control escapes them,” says Elham. “If they let Iran flourish…” Anahita sighs.

The House of Poems in Tehran is a house without poetry where only empty official poets enter between avenues patrolled by the same police (men and women) who a year ago today – in the name of morality – murdered Jina Mahsa Amini.

From exile, the poet Moshen Emadí synthesizes the Iranian moment:

“The poem is not standing before a firing squad. / Nor does the firing squad, / in the poem, know where it should aim.”