Reza Shah Kabir girls go on a field trip


by sima

I was inspired by Faramarz's recent blog about Reza Shah Kabir high school girls to post this piece. It is part of a work in progress. -- SN


Tehran—early 1970s

Exactly one year after the 2,500th year anniversary of the Persian Empire, the film Forough-e Javedan was released. It was to commemorate a celebration that people were trying to forget as an embarrassing spectacle. And as far as anybody knew, bused school children were the only audience for the film. On a clear and crisp fall morning in 1973 it was the turn of the students at Mitra’s high school to see “Eternal Glory.”

The girls were accustomed to school-sponsored excursions. School children were early on introduced to putting in appearances before the Shah’s family or visiting heads of state. They were taken to line up the streets and clap when waving royalty passed by in their convertibles, usually to or from the airport. Mitra remembered applauding the motorcades of Haile Selassi of Ethiopia, Mobuto Sese Seco of Zaire, King Hossein of Jordan, and any number of less memorable dignitaries. The days typically started out fun but slowly dissipated into the boredom of endless waiting. A quick glimpse of some benevolently smiling leader with a coiffed lady by his side, or some exotically dressed character from Africa or Asia, was hardly enough compensation for sore feet or a minor heat stroke.

But the practice did familiarize children with the names of some foreign countries and their leaders. They formed likes and dislikes. Sometimes they even became attached to foreign leaders whom they hadn’t even applauded. JFK was one. When he was assassinated a ditty made the rounds of Tehran preschools:

Khodavanda che mishod, Kennedy zendeh mishod
Kennedy mehraban bud, rafiq-e kudakan bud

God, why can’t it be for Kennedy to come back to life?

Kennedy was kind, he was a friend to children

One little boy in Mitra’s class found the Kennedy thing so sad that he had a good cry over his project at the handicrafts table.

But as security became tighter, the bonding ritual between world leaders and Iranian school children was abandoned. By the time Mitra was in high school the days of spotting royalty and their cohorts in convertibles were long over for most school children.

On the day of the Eternal Glory viewing, Reza Shah Kabir High School girls walked en masse to Cinema Royal. The theater was walking distance from their school but the plan may have not been wise. Seven or eight hundred high schoolgirls descending on the streets was virtually unsupervisable. And not any high school either… Reza Shah Kabir High School had quite a reputation for its unruly girls.

The day of the excursion the girls were in uniform and in top form. When alone, girls were vulnerable in the streets, zigzagging their way through the male foot traffic with downcast eyes. They clutched their books to their chests, dodging groping hands and obscene comments. But together they were bold. Such a big group was unstoppable.

The more aggressive girls in the front rows linked arms and charged men off the sidewalk and into the car traffic. No poor street vendor was spared. The little kiosks selling cigarettes, newspapers, and lottery tickets were the easiest targets.

“Mister, may I have a cigarette… please?” A girl batting her eyelashes went up to one.

“All right, just one…,” the vendor jovially pulled out a pack. A pretty girl tapping his chest with a manicured finger was not something that happened to him every day.

“But what about me…?” Another girl snatched the pack.

“And me?”

Before he knew what was happening, the guy and his pack of cigarettes were pounced on by half a dozen girls. Then the empty pack was thrown over their shoulders.

“You sluts. You whores. I’ll fuck your mothers…,” the vendor yelled after them.

“Don’t scream so hard mister, your milk will dry up,” said the next group of girls arriving on the scene.

Other vendors clamored to get out of the way as they saw the girls approaching. The medium bold girls egged on the boldest and the timid ones laughed little mousy laughs and huddled together. When school officials were not looking, the radical contingent of the girls—the ones who exchanged newspapers clippings with pictures of Leyla Khaled, Bernadette Devlin, and Angela Davis—flashed V signs to the cars stopped in traffic and occasionally got a V sign back.

When they arrived at Cinema Royal the girls were worked up and ready to assert their collective presence. The build up, however, had been even longer in the making.

A year before, during the celebrations themselves, all schools were closed for a week, ostensibly for the children to “participate” in the festivities. A week of holidays was of course always welcome but the mood was far from festive. To begin with, apart from official receptions for arriving foreign dignitaries there were no festivities. The city was under a kind of siege. Rumors flew about. There was talk of martial law being declared for the entire city; there was talk of Savak taking inventory of inhabitants of certain neighborhoods and placing all their communication under surveillance. The rank and file police officers who normally had nothing to show for their authority but their blue caps and uniforms and an occasional dangling baton now carried guns. In the months leading to the celebrations there had been many demonstrations at the universities. The news spread by word of mouth while the media was silent.

One day the previous spring one of Mitra’s father’s students, fresh from the confrontations, had breathlessly informed them of the attack of the komando security forces on students at various campuses, killing, he had heard, two and wounding over 300. There were rumors that a group of political prisoners had escaped with their guards into Iraq. A year before that, the trials of leftist revolutionaries who were turned in to the police by villagers in Siyahkal and the subsequent executions and imprisonments had soured public mood. And a couple of months before the day Mitra’s high school was taken to see Eternal Glory the bloodbath at the Munich Olympics had left people vexed and angered. There was a general sense that Munich had something to do with them but it was hard to say exactly what.

But the girls were irrepressible. The pomp and circumstance of the celebrations, far from inspiring awe and pride, was a made-to-order pretext for display of irreverence. And the darkness of the movie theater was a dream cover. Hooting and hollering accompanied the scenes of royal receptions. The coterie of the Shah’s fellow third world strongmen—Suharto, Marcos, Yahya Khan, etc.—brought out loud jeering. The stony-faced Eastern bloc delegation and their beefy wives evoked grunts from the teenage girls.

“Teacher, may I…?” one earnest voice was raised when President Giri of India made his appearance. “Do Indian leaders always have to be on the verge of starvation?”

The most popular celebrity was Constantine of Greece, deposed and dapper, whom the girls greeted with applause and whistles and chants of “Eddy, Eddy…”—for Eddy Constantine. Some tried to take up similar cheering for Juan Carlos of Spain but were shouted down with a rebuff from a few determined voices: “Franco, Franco…” The idea was that Franco had put Juan Carlos in power.

Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia and the Lion of Judah, touted as the highest ranking guest, was reported to have traveled with an entourage of 72 and a poodle with a diamond-studded collar. He was always at the Shah’s side and absorbed the abuse that not even in the darkness of the theater could be hurled at the Shah himself.

The official opening of the celebrations was the speech delivered by the Shah before the tomb of Cyrus the Great. The site for this ceremony was Pasargad, the buried city neighboring Persepolis. The tomb of Kourosh, an unassuming structure, had stood in a neglected mausoleum for millenia. For these ceremonies the area was cleared of ancient debris (what’s a little history to a photo op?), turned into a flat stage where elegant bleachers were set up and colorful sun umbrellas were erected to protect the dignitaries from the unrelenting sun of the region. A vast blue platform streaked by gleaming red carpets was laid before the modest tomb of Cyrus. The crimson stripes down the side of the gilded black pants of the Shah and his generals and cabinet ministers echoed the red carpet. And the white silk gown of the queen trimmed with green and gold brocade cut a regal sight. Only the unsightly black cords of the amplifying and recording equipment were an aesthetic blight.

When the Shah walked up to the tomb there was a hint of a hush among the girls in the movie theater. It was as if they were reassessing the spectacle one last time. But by the time the Shah began delivering the famous lines of his speech that had become the butt of endless jokes by now, the girls had recovered themselves.

Kourosh…,” enunciated the Shah into the microphones with due authority.

Jooooon…?” the girls chimed in.

“King of kings…”

“We’re listening, jigar…”

Sleep in peace for we are awake…

“So are we, SO ARE WE…!” The girls shrieked in unison and all hell broke loose in the theater. They were beside themselves. The wild cheering, whistling, and stamping of feet drowned the rest of the speech. That was the moment everyone had been waiting for.

One of the highlights of the celebrations was the parade of soldiers from different dynastic eras. It was accompanied by earsplitting original marches commissioned for period instruments. Leading the procession were Achamenid soldiers in outfits familiar to everyone from Persepolis bas-reliefs. The girls covered their ears and laughed loudly at the phony costumes and sloppy marching.

The gentlemen attired as ancient soldiers were instructed not to shave for months and had acquired massive round beards that grew almost right up to their eyes. With their short foreheads they barely showed any skin, and putting on the required stern expressions they looked quite menacing (little could any one guess that in a few short years the look would come back in Islamic garb). Following the copiously bearded ancients were the Safavid soldiers with shaved chins, sporting mustaches that extended beyond their cheeks. Finally, the modern soldiers arrived in crisp uniforms with white spats on their shoes. They were shaved smooth and shiny.

“The history of Gillette,” the girls yelled at the defiler. “Before and after…”

A couple of the teachers laughed.

But the movie droned on and on and the girls lost interest. The show was just not up to the level of audience spirit. Some of the girls started sneaking out to meet up with boyfriends they had called on the way to the theater. Others to whom ditching school was not an option broke into groups discussing various subjects among themselves. The first thing that was scrutinized was the fashion sense of the celebrities. The consensus was that their own queen was the best dressed.

“I like the silk suits they make for her with traditional batik motifs.”

“But the hats are ridiculous. Why does she wear them?”

“She can’t have her hair done all the time.”

“No, it’s a royalty thing. Haven’t you seen the queen of England? They have to wear hats. It makes them stand out.”

“The queen of Denmark doesn’t wear hats. And she’s the most dignified.”

“Imelda Marcos doesn’t either but she is so vulgar.”

“She wishes some of Farah’s dignity would rub off on her. You could just see it when Farah was picking her up at the airport and they were standing side by side listening to the national anthem.”

“What boring stuff these royalty have to do. Farah looks bored a lot.”

“She’s stiff. That’s her idea of acting like royalty.”

“No. My mother says she looks mad at the Shah. She says she’s miserable. The Shah cheats on her.”

“She probably goes shopping when she’s mad. She has so many clothes.”

“And so much jewelry. These things that the royals plunk on their heads and pin to their chests are so huge they’re ugly.”

A strange pained expression came over the face of one of the shy girls.

“There’s something ugly about jewels,” she said. “I mean, the things these people do so they wear these things and do these stupid things…” and she blushed at her own inarticulate exertion.

“The communists… They don’t wear jewelry.”

That reminded them of the evening gowns of the eastern bloc ladies.

“I guess fashion is not socialist,” one said. “I wonder if Madame Tito and Madame Padgorny are jealous of these western ladies…!”

Then the conversation turned to the men and their ornaments.

“I don’t understand this medal business,” said someone. “I thought you had to earn medals. These guys give themselves medals.”

“I think European royalty inherit medals. But we don’t have that tradition. Where did the Shah’s medals come from?”

“At least the Shah doesn’t wear the kind that dangle from a chain.”

“Yes he does. Such heavy gold chains too… Pari Zanjiri could put them to good use.”

Pari Zanjiri was a Reza Shah Kabir High School legend. She had taken off her heavy antique chain necklace—the ones that were made popular by the sixties’ fashion discovery of ethnic jewelry—and swung it around her neck during a fight at a volleyball tournament with another high school. She did her opponents some damage that day.

“Malek Hossein wears those too, that little jerk…”

A short discussion of which of the world leaders looked most like jerks followed. Someone nominated the Persian Gulf sheikhs. Others said at least they had some authenticity, not copying European royalty in everything.

“They say they had to get them raw camel meat at the banquets. They don’t eat all that French stuff…”

The competition ended with a tie between King Hossein and Marcos.

“Which of the world leaders look most like butchers?” someone whispered conspiratorially.



“No, Suharto. Suharto.”

A certain bad taste in the mouth that the girls were avoiding all day was becoming pronounced. The ousting of Sukarno reminded Iranians of the Mosaddeq affair and the jeering mood stopped there. They fell silent and turned to the movie again.

It was now showing the rejoicing of the populace. Picture perfect village scenes were staged for the benefit of foreign guests and journalists. Happy villagers, colorful costumes, dancing, stomping, and chanting… What might not have struck foreign observers, however, were things like, oh, those women with their magnificent layered skirts were tribal nomads and did not live in those villages, or the outfits worn by the men actually belonged to people from a different part of the country. Surely the foreigners saw that they were all wearing nametags? No matter. It was a rare city kid who did not know what village life was like. Relatives, neighbors, servants, weekend hikes, and any travel from anywhere to anywhere brought them close to it. Creased faces, ragged clothes, hungry children smelling like goats, Kashk strewn with livestock hair…

And who hadn’t played in the orchards in the villages, picking fruit that had to be checked for worms before eating, hiked in the hills with the dizzying smell of herbs and tiny wild flowers, had not eaten fried eggs with bright orange yokes and valak rice with green garlic? Then again, who hadn’t noticed that to a village child a fitting pair of shoes was a dream, that women lost their teeth and looked fifty at twenty five, and children dropped dead from dysentery? Who hadn’t seen the malnourished babies with bloated stomachs and large heads flattened in the back from being strapped to their cribs all day?

As Mitra watched the over-exuberance of the villagers on the screen another scene was conjured up for her. A year ago during a coverage of the Siyahkal affair, the villagers who had led security forces to the hideout of the armed guerillas were shown on television. They were praised and shown off to the nation by the zealous prosecutor. Mitra particularly remembered the suspicious and fearful expression on the face of one woman as she was ushered in front of the cameras and made a fuss over.

“That’s enough,” someone said apropos of nothing in particular. The Eternal Glory had gone on far too long. Even Reza Shah girls lost their exuberance by the end of it. Unlike the morning, the walk back to school was dispersed and subdued.


more from sima

BUT we were political!

by sima on

Everybody was -- though in a lot of my fellow high school girls politics was mixed with fashion, gossip, and general unruliness. Thanks very much for your compliement, Cost! Anyways, this is a chapter in a book, which hopefully will justify why it's so political.

JJ, all the details for this story came out of the journals I kept as a high schooler. I didn't make any of it up -- well, maybe I added a couple of snide remarks about various rulers!


Great Piece - BUT

by Cost-of-Progress on

From a literary standpoint, this is a grand piece of writing, but a bit too political.  Tell me, do you believe that we Iranians can EVER have a regime with which we all can live?........... Or, the fact that we have no unity condemns us to eternal dispute and horrifying experinces such as the anti nationalist Islamic Regime now in power?




Jahanshah Javid

Popular history

by Jahanshah Javid on

What a wonderful recollection. A people's history of a key moment in contemporary Iran. What strikes me is the wide divide between the people and the rulers in countries like Iran and how it always leads to dramatic and sudden change simply because the status quo can NEVER be maintained by force of propaganda or guns. Again and again we see rulers learning the hard way that people are not stupid. Just look at how the Islamic Republic with all its claims to divinity is being kicked around by the masses. Here we go again.


Thanks, everybody!

by sima on

Anonymouse, MPD, Faramarz, Monda, Didani: thanks for the nice things you said and I hope you contribute more of your memories too. I am obsessed with reconstructing our lost world. "Virtual" is better than nothing!

Princess jan, I'm particularly glad you liked the piece. I think your generation and down should have a better idea of what every day life was like in Iran before the revolution. I don't know exacly why... I just think it's very important. If there's any hope for the future it is in cultivating understanding.


Amir Kho

by sima on

You know, my friend, I actually have sympathy for your position. The losses that we have suffered -- the lives lost, the lives ruined -- are too great for me to take consolation in silly revolutionary rhetoric. Unlike some people on this site I am not filled with hatred for the Shah, Farah, or Reza. I am much sadder than I am angry. I never did belong to any of the leftist groups but still, if I went back in time I would have very different feelings. For one thing, I would not have celebrated the "triumph" of the revolution.

But my present sadness -- something many of us share and will probably never recover from -- is something entirely different from the mood on the streets in the 1970s and the dreams and ideals of many Iranian people at the time. That is a fact too. Look, it is INEVITABLE that when a people is fed and educated it demands more. Anybody of any age worth their salt will want freedom and justice when their basic needs are met and their minds expanded. Criticism of the Shah era is inevitable on these accounts.

That said, I hear you buddy. We all belong to his majesty's spoilt brat generation. Our punishment is that those engrained ideals that we developed in our youth to this day keep us from joining the hustling that non-idealistic people manage to gain so much from. So don't be mad at us. We've already been punished!



Slow Down Bro!

by Faramarz on

Just when you think that we have reached some level of maturity and tolerance in our community to exchange ideas, opinions and experiences, Amir walks in and spews hatred all over the canvas.

It is very unfortunate to accuse or dismiss people without knowing much about their lives, contributions and accomplishments. But, that is part of the package when you enter a public forum like this.

I am especially disappointed with the assertion that it was Shah that gave us our passports so we should have been subservient to everything he said and did! As if freedom and democracy are privileges that are given to the well-behaved slaves. If you take this line of logic to its natural conclusion, then we should actually thank Shaboon bi Mokh (brainless Shaboon), the CIA and the Brits for handing the country over to the Shah. I assume that you live and work in the US and carry a US passport. So, do you get up every morning and pray towards the White House? I don’t think so. Like most of us, you believe that you have worked hard, played by the rules and are entitled to what you have and more.

And please let’s not dilute this discussion by comparing Shah to this ugly, disastrous tragedy that is taking place in Iran today. The decision that was in front of the people back in the 70’s was the choice between the devil that they knew well and a promise of something a lot better. That never materialized.


didani jan

by Monda on

I'd appreciate that very much. Even next week is Ok :o)


Monda jan, I have a poor quality one and I'm afraid to

by didani on

order another one online as it may be of the same quality, let me talk to some friends and will let you know.



by Monda on

I was not on that field trip either?!  Now I'm beginning to feel angry for having been left out of my rights.

I'll be seriously looking for Amir Naderi's harmonica film.  Unless of course you let me know how to find it the easiest way.  


Wow, I'm envious of your memory ...

by didani on

I don’t remember the details of this field trip  as you do(probably I was board to death)! However, I guess it was the following year when they took us to probably the same Cinema Royal to watch movies made by Parvaresh Fekri Koodakan Va Nojavanan. In that day we saw Amir Naderi’s  Harmonica (Saz Dahani) which I thought it is one of the best Iranian movies ever. He got money from the Iranian government to send his message? Very clever!!!  Do you remember which year it was? One thing I remember from this movie trip was that I was so upset with the girls making so much noise and seemingly not interested in the movie!


Sima jan,

by Princess on

I really enjoyed reading this piece.

Thank you for shedding some light on the life of young people in pre-revolution Iran. I was a mere toddler at the time of the revolution. Although I do have some vivid memories (mainly images) of the pre-revolution Iran and even the revolution itself, I had no real sense of the political atmosphere and the build-up of tensions, which eventually led to the revolution.

I look forward to reading your book when it comes out. 



Amir Kho

by Monda on

I suggest you let go of your anger and shame over an article.  Instead tell us: What do you suppose the minority of intellectuals should have done back in 79?  

More importantly --What did You do for Iran?


"You make me ashamed to be Iranian." You're ashamed anyways.

by Anonymouse on

Everything is sacred.

Amir Kho

You are not worthy of the air that you breath

by Amir Kho on

I registered on this website just so I can express my disgust and absolute hatred for the so called intellectuals of yesteryear and their off springs. I detest everything about you even more than the murdering thieves that you helped take possession of our country, lives, respect and dignity.

You "namak-nashnas" owe Iran, Iranians and the world an apology for standing idle, lost in a cesspit of self-created fashionable trends to bad mouth the father of modern Iran and belittle the blood sweat and tears that Reza Shah spent for the true love of his life: his County and People. Who do you think created the economy that provided your parents with the means and opportunity to access the world's best educational establishments so that they could call themselves "the inteleczia" of the time? If it wasn’t for the Pahlavi dynasty, you would not even have a passport to tell you what your surname was let alone an education system, roads to go on coach trips on, the worlds fastest growing airline at the time, nor the television, cinema and theatres that folk like you bitched about "not having freedom in the arts" while others shouted "there is too much sex on TV and the big screen".

Seems the only thing the self-acclaimed upper middle classes learnt was how to dress well, pose, and talk complete utter clap trash over their expensive dinner sets. Yet not even their offspring are developed enough to have the first clue about what freedom is, what democracy means, in the arts or any of the other "big" topic you feel you have the right to discuss.

You people are STILL not worthy of The Shah's vision for Iran.I have only pity for our working class villagers who were duped into supporting Khomeini. Its YOU filthy ungrateful stupid middle class that I hate for your traitorous comments, which you fail to correct now, after 30 years, which an entirely new generation of kids fall foul of the current regime - shedding their red blood under false hopes while they actually prolong the 'green' of an Islamic Republic. If YOU people had an epsilon of decency you would stop your rhetoric of yesteryear, say "ghalat kardim" and put a joined-up concerted effort to get rid of the IRI in the hope that perhaps, if we are lucky, we may one day retrace at least a few of our steps.

Your parents helped "murder a whole generation's worth" of national pride, history, identity and dignity -- and you sons and daughters of bitches have the nerve to continue with such clap trap.

If you silly little girls did not understand the value and benefits of the 2500 year celebration; if you're too blind, stupid or plain spiteful to admit what HRH Empress Farah did for Iran's girls, education and women rights; if you don't know anyone who was involved in the 2500 year celebrations at the ground level who can share with you the personal commitment pride and willingness to go that extra mile that EVERY single person had - from the cleaners right through to HRH Reza Shah; I suggest you DO NOT write as though you are giving representative view of everyone's perspective and NEVER used words like "embarrassing spectacle".

The only thing embarrassing for me is that after 30 years some Iranians have yet to acquire the level of refinement needed to understand, let alone deserve, true freedom and democracy.

More than embarrassing, it is sad and depressing. You make me ashamed to be Iranian.


Excellent piece!

by Monda on

This piece just warms my heart!  

You included so many wonderful details that I had not recounted in ages!

I still don't know if I was sick on that particular day or not given permission to join the group. Thanks for all the event highlights - better late than never!



خداوند ا چه ميشد كندي زنده ميشد


Thank you for giving me the credit for inspiring you to write this piece. I am not worthy

It is an outstanding write up. You covered so much ground in your piece that it is hard to decide where to start and where to finish. But let me say this. You have provided a street level view of what was happening in Tehran in the pre-revolutionary days. I walked the same steps as you guys did in those days.  And as a teenager from an upper middle class family, I witnessed the same things; university strikes, kids getting beat up, Taaj Gozari, Jashn e 2500 Saal e, Hezb e Rastaakhiz, Shah’s affair with Talaa, the girl from the north, Farah threatening to divorce, etc. The revolution, I believe, was not about Khomeini, Islam and all the other garbage. It had to do with what people saw with their own eyes unfolding on the streets of Tehran
Please keep writing.
Now, on the lighter side. In the US, everyone over the age 40 knows where they were when they heard about Kennedy’s assassination. I was a little kid sitting on the front steps of our house when I heard the song

خداوند ا چه ميشد
كه بيوفا نميشد

چه ميشد اون دلارام
جدا از ما نميشد

خداوند ا چه ميشد
كندي زنده ميشد

كندي مهربان بود
رفيق ِ كودكان بود


What about the shab lorans TV commercials about their TVs?!

by Anonymouse on

مگه تو نگفتی که منو اینجا و اونجا می‌بری

کنار دریا می‌بری؟ ها؟

اینجا و اونجا کدومه؟

کنار دریا کودمه؟

اصفهان اگه نصف جهانس

شاوب لورنس خودش همهٔ جهانس!


Everything is sacred


Yup, I missed out on all those shows!

by sima on

My parents were too antelectuel (pun not  intended -- only Farsi accent intended!) to buy a TV. Now I'm doing the same thing to my own kid -- except now he goes to the house of the same grandparents and watches TV.

Bi rabt bood, bebakhshid!


Ehsass-e nasset was a radio commercial! It was 2 alligators?!

by Anonymouse on

It was nasset-e do soosmar?! I think it was a radio not TV commercial.  I still use the expression when I want to say someone is full of him/herself!

What do you mean you didn't watch TV?  You mean you didn't watch Morad Barghi, Sarkar Ostovar, Samad, Rangarang, mikhak-e noghreye. Daliran Tangestan, Dae Jaan Napoleon and the other shows? 

Everything is sacred.


Mitra is alive and well

by sima on

MPD: This is a chapter of the novel I'm working on. "Mitra" who is really me is too much of a kerm-e ketab to be lured into idiotic ideologies so she stays safe.

Anonymouse: I vaguely remember ehsas-e Nasset. We didn't have a TV so I missed out on a lot of TV commercials!


Multiple Personality Disorder

I wonder what happened to Mitra after all these years

by Multiple Personality Disorder on

I hope she is alright.


Nice blog! Do you remeber the "nasset feeling" commercial?!

by Anonymouse on

احساس ناست بهش دست داده!

Everything is sacred