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The enigma that my Iranian friend was

Surya Gangadharan

Updated: March 7, 2011, 10:26 AM IST
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When those fuzzy images of violence in the streets of Tehran appear on TV screens, I'm reminded of Rais el-Sadat. He was an Iranian, the only foreigner in the first year of our MA History prograrmm at Delhi University (1977-79), one of the thousands of Iranian students sent to study overseas (all expenses paid) courtesy Shah Reza Pahlavi and his oil billions.

He was of middle height, slight build rather nondescript but for the satchel slung crosswise over his shoulder. For the rest of us that became his calling card, Sadat (rather unfairly and without his knowledge) was renamed Dakiya!

Dakiya/Sadat was anti-Shah. He made no bones about it. But his other inclinations were never clear. He sometimes gave the impression of being an Islamic Marxist; what exactly that meant was never elaborated. Maybe he didn't know, in any case his grasp of English was limited and hesitant. At other times he showed interest in India's democracy (shaken and stirred by Indira Gandhi's state of emergency and the Janata muddle that followed).

We figured that people coming from the kind of place that he came were careful about what they said for fear it would set the secret police on you. He was pro-Khomeini, although this was never a point that came across strongly.

Dakiya/Sadat remained an enigma to most of us. One heard he stayed on for some more time after completing his masters programme. What happened to him after that, where he went and what he eventually did remains unknown. I hope he didn't turn a Basiji, the thuggish army unleashed by Iran's clerical regime against pro democracy groups. If he's a cleric I hope he's a moderate one or at the least an aam Iranian wanting a life free from fear. If it's the last, India can certainly take some credit (the moniker 'dakiya' notwithstanding).
First Published: March 7, 2011, 10:26 AM IST

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