Inside Iran #3: India’s 800-year-old link to Chabahar

“You know… there is another person from India here,” remarked Barkat, my local guide-cum-driver, as we cruised along the sandy coastline of Chabahar on a hot, hot afternoon.

“From India?”

“Yes. He came a very, very long time ago…”

“Ah… Syed Ghulam Rasool!” *

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View from outside the compound wall of Syed Ghulam Rasool’s shrine

Legend has it that Syed Ghulam Rasool traveled from India to Persia about 800 years ago, fell in love with a local beauty and married her. Unfortunately, he passed away in his sleep that very night.

The locals then built a shrine as his resting place.

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Syed Ghulam Rasool’s tomb inside the shrine

 

 

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The shrine was expanded and has this very plain entrance now.
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A closer look at Rasool’s tomb.

The best part though is this: Every year, they hold a two-night festival to celebrate (rather than mourn) his death with dance and music.

Chabahar is in Iran’s Sistan-va-Baluchestan province and as the name suggests dominated by the Baloch community. During the festivities, Baloch from across the border in Pakistan also join in.

According to Barkat, the celebrations fall in the cooler months of December-January.

Wish I could be there then.

 

How did I know? The real reason was too complicated to break down for Barkat, especially in my halting Persian. Two years ago, I prepared a 5-minute presentation on Chabahar in my Persian class at Georgetown. The emotions you experience when you finally see with your own eyes the distant places that you’d obsessed over in pictures is priceless!

Inside Iran: Pre-departure & Arrival Musings

Location: Iranian Consulate. Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. 

Pro tip: Dress to Impress. (aka get with the hijab program)

Conversation 1

Me (in my head): You have 24 hours. Hand me that visa!

Consulate officer (a young lady): I cannot guarantee next day collection…

She reads the list of countries I’ve visited. This includes USA, UK and UAE. It should have sent a gazillion alarm bells ringing….

A huge smile spreads across her face.

Is this your first visit to Iran?

Bale! I’m finally going! (in my ‘very excited’ voice hoping to floor her) Yek darkhwast een ast ke…. I have to return to Singapore tomorrow so please see if you can help. Lotfan!

15 nerve-wracking minutes later.

Come tomorrow to collect.. after 10am.

Khaili mamnunam khanum! 

Conversation 2

Lady sitting next to me begins to rant in Persian about her token number and the impossible number of people before her turnIn response, I shake my head.. gesture at the screen displaying the various counters and the token numbers being attended to… point to my ticket… and state the number of people before me in Persian.

After 5 minutes, she turns to me and continues to pile her grief on me at top speed… sigh.

I concede defeat, interject and declare my ignorance.

“Oh, you look Persian! So sorry. I kept talking to you thinking you were!”

“Wow. First time anyone’s told me that! (read as “You’ve made my day!”) I did understand the gist of what you said… And I did gesture and give monosyllabic replies… so umm… it’s not your fault!”

——–

October 25, 1 am. Kochi International Airport (CIAL), India. 

IRAN…. IRAN?

Why are you going to Iran? What is the ‘visit’ for? Who are you visiting? Who are these ‘friends’?

Molayyy….. what work do you do? (Grrr… the next time I hear ‘molay’)

——–

October 26, 07.30 am. My first glimpse of Iran. Arid, dry, rugged mountains.

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——–

October 26, 9 am. Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA), Tehran.

Flirty immigration officer. Giggling away to himself. 

Zero questions.

ZERO. ZILCH. NADA. NOTHING.

Phew.

——–

True story: My first 15 minutes in Iran and chances are I appeared in the national sports news bulletin.

No clue which games these young athletes were returning from… but it was lovely to see them being celebrated in one space – well, specifically, at the baggage claim area. As it turned out, there was no other way to exit but to walk right through them and in all the camera frames as they were being interviewed.

Whoop de doo.

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Iran Nuclear Framework: Next Steps?

Excerpt from blog post on Logos, April 04, 2015.

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Image courtesy: European External Action Service (EEAS)

Iran and the P5+1 countries have negotiated a framework agreement and are now one step closer to a nuclear deal that will limit the former’s nuclear programme. This framework, announced after its original deadline of March 30, spells out key parameters that will now be carried forward to the final deal (to be negotiated by June 30).

Contrary to expectations of a vague statement or verbal understanding, the terms that were jointly announced by EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif were pretty detailed. These parameters have of course been extensively covered by the media and also accessible via a White House fact sheet. Most parameters last ten years, some longer.

Chabahar, Flickr https://flic.kr/p/9AVm2s

India and Iran: Time to Act on Transit

Excerpt from op-ed published in Mint, March 03, 2015.

Chabahar, Flickr https://flic.kr/p/9AVm2s
Image Courtesy: Flickr (Creative commons)

Energy dominates any conversation on India’s interests in Iran. In the last two years, however, there is a second bilateral pillar that has taken centre stage—transit cooperation. The idea here is that we move our goods to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe through Iran, bypassing Pakistan. What sets this sector apart in Iran is the fact that, in an otherwise almost entirely sanctionable environment, it is slightly more easier to navigate.

There is a clear alignment of Indo-Iranian interests in this space.

Pragati: When Iran Sanctions Bite

The article published in Pragati (September 29, 2014) breaks down the sanctions on Iran and traces their effects on India.

Image courtesy: Pragati

“The first problem was with respect to reducing imports and reconfiguring refineries…

The second concern was the often raised payment issue. Observing the increasing pressure on Iran, India had by mid-2011 stopped paying for oil imports through Iran’s central banks…

The third problem was regarding maritime (re)insurance. The EU embargo on Iranian oil in 2012 prohibited EU insurers and reinsurers from covering Iranian oil shipments. European insurance clubs handle a majority of the world’s tanker insurance (95 percent of the world’s tanker fleet).”