When camping in the mountainous terrains of Hamedan, one of the coldest provinces of Iran, Delhi-based Persian scholar Aziz Mahdi managed to capture the country’s famous black tea. His photograph of a kettle — blackened by its immense use — wrapped in fire, is the result of his observation of how most Iranians carry a kettle in their car.
Whenever they stumble upon a good view while driving, they park their vehicles, find wood and brew tea.
Having attained a doctorate in Persian language and literature from the University of Tehran in Iran, where he studied and taught from 2006 to 2016, Mahdi’s exhibition of 40 photographs, “Rowzaneh: Iran Through my Lens”, at India International Centre Annexe, serves as a gateway into Iranian culture. It attempts to showcase facets of Iran most Indians are unexposed to. “I want to portray those things that are good about Iran. We know more about Singapore, Malaysia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, which have become major tourist attractions lately, but nobody knows about this area,” says Mahdi, 36, who is a Persian scholar and poet and has translated Persian works of 85 Iranian poets in Modern Poetry of Iran (2017).
Among others, Mahdi has zoomed in on the dome of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, bathed in hues of blue. “This dome, they say, changes colour with the outside temperature, depending on how bright the sun is shining. It is one of the first mosques of the Sufavid period built especially for women.” Opposite to the mosque is the Ali Qapu Palace, from where an underground tunnel was dug to help women from the royalty reach the mosque. The photograph View of Ancients is of the Chak Chak fire temple, on the outskirts of Yazd. Dating back to sixth century CE, it is the most ancient temple of Zoroastrians in Iran. “If one stands here and thinks of how people from that era had the same view of the same mountains and the same sky, the realisation dawns that we are looking at something which people used to see centuries ago.”
During his travels, Mahdi was surprised how Iranians associate India with diversity, democracy and Amitabh Bachchan. He notes how Indians are unaware about the relationship the two countries have shared since the Mughal era. Mahdi says, “Mughal ruler Humayun was defeated in India in 1540 by Sher Shah Suri, founder of the Sur empire in north India. But Humayun escaped and went to Iran, where he sought refuge in Shah Tahmasp’s court. Later, Shah Tahmasp gave him his army to defeat Sher Shah Suri. This led to the revival of the Mughal empire.” He adds, “Culturally, Persians had a lot of impact on India, its architecture, Sufism and the Bhakti movement. Until the British came, Iran was one of the best brother countries of India.”
The display also includes the photograph of an elderly Iranian ring seller seated on a bike in the desert city of Yazd. There are also the mud brick walls of the Persian ice houses, yakhchal, in the city of Meybod, with a dome as high as 40 ft. He shares how before the refrigerators came, this ancient method of storing food, especially meat, milk and ice, was used in deserts in the summers. We return with that piece of knowledge and more about Iran.
The exhibition is on at IIC Annexe, Max Mueller Marg, till July 30