Reading Lolita in Tehran

Wonderful book. Am reading it now. Having never read Lolita, still love this book. In fact, she discusses Lolita, Gatsby, Henry James and Jane Austen. Of whom I’ve only read Austen. I’ve tried to read Lolita but I couldn’t…

It made me gag. Yeah, Lolita did. Maybe the day will come when I can get past page 50 (which is where I stopped this time around), and it’s a fact that each time I read it I read a little more of it…

But back to Reading Lolita… . The best part is that in spite of Nafisi being in Tehran, as opposed to me in India, there’s so much I can identify with. Certain students, certain colleagues – maybe I’m falling into a trap here, but they just pop into my mind as I read her descriptions of people.

And then there’s the fact that Iran is now topical. Not for the things that Nafisi is talking about, but it is. I started reading the book not realising the IAEA vote was coming up, but isn’t the whole thing but a reminder of the fact that right/wrong as polar opposites are so difficult? Which Nafisi keeps reiterating in her descriptions of studying literature. There’s an obviously dictatorial regime, which is ‘not good’. Then there’s the issue of nuclear proliferation, again ‘not good’. But then the question of why ‘not good’ for them but ‘good’ for us. Who chooses who gets to be a nuclear state? And that brings me to the question whether the government is, in fact, selling our IAEA vote to the USA.

All of which makes taking sides a problem. But our systems, those things men have decided will work for all of us in all situations, demand taking sides – “for us or against us”, they ask. While women have known all along that it’s not as simple as that. That the complexity is not about sitting in meetings and “fine tuning” a resolution, deciding to use one word rather than another, but about the morality of our actions, the ethics of what we decide to do.

Will having more women help, peope ask. In Parliament, in Panchayats, in boardrooms, in international fora. Will having more women help? I don’t know, but recognising that there is another whole way of looking at the world, a way that is as legitimate as the traditional one, will. Remember Austen’s Sense and Sensibility? Well, then, sense is what women have, and have had from time immemorial. Only it’s a sense that is tempered by sensibility… which is what we need to negotiate a moral, ethical minefield like Iran.


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