White Balloon

Daily Journal of Mahaan, an Iranian-American student residing in USA.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Southern Iranians in this Arabian land

8 AM on Friday morning: Waiting in the line of local bakery where you buy fresh hot bread out of the oven for 5 cents .... The crowd are expat-labor from Pakistan, Sudan.... many illiterate, yet able to speak in 4-5 languages: Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Bangali.... In front of me is a dark-skin old-man who is approached by another younger fellow. Then I hear them talking in sweet baluchi-Persian accent. Stories of their loved ones being in Iran and they working here and making bucks for them there. As we speak and joke, I feel amazed on the power of language and culture which connects us. This is an excellent type of connection that I have found in the last year, dealing with southern-Iranians who live here. A warmth that comes with modesty and brotherhood. Something that I might not feel much while dealing with my country-men in Tehran or in the US.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Film: Women without men

Women without men directed by Shirin Neshat is a reflection of the maturity of the artwork from Iranians in exile. This excellent film is based on a novel by Shahrnoush Parsi-pour and pictures an important slice of the Iranians contemporary history. It is the story of four women on the eve of the US-sponsored coupe against the nationalist government of Doctor Mosadeq in Iran. There is a back and fourth movement of these women between reality and imagination and Neshat paints the screen with generous coloring and shades to boost our imagination power. The cinematography and editing of the film is way above the average Iranian cinema and generally the crew and cast have done a good job, picturing Iran in 1953 in a foreign country (it was filmed in Morocco).

Unlike most Iranian films, the music is subtle and does not take over the narrative, yet still is very effective for the interchange between reality and surreality. In many points Neshat relies on Persian folk to convene her message. This is an important part which is very difficult to translate to the non-Persian audience who might not have the context about those songs and their lyrics.

While the emphasis of the film on the historical events is stronger than the book, it very effective in bridging between the struggle of the females and the nation for self-rule and freedom. Neshat closes the film by reminding us the century-long struggle from the constitution revolution of the 1905 through the green movement of the 2009.
This work is certainly a moment of triumph for Iranian artists in exile to establish themselves as independent voices which might have an strong positive impact on the soci-political development of Iran.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

21 grams

on my third visit after 6-7 years: still a master-piece!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Advising students

Advising a younger student is my newest challenge. Riv is Indian and graduated from the undergrad program in my university. At the time of hiring, I received a negative image about Riv from my bosses. According to my US boss, it might be a favor to him if we stop him from pursuing research and PhD path, even if he's in love with such a career. I still think that academia is a place for experimentation and we should provide the benefit of the doubt to most people and ideas.

Now Riv is working with me for a few months. He is fairly smart and can be hard-working if one can pull the strings at the right moment. But the critique that the bosses have about him really holds: The dude lacks independence. He does not initiate much and is good as a staff who follows orders. Part of the problem is that he looses his self-esteem while facing a problem and this somehow relates to the instruction structure of our start-up university. Here our kids are too much mouth-fed and miss the challenge of independent work. They've learned to knock on faculties' door whenever they face a problem.

Today I had a frank conversation with Riv. I asked him to start a piece of work parallel to the work that he's doing for me. This is going to be totally his, with me just supervising. To start, he's going to look back at his half-failed senior thesis and write down its shortcomings and propose 1-2 ideas to try and we are going to set a time-line for those things to be implemented.

Like teaching, academic advising is a challenging task and when it is rewarding, it can be fun. It certainly requires both the scientific knowledge, but also emotional intelligence and creativity. I feel happy that I am testing myself with such a task. One who is not good at it, should think of other career directions.
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