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“A Lesson in Humanity”: How a Trip to Delhi Changed This Iranian Researcher’s Life

An Iranian researcher travels to India for tourism; the experience changes her worldview and triggers her new career as author and translator.

By Sougand Akbarian

A small event can change someone’s life forever. My life also changed, it has got a new and special colour, after my first visit to India and especially New Delhi (which I prefer to call by its old Hindi-Urdu-Punjabi name Dilli, dil ka sheher, city of heart).

Just one trip changed everything for me: my life, my career and my perspective towards life.

I lost my heart to my dilruba (beloved) Dilli in the very first trip, and decided to write a travelogue in English based on my travels. The book, which is called SouganDilli, was a bestseller in my country Iran. Thereafter, as an interpreter, researcher, author and scholar in translation studies, my work has taken me often to India as I now translate Indian literature to Farsi.

Sougand Akbarian

When destiny decides to surprise you, no one can stop it. And my first trip to India was an unforgettable surprise to me, just days before Holi festival in India and Nouruz, Iranian New Year, in Iran. I still hold those memories close to my heart.

To me, the beauty of this city lies in the way it encompasses all of India within itself. It’s truly the capital of ‘Incredible India’. You can taste south Indian food like dosa, chutney, sambar. You can be at a Guru Nanak birthday celebration with Sikh and Punjabi people and have langar food with them.

Dilli has the largest market of spices in Asia and you can get a taste of them in the parathas of Chandni Chowk – even parathas with 15 layers!

This city is home to the tallest minaret in the world, Qutub Minar, with lines of the Holy Quran inscribed on it. This is a place where people of all religions respect Shirdi Sai Baba. This is a place you can dance at a sangeet musical or mehndi night to celebrate a Hindu festival or someone’s wedding.

Dilli is the home of the Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. It is also the home of the Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir, the world’s largest comprehensive Hindu temple. A temple that was inaugurated by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, a Muslim scientist and India’s former President, a temple that opens its doors to all people of any religion.

The greatest lesson from my India travel was the concept of humanity. We are all the same, we are all human, and humanity is important. We may worship the supreme power as Allah or Bhagwan or any other name but the destination is one: peace of heart.

Just as Ramadan has Ram and Diwali has Ali, as a human and to keep humanity alive, the door of any place of worship is always open.

All these experiences in Dilli touched my heart and soul, they moved me deeply. And it all happened just by exploring India as a tourist. Travel is art, the art of discovery, and my travel to India led me to discover Indian literature.

But for that, I needed to learn its language as well. Language is a key with which you can open a door called literature and enter other countries and cultures. I began my journey as a traveller, and ended up becoming a translator – a traveller of different cultures.

Today I use the power of both travel and language to give invisible wings of cultural communication to enrich both countries, and to power my words to fly as messengers of peace and humanity beyond man-made borders.

Sougand Akbarian is an Iran-based author, translator of Indian literature into Farsi (Persian), and TEDx speaker. Email:

First published in eShe’s December 2020 issue

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