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The Other Side Of The Grand Ayatollah

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri was full of surprises.

His defense of human rights and fierce criticism of the Iranian clerical establishment is well known. But there are other aspects of his personality that are less so, including his knowledge of English, his humility, decency, and sense of humor. (See pictures from his funeral in Qom today.)

In an interview with human rights activist and writer, Emad Baghi, recorded about two years before his death, Montazeri says that he spoke good English but had forgotten it.

He adds, however, in the interview that he still remembers an English "song" he learned at school.

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” he says drily in the video, aired by BBC Persian, and then translates the proverb.

“We used to read this song in 'Essential,'" he says referring to an English textbook he would have used in his school days.

Ayatollah Montazeri also says in the interview that he was aware that in the early years following the 1979 Revolution some people in Iran referred to him as “Gorbeh Nareh,” which means male cat in Persian, a character in a popular cartoon series.

Asked whether he minded that people made jokes about him, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri just answers with a simple "no."

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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