In posh north Tehran the water was cut off the other day in the neighborhood around Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's Niavaran palace.

It was a symbolic gesture by strikers getting back at a system that spent about 80 percent of the Tehran city budget on north Tehran, leaving the overcrowded lower-class southern side of the capital deprived of schools, public transportation, garbage collection and other services.

The other night a young man of impeccable education, background and investment portfolio was explaining to guests in his luxurious apartment how he quit a lucrative job in a government company last year to oppose the shah.

He'd had trouble explaining to his parents his stand about property his family owned in north Tehran, he said.

His conversation was peppered with remarks such as, "I prefer the Russians 100 percent to the Americans. Life under the Communists couldn't be worse than what we now know."

Was he not afraid of losing everything

"No, even if we lose everything, we're only 10 percent of the pupulation," he said nobly of his class. "Life would be better for the other 90 percent of Iranians."

What if repressive Soviet-style communism came to Iran? "I'd leave, of course," he said.

"Today is the opening of the People's University of Tehran, not the government's," the dapper whitehaired man in three-piece suit said.

A retired professor of agricultural marketing, educated at Ohio State and Berkeley, he insisted that "we are not communists, we are Moslems. We do not want to go north," he said in his way of describing the Soviet Union, "but if we have to go there we will go there."

He was surveying the football field where about 50,000 Iranians were standing in the crisp winter weather listening to speakers celebrate the first time the university grounds had been free of troops and open to them for three months.

For the marchers who shouted and sang ditties ending with "death to the shah," the army had pulled most of its troops off the line of march along Shah Reza Avenue.

The occasional troops left guarding gas stations were bombarded with nothing more than an odd carnation or two and told, "Soldiers, we are your brothers."

Inside the campus, caricatures of the shah abounded, depicting him as a bloodsucking Dracula or as Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, eyepatch and all.

The mood was festive with the delighted crowd shouting back its approval of the speeches.

Karim Sanjabi, the Nation Front opposition leader, seemed to catch the mood when he told the cheering crowd, "We have an unpecedented uprising. That is a debt we owe to each and every one of you."

There was almost a hint in his voice that the unity of recent weeks may become a thing of the past now that the shah was seemingly about to leave the country.

The Khrramshar neighborhood in east-central Tehran is lower-middle and working class. Its wall slogans such as, "Down with Jimmy Carter" and "Yankee Go Home" written in Persian and English, testify to its opposition credentials.

Like many another Tehran neighborhood in the last few weeks, the Moslem leadership there has organized everything from rationing kerosene, used for cooking and heating, to forming cooperatives where food is sold at well below prevailing prices and banks that neither charge nor give interest.

"It's a funny time, the religious leaders are out in the street," an Iranian journalist remarked, "and the engineers and doctors are giving lecutres in the mosques."

What do they want above all, a group of men in their 20s was asked.

"Less inequality, especially our dignity, which has been trampled underfoot for years," one man said.

Going out after curfew was described as a national sport, although troops shoot to kill. While many noncommissioned officers lived in the neighborhood, there were no bad feelings, a young man said.

"We know 'our' people and they even serve on our committees, dressed in civvies," he said.

The brick factory along the main highway leading south from Tehran hasn't worked for 15 years but some of the poorest of the poor still live in hovels in the old works.

Cars stream by spattering the laundry hanging on the line.

"The demonstrations," an old man said, "are all crap. No one has done anything for us except when we stop a car heading elsewhere that was distributing clothes in Khomeini's name."

"Second-hand clothes, at that," a young woman added bitterly.

"We've heard about the demonstrations all right," the man said. "But we don't take part -- to demonstrate you have to have a full stomach."

"Whoever gives us bread and work," the man said, "we will be with him."

For the time being nothing has changed. He and the 50 other families were still surviving, paying the owner for electricity at more than the power company charged.

"Things may change, we'll see if they do," the man said without the slightest suggestion in his voice that he believed they would.