Seventy-three years ago today, my mother was born. Twenty-two years ago today, she died. She had been battling with leukemia for 5 years and decided she was done fighting. She didn’t want to leave us, but when it was time for her to go, she left us all with a grace that I can only hope to emulate when it’s my time. She had a good life, traveling around the world, experiencing many different cultures and languages, finding a devoted life partner in Dad, and raising a family. She was 18 when she left Iran to study English In England – a bold move for a Persian girl in the 1960s. There she met Dad, they married and then moved to India, where the both studied yoga and enjoyed myriad adventures together, including the birth of their first child – me! Then they moved to Scotland, my Dad’s country and one Mum soon came to love deeply. There, she gave birth Roshan and then Alan, and then for most of the rest of her life, in Scotland, then Canada and finally England, she devoted herself to looking after her family, which she did with strength, love and grace – and no end of delicious food.
This time last year, we were in Turkey. What a treat that was! It took us a lot of plane rides and stress to get there, but once we were there, we had a wonderful time exploring the mosques and markets of Istanbul and the ruins of Seljuk and Ephesus. It wasn’t an easy trip. It was a lot of walking for my husband David whose legs don’t work well because of a degenerative neurological disorder and Theo did not love the food and was a bit lonely without other children. I probably enjoyed it the most, to be honest, because every day was a feast of unfamiliar sounds, smells and sights. And there was the food. I had never photographed my food before this trip, but my breakfast in our hotel was so incredible – dates, grilled eggplant, olives, cherries, halva – that I had to take a picture of it. I think I even shared it on Facebook! And here it is!
When I embarked on my postgraduate course in Asian art run by Sotheby’s and London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, I began the course with their module on Indian art, where the roots of much Asian art lie. As soon as I started the course, I realized I that I had some intriguing companions with me on this fascinating art historical journey. One of them was an extremely beautiful and sophisticated woman from Italy called Renata. She was older than most of the other students and had kids who were already in college, so she had seen much more of the world than the rest of us had. However, that didn’t make her any less enthusiastic or interesting to me than the younger students. In fact, if anything, Renata had a keener appetite for learning than most of the twenty-somethings. Now that I am the age that she was then, I really understand why. Despite our age difference, we soon became friends.
Of all the people in my life, the person with the fewest personal belongings is my brother, Alan. Like a modern nomad, he doesn’t stay in one place all year round but typically lives in Thailand for the autumn and winter, somewhere like Los Angeles, South Africa or Nepal for the spring, and the UK for the summer. Having no fixed abode prevents him from acquiring clutter. He can generally fit everything he needs in a suitcase and small carry-on bag. I admire him for the lightness of his lifestyle, especially because of the heaviness that he has had to deal with for his entire adult life. When he was 19 he was struck with leukemia, almost two years after our mother had first been diagnosed with the same disease. His was a child’s type of leukemia and was easier to treat, but the chemotherapy and radiotherapy were brutal, and although he reached remission within a year of treatment, he relapsed a year after we lost our mother. He was eventually cured of the leukemia by a bone marrow transplant from our sister, but he has suffered numerous side effects from the treatments – hip replacements, shingles, cataracts in both eyes (he’s a photographer!), an undermined immune system that has resulted in two recent bouts of double pneumonia. It is a wonder that he can get up and do anything, let alone travel the world taking stunning photographs.
Today I sent him a backpack. He’d mentioned he needed a new one and I was clearing out the garage today and found one that Theo had used briefly for school until it had hurt his back – it was too big. Though not a precious jewel like the ring I gave my sister, the backpack struck me as symbolic of Alan’s life as a traveler and one of the bravest adventurers I know. He may not ascend the world’s highest mountains, or plunge into the depths of the sea, but he has faced death on so many occasions and overcome more fear, loneliness and despair than anyone else I know. I know that for Alan, being in touch with his family is more important than any material object. He is currently thousands of miles away in Chiangmai, in northern Thailand, and I don’t make enough time to talk to him. With the gift of the backpack, I am also sending a promise to carve out more time to talk and the hope that we will see each other again very soon.