I was born in England in 1965. My mother and father (a doctor) have both lived and worked in the UK since 1963.
The snippets which follow concern a short but memorable episode which occurred during my childhood back in 1975, during a long summer holiday to Mashhad. At that time I was a chubby ten year old who was obsessed with the Six Million Dollar Man TV show. My days were spent running everywhere and trying to jump up at branches of trees in very slow motion. My sister, who was a year younger than me, dreamed of growing her tight and curly hair long, blond and straight. She resorted to tying my mum's tights around her head so that as we played she could simulate “brushing” back her hair which was in fact one of the legs from the tights. What a sight we must have been as we ran around the hospital grounds where we had an apartment.
The trip to Iran was going to coincide with mum's birthday, which she decided to celebrate in Mashhad rather than Halifax (West Yorkshire). Also, my dad had decided to stay in the UK. So just myself, my sister and my mum were going. A little about my mum who is now 60, living with me and my future wife and the one rock of stability I have in my life. Because she spoke fluent English and my sister and I had all but forgotten Farsi, she was determined to show off her cosmoplitan-ness at every opportunity. At Heathrow airport, any time an Iranian family came into view she spoke to us in English . When they had disappeared she would break into her all-too-familiar Farsi, “Agar nasheeni meezanam to maghzet!” (which roughly translated into English means, “I'll smack your brain if you don't sit down and stop playing”.
We arrived in Mashhad to find my uncle had arranged the Mother of All Birthday Parties for my mum in my grandmother's house. It was an outdoor event and soldiers had been posted outside the door for the duration of the proceedings. Soldiers were also preparing the food and other soldiers were hosing the brick tiled ground to cool things down and clean the yard at the same time. The chubby boy from Halifax had never seen so much food being prepared in his life before. Rice was being cooked in a huge, “deeg” (a cast iron pot) and the aroma of wood burning, rice boiling, meat frying combined with the visual feast of aubergines being peeled, garlic crushed, chicken cut and various salads being chopped was overwhelming. Each time I stood too close to the cucumber slicers , Fati, my grandmother's servant, would ask me to stand back. Within two weeks she had resorted to pinching me when I misbehaved.
The evening came and guests arrived with women in their “Maxi” dresses and men wearing ties almost as broad as their chests. Haydeh was playing in the background and us kids soon started to group together to antagonise the helpers. We rounded rather cruelly on one of my uncle's gofers who was a dwarf and therefore a curiosity (he was killed outright in a motorcycle crash the same year). Our next victim was the photographer. A group of six to ten year olds trying pounce into every shot must have been infuriating. Finally we went indoors and started making random number phone calls pretending we were from SAVAK and about to arrest them – needless to say I had no idea what SAVAK was and a kindly colonel in our family asked us never to repeat the word again.
The climax of the evening was at my mum's birthday cake. It was huge and shaped into the numbers three and six, denoting her age. To this day she refers to the relatives who betrayed her age as donkeys (ajab kharaaee hasatn…). The celebrations continued and in the midst of all this I discovered the fresh fruit. In a one hour period, I recall stuffing almost my own weight in cherries into my mouth. Then I went back to more delicious shireen polo and khoreshteh gheimeh. At one point I coughed and ended up with a teaspoon full amount of rice lodged in the back of my nose. No amount of snorting dislodged it.
My next memory is my mum holding a lagan (potty) for me to sit on and another for me to be sick into. Yes, I was struck down with violent diarrhea and nearly ended up in hospital attached to a drip. My grandmother fed me with nothing but rice and yoghurt for the next week. As far as I was concerned, however, my one night of gorging and naughtiness had been well worth it. In that summer heat I became very active and shed a lot of my excess fat, which in turn made me into a very vain ten-year-old. I also fell in love with a girl who was the same age as me but wouldn't return my affections. She had a permanently blocked nose and I thought it sounded so cool that I began to take on her way of talking, “lebidoodam cheraa dabaaghaab gerefteh…” I would say to my mum. She would simply smile.
Twenty-four years have now passed and I can still recall the smell of balaal dipped in salt water and ripe kharbozeh split the whole way round with one thrust of a knife. Fati, the servant, still comes to me angrily in my dreams as I pee into the hose aab in the middle of the court yard instead of the outside toilet. My grandmother, who died last year, still tells me off as I run around her trying to escape my sister's clutches as she kneels facing Mecca.
One day I will take my future wife (Indian beauty from the Punjab) back to Iran so that my memories may be brought to life for her.