by marriage. She left Singapore for India in 1936, five years before the Japanese invasion. 1971. My mother, recently married, travelling by plane from London to Tehran – she didn’t feel as though she was escaping. Eight years later, flying back to London, she did. Tehran, 1979. Outside my window, mountains. The highest, Damavand. Visiting my uncle north of the city, I fell into a drift of snow, chin deep. At school, in the playground, I stepped in the warm wet tar. Just to feel it underfoot, to mark its perfect glossy blackness. It clung to my shoe. Soon we would be leaving. We could see it changing from the window of our apartment. Demonstrations. Tanks. Soldiers. We could hear chanting. There were blackouts. Sitting in our flat, surrounded by boxes and crates packed with antique furniture – dark wood carved with tiny Chinese figures, men with long beards, ladies under cherry trees, curling clouds, dragons. It had travelled from Singapore to India, India to London and then to Iran, part of my grandmother’s and then my mother’s trousseau. The delivery men wouldn’t take it – no antiques could leave the country. They were tightening the borders. People grew ingenious – hid gold coins in jars of jam, jewellery in the hollow of a carved-out heel. Our toys were given to the local hospital – I knew that we were leaving.
London, SW13, 1980. At five years old, I dreamed of firing squads. Flinched when I saw policemen. But there was warmth and family and love. Masala omelette, sweet with fried onions. Rice pudding, golden with saffron.