In his memoirs, the Mughal emperor Babur speaks longingly of his ancestral home in the Ferghana Valley. He longs for cities such as Samarkand, the capital held by his legendary ancestor Timur, and praises the wine, fruit, and gardens of Central Asia. In a letter to his companion Khwaja Kalan, he writes: “How can one forget the pleasures of that country (Kabul)? Especially when abstaining from drinking, how can one allow oneself to forget a licit pleasure like melons and grapes? Recently, a melon was brought and as I cut and ate it, I was oddly affected. I wept the whole time I was eating it.”
In my second Farsi class, the instructor hands us a sheet with names of fruits. Seeb, albalu, tutfirangi, narenj. There were narenj trees in my grandmother’s garden in Peshawar. The narenj is larger than an orange, smaller than a grapefruit, and the flavour lies somewhere between oranges and lemons. Back in Farsi class, the teacher is telling the class what a narenj is, and I remember eid at Amiji’s. Helping ami and my aunts marinate and grill, then squeezing the narenj on the teekay before our annual meat frenzy. I could smell lamb in everything for weeks after.
Last Tuesday, Pejman introduced me to the Irani setar. He said the body is made of mulberry, called toot or shahtoot. I remember green mulberries, which look like fat juicy caterpillars. I used to climb the toot tree near our house in Quetta, and get rashes from getting too close to centipedes. Pejman said he used to do the same in Tehran when he was growing up.
Toot and narenj; Delhi and Samarkand; Quetta and Tehran; Peshawar and Toronto. I’m oddly affected too.