At the start of lockdown, I found food fiction, a subgenre of travel, culture, history, anthropology, women’s fiction, romance, cookery & so many diverse categories. Between pages, I traversed cuisines & cultures, finding characters I fell for, situations that laced my lockdown life with fortitude & hope. It’s been the second golden era of my reading (the first being when I was 17, in personal turmoil of family, studies, health & abuse and I devoured my college library).

In these, I drifted towards Persia, fueled by Wikipedia deep-dives, armed with Google Images of food, etymology sites to trace Persian-Hindi connections. The book that started it for me was Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran.

On @reddit (another pandemic content discovery), I found a news article announcing the death of Marsha Mehran. I couldn’t sleep that night. I cannot account for this unfathomable grief I feel. I never met her. I only found her books (three, one of which was published posthumously) after she passed. She isn’t part of my cultural milieu like a Bollywood star. Why then do I cry?

I process grief from an emotional distance. Like my other feelings. It is safer to fall in love with, to break up with, to be soothed by, assaulted, renewed, disappointed, shattered, supported and taught between pages. One can shed tears alone without fear of retribution or accusations of weakness. A book does not judge. Nor a long dead author who never knew me.

Marsha Mehran’s death is still a mystery. She died a recluse, at the age of 36. Her life spanned dramatic journeys across tumultuous events like political revolutions, divorce, brushes with gangster fronts. She touched Iran, Argentina, USA, Australia and finally Iran where it appears she found love, inspiration & death. Resolution? I don’t know. Would hoping she went peacefully be respectful of the dramatic life she led? It feels trite to say I love her. The most I can do, is to bear witness. What better way to honour a writer?

Marsha, your existence was felt. What you shared with the world, with your words is received with gratitude. You were read.

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