I nearly called the book ‘A Tale of Tajik Flowers’ and named several drafts with this title. Yes, ‘The Disobedient Wife’ is a much better title and I am glad I changed it. But why flowers?
When I lived in Tajikistan I was delighted to notice that many women’s names are also the names of flowers. My landlord was an elderly civil engineer, as fond of Soviet era machinery as he was of roses. He insisted that Tajikistan was where the rose – Sad Bagh originated. In my garden, I was lucky enough to enjoy the garden he had lovingly planted. Cultivated to bloom from May to November, we had climbers and ornamental, sweet scented roses. I dried their petals and put them in bowls. On weekends, and when it was warm enough out, I reclined on a tea platform (Tapshan), shaded by hundreds of delicate pink and red climbing roses. We had purple lilac trees, daffodils and tulips as well as fruit and nut trees and vines that gave us fruit almost all year round (quince, plum, cherries (3 types), apples, pear, grapes, walnuts, pomegranate, fig, mulberries, strawberries). We even had one tree that gave us half sour cherries and half sweet. The variegated irises were a sight to behold each May, deep burgundy, indigo and yellow, growing on half shaded bank above the ditches that ran around the lawn. There was a cracked greenhouse without a roof where I grew Italian and purple basil that grew to two metres, yellow tomatoes and rows of lettuce and rocket.
We had guards who asked me for use of land in return for digging and watering, of course I readily agreed. One of them, a burly, friendly man, accompanied me three days in a row to help me lift rocks from the riverbed into the boot of my car. They were pink, green, purple and white, smoothed down by the rushing water, like huge marbles. I used them to line borders and made a rocky mosaic around huge clumps of day lilies and michelmas daisies. My predecessor had planted long lines of daffodils and laid new lawns with dutch grass seed for her pony. I brought tulips to Dushanbe in a suitcase when I saw a magnificent display in one of the guesthouses popular with World Bank consultants one spring.
The city of Dushanbe is not a place where one finds great natural beauty, aside from the tall sycamore trees that line old Soviet avenues. The buildings are mostly Soviet-era, decrepit and ugly. The pavements are grey and cracked, lined with ditches that run with grey mud and dancing refuse. The winters are grey and the winds bite, the only flash of colour; the orange fruit of the persimmon tree. The harshness of the winter months is why Tajiks welcome spring with such joy. They celebrate with the ancient Zoroastrian festival Nav Ruz. Green shoots of wheat are made into a soup, cherry trees blossom and glittering, mono-browed brides go out with their dark-suited boys with slicked back hair. Live bands play in the park.
As I learned the Tajik language, I found it sweet that so many girls are named after the most beautiful aspect of Central Asian nature, the flowers.