Exiled as a family after the Islamic Revolution, in 2003 against my family’s wishes I went back to Iran after 27 years, to find out for myself what Iran meant to me, having last visited Iran when I was seven years old. I wanted to visit my aunt Mimish, who was buried in my maternal family’s mausoleum in Behesht-e-Zahra, in Tehran at the age of 19.
I discovered our crypt to be a free-standing brick building with our family name on a pediment. I removed an old chain to unlock the door but couldn’t open it as after all the years of neglect, the ceiling of the interior had collapsed obstructing it. With force the door eventually opened to reveal a strange dusty room with intricate mirror work, crumbling ornate mouldings, stolen chandeliers, and smashed windows.
I found it remarkable that this interior was not traditionally Iranian but represented a worn European opulence. The dilapidated sofas and chairs lining the perimeter of a room I recognised to be an Iranian custom of mourning the dead, but the visible charm of the powder blue and frivolous ornate mouldings of the Rococo, an attempt to ‘dress up death’. The crypt is not an actual place because of the accidents of history. The crypt was violated as its intended role was not realised. My grandfather built this for his version of my future; one that he, nor any of us occupy. I was standing inside the crypt in 2003 next to my grandfather, in his present and in my past, thinking about both our futures. The experience of my visit to the crypt was very moving. I was expecting there to be evidence of my aunt’s burial, but the room was empty bar collapsed furniture, broken glass and the caved in ceiling which had fallen on the floor.
I cleared the room, swept away the glass and rubble and began washing the caked layer of dust off the floor. Carved letters in Arabic began to emerge before me, my aunt’s grave appearing under this hidden layer, preserved and unviolated. Slowly I started seeing other rectangular compartments until I realised there were twelve black and white marble compartments, only two of which had been filled, one by my aunt Mimish and one by an unknown relative. I felt an affinity to my aunt whilst performing this cleansing ritual as she was set in stone, unreachable through material and a bygone age. The crypt after years of isolation, was still as sacred as it was when we locked it up twenty-seven years ago.