Saturday, 30 June 2018


It was raining when we left Positano and Capri looked less than inviting upon our arrival. There was an air of Mt Vesuvius, threatening not ash but thunder clouds and lightning...
I had booked us into a luxury villa (my hotel illusions never cease) but our first run-in with luxury was a rather cold jacuzzi, which we determined to brave in the rain until even our temporary madness failed us and we returned like drenched sea creatures. The hotel staff felt sorry for us (or worried about a stinging review) and brought us the one snack I had wanted to try on the island - zucchini flowers. I dove into them as though I hadn't eaten in a month. They were hot and filled with ricotta, spiced with a dusting of chilli...

Although we braved the rain outside, the gates to Gardini Augusto were closed and we wandered around the Via Camerelle near the Piazetta, marvelling at how decked out the cruise ship tourists were - all suit jacketed and heeled. Capri maintains her myth of exclusivity, but I wonder if Ischia would not have suited us better with her thermal baths more forgiving to our Positano-aching legs?

The next morning when we awoke, the sun was scorching again as though the rain had never been, and we embarked on a boat tour of the island. Unfortunately an unexpected wave ate Theresa's phone, which lent the caves and grottos a slightly morose tone. But we swam for a few seconds anyway before rocking nausea set in!

Later we explored Swedish physician Axe Munthe's ode to a Greek temple in San Michele, and after bidding farewell to the last of Capri's offerings (we only missed Buonocore's Gelateria) we found ourselves back in Napoli, very ready for our first and only pizza of the holiday. And where else for pizza in Naples? Well, probably anywhere, but Da Michele is the one made famous by Julia Roberts in Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Eat, Pray, Love'.... 

Ciao Italia! Arrivederci! Until we meet again, very soon, I hope...


Friday, 29 June 2018


I thought it was just me, secretly harbouring a movie-fuelled desire to visit Positano on the Amalfi Coast, but everyone I mention the name to seems to have the same desire. Perhaps not the same movie though. For me it was Robert Downey Jr whisking Marisa Tomei up and down the winding Southern Italian mountain roads in 'Only You'. They were there for the briefest and most dramatic of scenes, and so in a way were we.

Where to eat? Da Vincenzo, of course. What to eat? Anything. Everything you can afford. Make room for dessert and espresso. (We had already had our free hotel prosecco earlier...) 

This meal, by this sunset, with our huge happy smiles was all Day One - from Cambridge to Napoli to Pompeii to Positano. I had travelled more and seen more in one day than ever in my life before. Day Two was challenging in a different way... after a scrumptious breakfast at Buca di Bacco restaurant (I want more, now! But I did squirrel away some in a doggy bag-napkin), Theresa decided she liked the sound of Nocelle up in the mountains on the way to The Path of the Gods. But before we took the bus, my good sister indulged me in a flash stop at Le Sirenuse, the hotel featured in 'Only You'. I was excited to say the least!

Perhaps one day if I am lucky enough, I will return and stay here, at Le Sirenuse, or perhaps not. After all, I have been now, haven't I?

Elated with our quick stop we elbowed our way onto the bus with a lot of locals, and wound up a very nauseating climb to Nocelle. I was so horribly sick by the time we reached our destination that I determined we would walk downhill. Not knowing that 1,750 steps awaited us. But I lived to walk it and tell the tale, though neither Theresa nor I could walk normally for days afterwards.

Thursday, 28 June 2018


Theresa and Irfan have taken me on many holidays over the years.
Extraordinary trips I never even bucket listed - the Gold Coast in Australia, where I flirted with skippy kangaroos, Nikoi Island in Indonesia where they got married and I adorned my hair with hibiscus and recited wedding poetry, Bali, twice - twice!! Rice fields, ancient carvings, fresh mango salads, gentle harmonious people. So I decided I wanted to take Theresa somewhere she hadn't been before. Irfan had to mind Rafi and Bella, so it could only be half a gift. But girls' trips are fun in a very special way. 
I tussled between Greece (too scorchingly hot?), Dubrovnik (a walled city, enclosed), and of course, Italia. Florence was my first choice but there were no direct flights from Stansted, and knowing Theresa had already navigated Heathrow coming from Singapore, I plumped for Napoli. 
Naples gets a raw deal by tourists who compare it unfavourably to the Amalfi Coast, and I, being perfectly suggestible, believed the critics and planned accordingly to spend as little time as possible in Naples.
We left home at 4:30am. Salvatore, our guide, picked us up at Naples Airport. He was jacketed in the sweltering heat and fancied himself the perfect gentleman. He swarmed with compliments for Theresa, 'Bellissima! Bellissima! You are gorgeous woman! Macedonia! (translation: mixed fruit salad). It was amusing to begin with, and we giggled at the back, but hours of it left both of us uncomfortable and ready to leap from the vehicle dragging our suitcases away from Sal's seductions (and endless Bocelli renditions of 'Dancing in the Dark'...) 

But first Pompeii. Salvatore deposited us in the arms of Gianni, of the bright blue shirt, tight white trousers and heavy perfume. Guideless, Pompeii would have defeated us, even though I suppose one could simply follow other tourists and other guides, but I was glad for Gianni and his oft-repeated 'And don't forget one thing...' Pompeii is tourism central, but there was something moving about us modern day folk walking on the same stones as the ghosts of ash consumed Pompeiians. Some tourists walk barefoot to feel that same memoried ground. Others weep before the bodies of people and animals exhumed in mid flight, mid hopeless flight, from their choking home.

What surprised me about Pompeii was the green. What didn't surprise me was the heat. Surely Athens could not have been hotter?

So that when we finally returned to the car (and Sal's charm offensive) it was cool glory to feast our eyes on the Bay of Naples. Even Mt Vesuvius, destroyer of a city, looked less threatening... we wound past Sorrento, and down down down to Hotel Buca di Bacco in Positano. Theresa swam almost immediately upon our arrival, on Spiaggia Beach, hoping for warm waters but alas... and then we cooled our heels in the waters on Fornillo Beach. 

Are we really here?!!

Friday, 1 June 2018


My 7 year old nephew and I sit together to write a poem about his summer holidays in England - it’s all very well to assume a holiday is only about ice cream and laughter, but what about the unexpected? Maybe even the unpleasant?

by Rafael Tayabali (with some help from his Aunty Shai)

It hurt. It really hurt,
That stinging nettle I found.

It was only yesterday,
In a place far, far away

Where the pigs and cows live,
And English shire horses roam.

I thought the pain would last forever,
But before I knew it, it was gone.

‘Scruffles! We have no paper left!’
Says my Aunty Shai. So goodbye.

(A poem for dverse poets Open Link Night

Thursday, 10 May 2018


I never quite know what I’m supposed to do on a day ‘celebrating’ such a dastardly disease - or perhaps it’s just for enlightenment, for awareness... not that I ever remember. When I told Mum it was World Lupus Day, she asked me, ‘So what are you doing for today?’ And I replied, ‘I am enjoying my life today.’

Which I am. I wore enjoyment in the form of colours, bright lime green nails and shoes, and a rope of beads around my neck, a craft present from my beloved Mary Haybittle - for rainy days with the twins - can't remember which twin made this particular one - and the nurses were very complimentary. Colour has that effect in hospital.

I pretended my NHS coffee was Real Cawfee and later, when I was free of the cannula, I took myself off to the Jubilee Garden for a few sunshiny moments.

When I rang Mum to ask if she’d fetch me home, she said the iron had packed up and could we go to Sainsbury? 'Mais oui,' said I, placing the beads more prominently to better enjoy the freedom of being me on this day, May 10, 2018.

Did I wear the beads, headdress style, at Sainsbury? Bien sur!

Here is a little video wave I made in the hospital garden, just to say hello 👋🏽

Monday, 30 April 2018


Spring sprang, and took the daffodils with it.
Is sprang a word in that particular context? Lately words are becoming more of a challenge to recognise, what with the new social media cultures, shortening of words to letters and even the loss of words. Have any of you heard of, or bought Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris’ book ‘Lost for Words’? It is a beautifully annotated encyclopaedia of nature related words that are in danger of being ousted in favour of supposedly less grandiose words.
At the Cambridge Literary Festival, on the 14th of April, Jackie Morris live painted an otter, using Japanese ink and water drawn and bottled by MacFarlane from the chalk springs at Nine Wells in south Cambridge. A Cambridgeshire campaign to save these lost words by ensuring every primary school has a copy of the book has been very successful. I feel inclined to buy a copy for myself and the four children who meander in and out of my life. The walls of our front living room are covered by animal artwork anyway, although perhaps not using the sumi ink and gold leaf of Morris’ illustrations… her website is a treasure trove of her drawings.

Poetry was also a feature at the Cambridge Literary Spring Festival, with Wendy Cope talking about her latest collection. She was going to call it ‘Seventy’, the age she is now, thinking it would be an attractive selling point for the seventy year old market. But then she realised it might not appeal to every other age, so she changed the name to ‘Anecdotal Evidence’. She was as droll in person as she is in verse.

Mum has planted a very conservative tray of tulips after the muntjacs devoured hundreds in past years. But I have bought a variety of bright orange gerbera and a pot of vivid purple something or other from our local garden centre, Scotsdales, determined to have splashes of colour everywhere possible. We had one lonely Bird of Paradise come up in the conservatory, and with that we must suffice.

In wider British news, we have a new possible king! Well, hopefully Princess Charlotte stands a chance first (the first royal sister to hold her own place in the lineage) but still, welcome Prince Louis Arthur Charles! Nicely timed, out of the way of his Uncle Harry’s wedding in less than three weeks. I haven’t been sent an invitation but I might be in London on that day, all being well, for a theatrical outing I booked a year and a half ago, a thing I have never done in my life. More about that as and when, and if possible...

Meanwhile, onwards to May. Lilac wisteria is already garlanding our front door, and I have had two rounds of Rituximab monoclonal antibody therapy after a bleak nine months of waiting. So, as Olaf the Snowman would say, ‘All good things. All good things...’

Thursday, 19 April 2018


Not a warrior. Just a woman.
There is nothing 'just' about being a woman.

You wore purple slippers while incarcerated
In the place without colour.

You noticed the small failures, and sought to
Correct the large ones.

You housed two tortoises for thirty years,
And built another home for those of us

Wandering in the bewildering wilderness
Of lupus. Systemic lupus, that uncontrollable beast

That ropes us into the pen of our lives,
Trying to tame us into submission.

Not a warrior. Just a woman.
Who wore her height stylishly.

Who ate her cake ravenously.
Who lived her truths wisely.

But not without humour. Never
Without humour.

Are you here now? Like I asked you to be?
Or have you already flown far, free

To conquer new lands, unite with old friends,
Your mother, who left you too soon.

As you have left us, too soon.

Shaista Tayabali
April 16, 2018

linked with dverse poets

Shelagh Cheesman was the Chair of the Cambridgeshire Lupus UK group, the champion of many, and my dear friend. Along with our friend Colette Barrere, we formed part of an informal club called The Chloe Club, wearing our shared necklaces, lunching at the Tickell Arms, breaking down our encounters with the medics into humorous morsels. 
I can't say words like 'I'll miss her' because they sound too banal. And anyway, she doesn't seem to have left me. Yet.
I recited the poem above at her funeral service on Monday 16th. It was a poem she commissioned herself two weeks before she died at Addenbrooke's. She unknowingly gave me the title of the poem with this quote: I don't like the word 'warrior'. But I like the word 'positivity'. 

The not-so-formal photo: Shelagh (L), me, Coco (R), post Tickell Arms lunch

Thursday, 22 March 2018


They disappear the girls,
But it's the men who blur, for me.

Whose father, did what, when,
With whose aid, why - I care less

About them. And only about you.
You remain. You and your name

Haunt me, but not as ghostly mystery.
There was nothing insubstantial

About you. In fact, there was so much
That it has spilled over, across time,

Crossed the bridges of your world
And mine, so you live with me now,

Swimming in the river of my thoughts.
I hope you don't mind.

(c) Shaista Tayabali, 2018

They wanted us to forget her. They tried to erase her, in a suitcase, strangled and abandoned, buried. No, evil, you did not succeed. We honour her, still. Her name is on our lips, in our poems, crossing borders on the wind. Banaz Mahmod. In 2012, Deeyah Khan and Andrew Smith documented her story in a film they titled Banaz: A Love Story. She was born 16 December 1985, and killed 24 January, 2006. She was Iraqi Kurdish. She lived in Wimbledon, London. And she fought to save her own life.  
(poem shared via dverse poets)

Wednesday, 21 March 2018


It is the spring equinox today, and all around the world Parsis, Zoroastrians and Iranians are celebrating Nav Roz, or No Ruz, which translates to New Day. But also, following Celtic and Saxon tradition, the goddess Ostera is celebrated by Wiccans and druids at Stonehenge, the goddess Isis brings rebirth to Egypt, Passover includes a thorough spring cleaning in Jewish homes, and in Russia, Maslenitsa is observed as a time of light, and a return to warmth. 

An article I wrote at the end of last year was recently reprinted in the magazine 'Parsiana' with an illustration of myself as Zoroastrian superhero, with a heart of fire, which is one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. I plan on having a giant poster reproduction of it to remind myself on lost days that I have a heart of fire. Thank you, Farzana Cooper, fabulous illustrator!

In case you missed my article 'Half Parsi, Half Muslim, Full Woman', I am including it in full here...


I say my name, in full.
‘Date of Birth?’
I say my date of birth, in full.
‘Half Parsi, half Muslim,’ I say. In full.

She looks up at me. I am standing in the classroom, as each of us do when the roll call reaches our letter in the alphabet. ‘How can you have two religions?’ she asks. Maybe she is smiling, maybe she isn’t. I cannot remember because this process occurs every single year, on the first day of school after the monsoon holidays are over. ‘I don’t know,’ I say, although I do. I have two parents. And two religions. 

‘What is your father?’ In India, this is quite a common way of asking which religion you belong to. ‘What are you?’ begins with this classification, if your name doesn’t already ‘give you away’. ‘My father is Muslim,’ I say. And watch her write it down. I protest. How young I was when I began protesting is unclear to me. All I know is that by the time I was ten I had already decided I'd had enough of my mother’s religion being erased from my identity. For that is how I perceived the act of a figure of authority deciding for me that my father’s religion was the defining classification of my personhood.

I am a feminist. I came to an understanding of this word first through the writings of Alice Walker and her fulsome, inclusive definitions of womanist. But that was at university. So there was no word for what I felt at the thought of the denial of my mother’s religious identity. In India this is more than which place of worship you are allowed to enter – it weaves into every aspect of your life - your birthing ceremony, your childhood years, your teenage relationships, your marriage, your divorce or inability to divorce, and then the decisions that will affect your own children’s lives. My mother had a spiritual, emotional and psychological crisis when she fell in love with my father, because she had always assumed she would marry a Parsi like herself. Parsis are now a tiny community: a thousand years after leaving Persia because of Arab persecution, and of sheltering in India under the premise of never proselytising the religion – Zoroastrianism – we number less than 60,000.

You notice I have only just mentioned the ‘other’ religion. Indians know that to be a Parsi is to be Zoroastrian in a way the world does not want to know that to be Muslim is to be Malaysian, Kurdish, French, Moroccan, Norwegian, Somali. Naming ‘Zoroastrianism’ has only become a reality since we moved to England. A non-reality, ultimately, because no one has heard of Zoroastrianism. Well, unless you happen to be a bonafide Freddie Mercury fan, or you are a Professor of Iranian or Avestan Studies. The Jehovah’s Witnesses who used to knock on our door heard ‘Rastafarian’ every time my mother opened the door, and explained she did have religion in her life.

What was my Parsi mother’s greatest fear when marrying my Muslim father? That her children would be neither one thing, nor the other. Where would we belong individually, or as a family? Nowhere, she feared. And in part, her fears proved of substance. When my grandfather died, the Zoroastrian priest would not permit my mother to enter the sacred area where her father lay, wrapped in white muslin sheets, ready for his sky burial. She had been made impure by marrying outside the community and the pure land was no longer available to her. His cruelty broke her heart.

We make our choices. One day, when the need to visit the fire temple and light aromatic sandalwood became too great, my mother drove all of us to the agiary. The sign outside clearly stated, ‘Only Parsis allowed.’ My father prepared to wait outside the entrance. My mother, my younger brother and I began to troop inside. One small figure was missing. My older brother, clutching our father’s arm, refused to leave his side.

We make our choices. Are you Muslim or Parsi? What is your father? So when I was ten I placed the secret of my heart upon my mother’s palm. I knew no one would ever order me to prove myself a Muslim. If they did, couldn’t I simply burst into ‘Alam Nash Rakh Laka Sad Rakh’? Hadn’t my mother painstakingly taught herself Arabic so she could in turn teach us the calligraphy that would forever be written upon the scripts of our souls? Secure in my Islamic and Arabic traditions, I wanted to ensure my Persian Avestan traditions. There was one formal investiture and it was time conditional. Parsi girls may only ever enter the Zoroastrian faith through the navjote ceremony before we begin to menstruate. Oh that gatekeeping, so beloved to the male priestly communities across the globe, across time. Blood, the river of life, which runs gender-binary free through all human veins, suddenly turns into such filth that God himself would forsake us. He would be Himself here. Herself would merely commiserate over the monotonous banalities, send waves of abdominal healing and draw us ever closer.

It didn’t make much difference and it made all the difference in the world. My Parsi-ness, my Zoroastrianism, remains invisible, the secret I placed upon my mother’s palm. Remains the secret of my heart. My delightful father, who I worried would feel betrayed by my deliberate choice, was only moved to tears that his daughter felt so deeply about her relationship to the liminal, the mystical unseen ever-thereness of the spiritual world. I pray, as he does, in surahs and in gathas. A thousand years ago, his people may have persecuted my mother’s people. In me, persecution will not be internalised. Love made its decision so firmly, so deeply, that surely some tiny bat squeak of an echo is even now ricocheting back in time, to press my secret into the palms of forsaken hands. Here. Remember this. Love is a choice, waiting.

(first published in Sisterhood mag, Dec 26th 2017)