I’ve often told my close friends that while Delhi was my First Love, Ankara was my Big Love. In the past year or so, I have managed to quell my hunger for this place somehow better than I had since I last left the country in November 2013. I think part of it was because of having recently reunited with a few more special friends from that era, analysing our experiences till death, locking up that period of life in perspective and I suppose finally having a little closure from it. Like a Big Love of any kind, I spent a few years trying to shake off my longing for it and nothing could explain my feelings for Ankara better than this piece I had written to my friend (some information edited out for privacy purposes of course) circa 2016.
This evening I just had my usual intense pang of nostalgia for Ankara which interestingly after 2 1/2 years hasnt quite dissipated fully. I think i forgot about Geneva within one week of leaving it and it took some time with London, but Ankara remains with me like a passionate and intense love affair. I think it was the coming together of all my fantasies- I was excelling at work, I was in a very supportive and powerful relationship with M. with no more break ups, I was in a country that touched me intellectually and culturally and meeting people that answered my spiritual and humanitarian questions. So many things just stick in my head like the smell of the air, the staircase at the office, the rooms i shared with co-workers, the great conversations with all sorts of offbeat colleagues, the surreal survivors I interviewed. If these interviews took place over a summer in Istanbul I would take a long walk alongside the Bosphorus eating ice cream as I tried to digest the day and if it was a winter in Ankara I would stand by the office balcony, sometimes catching sight of our applicants leaving as I would have a ‘rauchen’.
I felt so full, and so choked with life. The Turkic-Farsi-Dari-Arab concoction of the office and the city spattered with some Canadian and Nordic sensibilities was so intoxicating and complicated. Life was filled with urgency, social activity, cultural exchanges and spiritual fulfilment. I lived in gorgeous apartments, and really learned to cook some basic dishes which I make till today to serve to various groups of people. So much of Ankara is still stored in the drawers of my brains, folders and folders of memories bursting at the top- i just need to open it and it comes popping out. It was a city I felt my most authentic potential manifested itself. I have never lived in a country that I felt so strongly affiliated with even if I didnt understand all of its dilemmas aspirations and sorrows, but it was a place filled with juxtapositions that resonated- proud warm arrogant generous complex west east melancholic jovial – against this background was a flow of humanitarians and refugees from the west, the east, north and south bringing with them their own generosity, intelligence, cultural baggage and idealized world vision. When the Syrian crisis first broke out and intensified more and more of them poured to the office some as colleagues and I knew we were part of a very critical time in history. After Ankara I could never feel the same way about the world anymore
Apart from the vivid sentiments, this is my prized possession from that era. A blue and white Turkish ceramic piece that I bought in Kalesi. I bought it from a wonderful store selling Middle Eastern homewares such as Persian carpets and Turkish kilims, tiles and vases. The owner was a sweet man who spoke perfect English (rare in Turkey) and it turned out he was once a diplomat to Canada. They had a gorgeous chubby cat whose name was Turkish for Blondie. When he explained to me that the motif of this piece was about praying for Divine Light, I had no other option but to purchase it and today it adorns our living room. I really do feel that keeping special momentos in your home from places that mean a lot to you keeps your heart full of softness.
And so that is the story of my Big Love. It is painful to see where the country is today and I often try to avoid reading too much about the present toxicity. I guess quite often a Big Love doesn’t really translate to a long-lasting love and it was right that I left when I did. It is likely that should I have stayed, I would not have carried with me the potent love I have for her soul which I still carry with me today.