When I was 12, I went to a boarding school in Nishapur, north-eastern Iran, adjacent to the garden where the poet and scientist Omar Khayyám is buried. A part of the garden could be seen from our classroom window and the splashing sound of water, flowing down from a water tank amid the plants, was the background music of our lessons.
Each teacher coming to our class would point beyond the window and talk of the importance of Khayyám, adding that to become Khayyám, one had to study. The maths teacher would speak of Khayyám the mathematician. The science teacher would talk about Khayyám the astronomer. Even the religious studies teacher would speak of Khayyám as the expert on quotes from the prophet and his descendants, and a person who had a vast knowledge of Islam.
I became acquainted with multiple Khayyáms, but I got to know the real Khayyám in the afternoon. After school, we were admitted to the garden. Khayyám’s mausoleum divides the space into two. This garden, one of the oldest among the gardens of the old and new Nishapur, is one of the most vibrant spaces I have ever seen.
A teahouse opened there some years ago that serves the world’s tastiest tea. Next to it, a small shop sells the fine-cut turquoise of Nishapur, giving explanations lest the customers confuse Chinese and American turquoise with that of Nishapur, which has stone veins. An uncrowded, charming library has now been turned into a museum (though I’d rather it had stayed a library).
Whenever I happen to go back to the east of Iran, I deflect my route so as to have a brief stop in the garden where Khayyám is buried, to drink a cup of tea there, and, if there is time, to take a stroll on the ancient ground.
• Ali Ashgar Seidabadi is the author of more than 40 books for children and young adults. His next book, A Rainbow in My Pocket, will be published by Tiny Owl in July 2016