I first met Baraka at South Hampstead. I think we only had science classes together, but would often sit next to each other and usually talk about books. When we’d finished the work for the class, we’d read, or talk about books, which the teacher must have allowed because we were so well behaved otherwise. I remember one conversation where she was frustrated by Homer’s need to describe every sunrise and sunset in The Iliad. A few years later, a mutual friend bumped into her at Cambridge and put us back in touch, a quirk of fate for which I am very, very grateful.
I cherish all the time we spent together, whether it was in Norwood with her family and friends, in Regents Park, the flat opposite, or at UCH. Baraka was filled with kindness, intelligence, endless curiosity about the world, empathy and understanding, as well as humour and warmth
I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone with as many friends as Baraka–friends in the strongest sense of the word, people she knew well and shared a bond with that was strong and mutually enriching. This has come across so powerfully, at birthdays, at her mehndi and the wedding itself, so many times.
We often talked about books and about writing. I feel very lucky that she let me read her poetry, which was so intensely Baraka but also equally universal in beautiful, clear and concise language.
One of the last conversations Baraka and I had was over whatsapp. She was telling me about her trip to Bath, and sent me a Neil Gaiman quotation about wishes for the New Year:
‘May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art…And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.’
I had seen this quotation online before but somehow, from Baraka, it meant so much more.
I have another quotation to share, which I read just the other week, in Hayden Herrera’s biography of Frida Kahlo. The biographer quotes a friend saying of Kahlo, in the aftermath of her accident, and what the friend said reminded me so powerfully of Baraka that I want to share it:
‘She gave her heart. She had an incredible richness, and though one went to see her to console her, one came away consoled.’
And that more perfectly encapsulates how I feel about Baraka then anything else.