Nyla Ali Khan
Editor’s Note of introduction: Dr. Nyla Ali Khan writes with grace and precision. In a few hundred words, she can help us understand a complex matter concerning a land far away (but close to her heart) – or, in works of the heart, bring to the mind snapshots from a time and place foreign to us here in Oklahoma, yet familiar to the heart. Helpful hints for this sweet memoir:
“Chinars” are also know as Old World Sycamores.
And: Khushwant Singh was a renowed author, lawyer, diplomat, politician and, to be sure, an editor and a journalist of some note. His life spanned the years from British India to the independent nations of today’s sub-continent. He was a man of wit and deft sarcasm. The essay of our respected jewel of Kashmir follows:
I pride myself on not letting my emotions get the better of me — and on being in control. But the one entity that has me in its firm grip is KASHMIR.
The thought of seeing the majestic mountain peaks, the stately chinars, the lush and blossoming lawns, and trellised fruit trees has always kept me going.
I left Kashmir in 1990 to pursue my Bachelors and Masters in New Delhi.
The thought of the mountains and snow-covered peaks in the blistering heat of Delhi would make me bawl. I felt like a fish out of water away from the beauteous Valley.
My college friends would tease me that my skin was losing its glow and my hair was losing its sheen in the torpid climate. I would eagerly look forward to the exams getting over in April, so I could fly home the very next day. The cool climes of the Valley, and the riot of colors in the gardens would rejuvenate me. That was my utopia.
One year, my father sent a beautiful bouquet of gladioli for me from Kashmir, which was delivered to the college dorms. Every one in the dorms was mesmerized by the flowers from Kashmir, and we were soothed by the aroma of the Valley in the sweltering heat of Delhi.
Kashmir would breathe new life into me and make me feel invincible!
If anyone asks me what the elixir of life is, even today my answer would be “Kashmir.”
In memory, it embodies the innocence of childhood; the growing pains of adolescence; the follies of youth; and the serenity of adulthood.
Although I am older now, have traveled much and to many lovely places – and Kashmir has been mangled by several forces — it is still evocative of heaven for me.
I remember when acclaimed writer Khushwant Singh (1915-2014) reviewed my book, “Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir,” he called me and said, “You can live wherever you like, but your heart is in Kashmir.”
The great writer had great perception from afar: That is so true. My heart is in Kashmir.
Even today, the only entity that has the power to make my heart melt is “Kashmir.” Like my father, dear Abba, I too am in its thrall.
Note: Nyla Ali Khan is a university professor as well as an author and journalist. Her reflections are often shared in The City Sentinel newspaper in Oklahoma City, and on CapitolBeatOK, an online news service focused primary but not exclusively on the state of Oklahoma.