Dr. Amanullah Khan, Agha Nisar Ali Khan (Illustrator)
Of Neem, Nidus, and Olive: A Life
Sang-e-Meel Publications, 978-9-6935-3299-9, 104 pgs., $45
October 25, 2020
Of Neem, Nidus, and Olive: A Life by Dr. Amanullah Khan is a book to savor. The author, who has a strong narrative voice, is a hematologist/oncologist in McKinney, Texas, president of Cancer Center Associates, and past president of the Poetry Society of Texas. This book will appeal to readers with a global view, who appreciate the complexities of life.
Agha Nisar Ali Khan illustrates each poem in rich colors; details add imagery. On many pages, soulful eyes watch as the reader enters the text. The symbiotic relationship between the work of the writer and artist is felt; each page turned opens a new door. Many metaphors are visual, with illustrations of black branches appearing as veins of a living organism, fitting for a poet who is also a doctor.
Part 1, “Of Neem,” sets the introspective tone for Dr. Khan’s poetry memoir with “Why Ask for More”:
We lived within our means.
Paths paved with naked stones
Ripped the old shoes we wore,
But we slept the deepest sleep.
In “Ballad of Neem Tree,” he adds:
I remember the soothing shade
And refuge of the foliage
Where summertime whispers stayed.
Most of the book is serious and reflective, but it has moments of humor. “Vagaries of Customs” highlights a misunderstanding at a gas station. “Perils of Passion” and “Blissful Years” include funny stories about aging lovers. The author ends this section “looking for the lost tree” among his mango-sweet memories.
Here the organization of the book takes an unexpected turn, the author sandwiching part 2, “Of Nidus,” between two others named for trees. The writer defines nidus as a place of infection or a situation in which something develops, not an obvious fit for topics which include the “quagmire” of relationships, natural devastations like volcanoes and hurricanes, the difficulty of telling a young woman she has leukemia, doubt in the face of suffering, and the tragedy of zealots “incinerating” young lives and faith. “Fake Banana” explores man’s willingness to believe lies and recruit others to follow.
Apple, though, remains apple,
despite being perceived as a banana.
Section 3, “Of Olive,” introduces the tree as a symbol of sacredness, peace, and unity.
Warring tribes forgot their common roots, but
All can grow again in transcendent sun
to sprout again and bear a fresh fruit.
The structure of Khans’s poems is eclectic. Some rhyme in an ABAB pattern; others are free verse. “View from the Moon” is a villanelle, a form of fixed free verse with an intricate pattern of the repeated lines. Dr. Khan focuses on the ephemeral nature of time and memory, a reconciliation of what was and what is with what might be.
Of Neem, Nidus, and Olive: A Life is narrative poetry, a memoir that invites the reader to imagine life through the combined vision of the writer and the illustrator, images to discover and rediscover with each reading. As Dr. Khan says in his letter to Thomas Jefferson, “To rein my pen is to muzzle my soul.”
Dr. Amanullah Khan is an oncologist in McKinney, Texas, and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area. He has been in practice for more than twenty years. Dr. Khan is the president of Cancer Center Associates, and past president of the Poetry Society of Texas.