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The papier-mâché box from Kashmir

The story of how George acquired this decorative little papier-mâché trinket box* is a particularly heartwarming one. On multiple occasions, George traveled to India. In Srinagar, he visited and sometimes stayed at the home of a longtime friend and business contact, Hakim Zalpuri, his wife Habba and their daughter Nyla. Nyla was a curious and precocious young girl, who impressed George with her perpetually sparkling disposition and the intelligent way she contributed to their conversations, oftentimes on higher-level subjects that one would think were well beyond her age. George suspected that as an only child, she readily absorbed the adult milieu surrounding her and he also suspected her participation was in part to buy herself more time with the adults before one of her parents sent her off to play or to bed.

One day, during what ostensibly began as a regular business call between George and Hakim, Hakim revealed the true purpose of his call by breaking the news that eleven year-old Nyla had contracted polio and was being treated in a local clinic in Srinagar. Hakim was disparaging of the facility and anguished that he couldn’t do better by his daughter. The news was deeply upsetting to George, who repeatedly lamented during and afterwards that of all the childhood illnesses, the incapacitating nature of this disease was especially cruel for children who had so many experiences and adventures awaiting them. So far, she was only weakened by the disease and it hadn’t progressed to limb paralysis or worse.

While continuing to comfort Hakim on the phone, he summoned his secretary Audrey and wrote out instructions for her to immediately charter a private jet for Nyla—from Srinagar to New Dehli—where top specialists in the field could treat her. Transporting Nyla by any other means would not afford her the time she needed for the immediate, top-level treatment required to effectively confront the polio. He would also pick up the tab for any treatments Nyla needed.

The next couple of weeks were difficult for George as he awaited news of Nyla’s prognosis. Finally, a call came through from Hakim that Nyla would make a full recovery. Among India’s thousands of children per year who contracted polio, she was among the lucky ones. The family and George were overjoyed. Having no children of his own, George tended to lavish on other people’s children. Perhaps prompted by the tremendous relief he felt at her recovery, he wanted Nyla to return home to something special after her ordeal. Through various contacts, he was able to arrange the delivery of an entirely new bedroom suite—something more fitting for Nyla’s teen years and a setup more conducive for studying. Complete with a large desk, shelving, an encyclopedia set, globe, microscope, telescope, typewriter and other educational aids, the Zalpuri’s were overwhelmed with deliveries for weeks. When George visited again several months later, he was deluged with gratitude. Yet, he absolutely refused that they give him anything in return. He was happy to intervene on Nyla’s treatment and was thrilled at her recovery.

At the end of that visit, upon his return to the airport, George fished through his shoulder bag to retrieve his airline tickets and passport. That’s when he noticed the golden Kashmir box, painted on all sides with colorful, cheerful birds. He pulled it out and opened it. Inside was a note from Nyla: “Thank you for everything Mr. Wright.” Enterprising, courageous, assertive Nyla had done what her parents hadn’t thought to do—she’d taken a simple and lovely possession that was dear to her, included a straightforward sentiment inside and then stealthily placed it in George’s bag, making it impossible for him to refuse.

The Ali-Brothers papier-mâché trinket box, a beautiful reminder to George of Nyla’s spirit, sat on his desk until his death decades later.

Nyla would later come to America to study at Harvard and then afterwards at the University of Cambridge in England. She is now one of the top molecular biology and genetics researchers in the world.

*While the for-sale item described in the above story is real, this post is fiction.