Reflections on life by Nadia Jamil

I was born in London. We moved back to Pakistan when I was about twelve because Aba didn’t want us growing up too disconnected from family. Being close to our roots and heritage was very important to him. Instead of telling us bedtime stories at night he would recite Punjabi Sufi Kalaams and Faiz Sahab’s poetry. Ma is a doer, not a dreamer. The kind of person who quietly spends her time giving blood in hospitals. She was political, radical, larger than life beautiful, and a social activist. She was taking me to political rallies in the MRD movement when I was 12!

And so I grew up hearing Faiz Sahab’s mushairas in Zehra Nigah’s London apartment. Heard Zehra Apa record her poetry in tarannum. Going to art exhibitions and picnics in the park. Beauty of every kind was an early part of my narrative.

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Image provided by Nadia Fazal Jamil

When we moved back to Pakistan there were baithaks of Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano, Abida Parveen, The Sabri Brothers, Nusrat Fateh Ali, Munshi Riazuddin, Pathana Khan Sahab… all in our home. Music and poetry surrounded us. Romance surrounded us because of my father being so deeply in love with my mother. Theirs is a hard core love marriage.

Raza Kazim was our neighbour and uncle, and would regularly knock a sense of social responsibility into us. Eqbal Ahmad was a close family friend. He woke my consciousness at a global level and introduced a sense of discipline into me. I grew up exposed to the beauty of art, the honesty of culture, a sense of identity rooted in heritage, yet free to soar beyond it. I sang and danced and started acting with Ajoka Theatre at 13.

It was a fantastic childhood, surrounded with stimulation, cousins, loads of dogs, climbing trees and playing dark room.

My teens were troubled. Very troubled. I felt protected by this intense relationship I had with The Universal Creator, who is Ahad and Samad. Unifying and Omnipotent. I grew up believing more than anything in The Creator’s Grace and Mercy. His Rehmat. I was overwhelmed, humbled and empowered by the beauty, the chaos, the structure within that chaos, and the amazing Infiniteness of Science and Faith.

Bad things also happened. By 17 -18 I was intense, angry, misunderstood because of confusing and brutal exposure to sexual abuse and the only thing I found peace in was theatre. But I was also full of love and surrounded by love. I was and am always mindful, grateful and aware of the love around me.

I met Ali when I was 15. I am the bohemian sufiana madcap – he is the dunya ka banda.

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Image provided by Nadia Fazal Jamil

He is gorgeous and looked like a Greek God, so from my side it was love at first sight. From his side I think I became a best friend, an addiction, and personally I think he fell in love with my physical self more after marriage. But that’s just what I think.

I’m spontaneous and impulsive. He’s measured and ambitious. He’s also unpretentious, stable and hard working, with an unpredictable and unorthodox streak of fun in him. He also has the most beautiful, clear, honest eyes. Used to have a great jawline. And I love him. We were from very different families and tried to get over each other for 15 years, then gave up and got married.

Love never goes but marriage is like running a factory. Take care of the technical management and the product is awesome.

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Photographer: Mobeen Ansari

From day one I believe his mother comes first in his life, then it should be my kids. I’m a friend and it’s my job to facilitate that. Then there is the space between us. It’s essential so we don’t get sick of each other. And there is fun. My factory won’t run if I don’t make sure there’s some fun in it. The environment in my home is largely dependent on me and how I work at it.

Often I need a break. My friends, my work and my small retreats into myself and my books give me that. My ME time is cherished and important.

My childbirth stories are a session unto themselves. I loved being pregnant, loved the childbirth process and loved every second of feeding, rocking and bringing up my babies. They are such a joy and so exhausting, emotionally and physically, MashAllah! I’m now planning to do a midwifery course from Lady Wellington or Lady Dufferin Karachi, so I can help other women enjoy a natural pregnancy and childbirth.

I wanted a large family but have two beautiful boys mashAllah! After my illness he wouldn’t let me try again. We nearly split up over it.

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Photographer: Mobeen Ansari

My illness… I used to get horrible headaches around 2007 onwards, then I was in a terrible car accident in 2009. Following it a nerve was pinched in my spine and I needed several MRIs. That’s when the tumour was discovered in my brain.

I had my first seizure in 2012, during the shooting of Behadd. Obviously my parents and family were petrified. But the real crisis occurred when the seizures started. I would have 6-7 a day. It wasn’t until the treatment that they came under control. Those frightened everyone: the kids, my husband, my parents. I hated them seeing a seizure because they would feel more fear and pain then I ever did. I would drop down in a shop or off a chair.

The treatment in London was the worst. I was frightened but I was determined to find the solution. And I did. Eventually! The treatment started very very heavy. My hair started falling, my weight fluctuating. I hated it. I lost all confidence in my body, petrified that a seizure would occur during work or shopping. Meeting people became a chore.

Photographer: Mobeen Ansari
Photographer: Mobeen Ansari

Today I feel no panic. I don’t have seizures like that anymore, but if I feel one coming on I lie down and prepare my family for it and tell them to stay calm. The kids and some of my friends are awesome about it. My parents and husband still panic.

Things have improved. The medication has come down by one fourth! I know that meditation, yoga, mindful living and holistic eating (still not enough) has all helped radically. But it was remembering the strength of my Nani who had died of cancer, along with my spending more time in service of children who had had their childhoods compromised that really taught me how to heal. Yes I stopped acting totally for a while on screen. Just acted at Shakespeare’s The Globe in London in 2012 then became an international fellow in 2014.  Then Sania Saeed and I did Loreli with Haissam Hussain for the local stage.

Today I pick a role very carefully. It has to be good enough for me to challenge my body, leave all my children and “The Empty Space”. It has to be worth it.

I’m regular with daily acupuncture. That unblocks any bad energy my body is holding due to pinched nerves, stress or any other reason. I swear by it. I eat as organic as possible and don’t miss my meditation or prayers. I’m far more disciplined and structured in my love and relationship with Allah, and as a result with my kids.

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Image provided by Nadia Fazal Jamil

I take my medicine that I have to everyday but like I mentioned it’s one-fourth of what it used to be. I spend a lot of time in and with nature, with my pets, my children and have learned to LOVE alone time with me and my reflections, lying under a nurturing tree with a book, some music or a pen and paper.

Most importantly I am consciously grateful and mindful of every moment I’m in, knowing the energy I bring to this moment will take me into the next moment, which is my future. My in laws are friends and family. I learned how to draw boundaries from my mother in law. She helped me grow up and mature a lot. My father in law is awesome. A man I respect so much!

I have nine dogs. I love animals. Can’t see a living thing in pain. I have a beautiful palm tree, a mango tree and two champa trees. These plants and animals are my safe haven of unconditional love and the trick to lowering my blood pressure when it all gets too overwhelming.

My foster children have also made me who I am today. I was researching brick kilns when I found my eldest foster son Sabir, a Saraiki Punjabi speaking four year old boy sitting on chappals at the scorching hot bhatta. I went to court and one day the social worker knocked on my door and there he was. He hated what we ate and didn’t understand our language so a friend suggested I take him so SOS. I didn’t want to, but he was so so happy that first day and has settled in so beautifully.

My second foster son Azaad had been abandoned for over a year when he was found behind a freezer in a local market place. He had been badly abused. Burnt, raped, stabbed. He was six and a half, nearly seven. I taught him how to protect his body. He would not sleep without me. Then he became so attached to Sabir that we put him in the SOS too.

Aba, Ghamidi Sahab, Abdul Bari Mian and Dr Khaled Zaheer are my religious mentors and help me understand the Quran and how to love and live its message.

But my greatest teachers in patience, in thinking out of the box, pushing myself and opening new boundaries are my kids. Rakae and Mir Vali.

And that’s me – Nadia Fazal Jamil, in a nutshell.

All images provided by Nadia Fazal Jamil.

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