Jamila Minallah, born Jamila Aziz in 1936 in Parachinar, lived a life straight out of an epic novel, with rollercoaster twists and turns from high happiness to tumultuous tragedy, set against a background of adoring family and friends full of admiration.
As a young bride of fifteen married to Anwar Minallah, from Ziarat Kaka Sahib, she traveled to distant, beautiful Bengal and his tea garden there. One can imagine the impact her stunning beauty – green eyes, perfect features, and graceful almost regal bearing – made on the community settled there, as it did wherever she went and lived thereafter. Her quality of making and keeping friends was evidenced there – as earlier in her schooldays in KP – and seen decades later in Islamabad and Peshawar when friends from that initial era of her married life would so warmly meet and greet the Minallahs: as at his sparkling 70th birthday celebration, an evening resounding with lights, laughter, love and a fabulous buffet that went on way into the night.
Living later in Peshawar and Islamabad, Jamila – or ‘Jeela’ to friends and family – was never a complacent housewife and continued her tradition of keeping and making good friends, and contributing to better whatever community she was in. She gave much of her time and talents to a school, for which those running it were always grateful and regarded her with the highest respect.
Her many and fond lifelong friends included her schoolmate Hamda Akhtar and from their years in Islamabad and Peshawar Almas and Rafat Ali Khan, Sajida Baqai, and Yakut Khalil ur Rehman. Those from the tea-garden epoch and that era included many others, such as the Mir Ajam Khans and the family of the Mir of Swat.
The bravery and dignity with which she bore the shattering loss of two of her four children, Shahzad and Shila, was remarkable; as was her always wishing everyone well. By the Grace of God her daughter Shahnaz and her son Shahbaz have been pillars of support. They have also inherited their parents’ quality of filling their abodes with friends, fun and magical moments around the fireplace.
As a young bride of fifteen married to Anwar Minallah, from Ziarat Kaka Sahib, she traveled to distant, beautiful Bengal and his tea garden there
Jamila was quietly proud of her children’s, family’s and friends’ achievements. Shahnaz has excelled as a photographer and art-of-living instructor. Shahbaz is a pioneer in Kazakhstan in the opening of new avenues of energy and trade with China. Her grandchildren Sharmine, Shehrbano, Shahrez and Sher Ali have likewise all found their academic and professional paths to success.
Though as described above herself a star by any standard, Jamila’s family too are a distinguished clan: her adoring elder siblings being epic Urdu author the late Nisar Aziz married to columnist the late Asghar Butt, and former Foreign and Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz; and her devoted, equally accomplished, younger siblings Rukhsana Kakakhel, married to the Foreign Office’s primary Arabist Ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel, and Brigadier Kamal Aziz, the Pakistan Army’s foremost German language expert, decorated by Germany for his services in furthering cooperation between the two armed forces. She enjoyed also excellent rapport with her sisters-in-law Lally and Nighat.
Jamila’s father was a Kakakhel and a civil servant. Her mother was from a Qizilbash, Persian-speaking family. Jamila owed much of her large-heartedness and broad-mindedness to this near-legendary lady, known throughout the vast clan as ‘Ammaji’; and to the wide circle of family friends still as ‘Mummy’. Hers was a truly open house where marriages of friends and family were solemnised, their Eid gatherings celebrated, and their children born.
Whether at their welcoming home in Peshawar or their spacious sunlit apartment in Islamabad, Jamila Minallah’s lunches were legendary and her bridge sessions exciting all-nighters. The most delicious dishes – ranging from traditional Pakhtun pulaos to classic Continental cuisine to fabulous fusion – were served in the most convivial atmosphere, with Jamila interacting individually with each guest, asking him or her about themselves, and never forgetting their absent family members.
So it is easy to appreciate how this wonderful woman was not only a gracious hostess but equally a graceful guest. Some years ago, like a shooting star she emerged – to the delight of all who knew her – from the affliction that beset her for this past time. She traveled to Lahore to grace like a fairy godmother the wedding of a dear friend’s granddaughter, and inadvertently became the focus of all attention at the event. The gifts she bore included the traditional jora for the bride’s mother. The family were overwhelmed and almost unbelieving of this ‘double’ miracle, and Jamila’s enchanted honourary nieces practically fought to sit next to her and listen to her sincere well wishes and her witty repartee – she could sum up a person or a situation in a few succinct sentences – and to simply hear that warm voice and behold this beloved aunt restored to her sparkling self. That same year she presided with style and sophistication at her own granddaughter’s marriage functions, again the cynosure of all eyes – though unconscious as ever of the effect herself – from her elegant coiffure and attire (maroon and grey) to her classic court shoes.
Shortly after this happy occasion, alas the situation she was suffering from returned to submerge her. The only solace and comfort to the many whose admiration and affection she held (another combination achieved by few) was that, whether occasionally hospitalised or mostly in her own verdant space in Bani Gala, she was as comfortable as possible and surrounded by family.
She shall be immeasurably missed, and Islamabad less light and bright, without her sweet smile, lively laughter and all-embracing warmth. May God Bless her, Amen.