Indomitable spirit

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  • ‘Unstoppable in the Arts’ Asma Nabeel is felicitated at the Femina Middle East ‘Be Unstoppable’ Anniversary High Tea on June 9th, 2015

“Whatever brings you down is already under you. Rise above it – it will make your stronger,” says Asma Nabeel. Head of Films at Crew Motion Pictures, writer, advertising enthusiast, poet, lyricist, filmmaker and a cancer survivor. Manju Ramanan speaks to the unstoppable achiever from Pakistan

“MY LIFE HAS BEEN AN ADVENTUROUS RIDE WITH LOTS OF UPS AND DOWNS. BUT, WHEN I SEE WHERE I STAND TODAY, I FEEL POWERFUL. I FEEL IN CONTROL AND I FEEL LIKE I SHOULD JUST BE THANKFUL FOR WHERE I AM.”

“PRAYER IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE TOOL TO FIGHT NEGATIVITY. AND I FEEL THAT IN SITUATIONS LIKE MINE, YOU BECOME CLOSER TO GOD. I BELIEVE THAT IF I AM ALIVE TODAY, IT IS BECAUSE OF THE PRAYERS FROM THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE ME.”

How do you see your life today?
My life has been an adventurous ride with lots of ups and downs. But, when I see where I stand today, I feel powerful. I feel in control and I feel like I should just be thankful for where I am. In every aspect of my life, I simply learnt and grew stronger.

When did you learn about your cancer and how did you deal with it?
It was the November of 2012. My medical reports brought in the deadly announcement that I had third
stage cancer. I still remember I had to travel to Dubai that night for a shoot. My family was really upset but I decided to go for the work trip. The way I saw it, it could have been my last trip so I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible. I left that night, worked for four days and shopped as if it were my last time ever. After coming back, I underwent two surgeries and 16 rounds of chemotherapy. At the beginning, I didn’t stop working, but after the fifth session, I collapsed so I decided to work from home. My friends, colleagues, family and children supported me through it all. The love that I received during that time was just unexplainable. I felt like the luckiest person on Earth because there were so many people praying for me.

What were your family’s reaction and their contribution? What did your children say?
They were worried and were in emotional pain. But my entire family had been extremely supportive. The most important boost of courage was the smiles of my two children. At that time, my son was seven years old and my daughter was five. They used to play with me, laugh with me and even though I lost my hair and became ugly, they loved me unconditionally. They were not scared of me. They use to see my bald head and we used to laugh about that as well.

You are a survivor. How important was it to manage the dark days and what did you do?
I talked to God everyday. In our religion we say that our God’s love is 70 times more than a mother’s. This thought and belief made me stronger and added light to the most awful and dark days. My friends used to remind me that is was all about thinking positive.

You ensured that you stayed beautiful, how did you work that out?
I am and used to be extremely conscious of my hair. I have always felt really confident when my hair looked fine. When I lost my hair, it was the most painful experience I went through but I didn’t give up. I started wearing scarves to cover my head and found innovative ways to do so. I didn’t, at that time want anyone looking at me with pity and that’s why I aspired to look beautiful in that phase.

What makes you Unstoppable?
It is the courage that God has given me. I have endured hardships in my life but every time I came out of a challenging situation, I only become stronger. The other thing that makes me unstoppable is the thought that one should try honestly for whatever he or she wants and even if you don’t get it, you should not be discouraged. Always see and seek what’s ahead. Every chapter of your life gives you that one cue, word or lesson that makes you stronger and that makes you unstoppable. Try to find that one cue of that particular chapter.

Have you met women like yourself? What is your conversation with them like?
I go and meet women suffering from cancer in the same hospital where I used to go for my chemotherapy sessions. I just tell them to not think that they have lost anything but stay focused on winning the battle. And positivity is a big factor.

What is the importance of prayer in terse situations like these and what has been your parent’s support in all of this?
Prayer is the most effective tool to fight negativity. And I feel that in situations like mine, you become closer to God. I believe that if I am alive today, it is because of the prayers from the people who love me. My father is not alive, but post my first surgery, when I woke up, the first person that I felt around me was he. There is some sort of a connection that stays with your loved ones even if they are not alive. I always felt his presence around me. And I will never be able to thank my mother enough. I stayed with her during my most crucial days for almost four months. She loved me unconditionally and took care of me through out. She stopped going to places and visiting people and had to stay with me all the time. She used to talk to me through painful nights, sleep with me, and take care of my food and medicines. Being a mother myself, I can understand that it must have been very tough for her to see her child in such pain but she stayed strong.

Tell us about your poetry and your next film?
My poetry is my way of venting. I write whatever I feel is dragging me down. I find peace in my writing. I have written commercials as well. From jingles for brands to songs for brands and Urdu plays. That side of writing is fun. The most powerful thing to express is words and I believe I am blessed to have control on them. I can write. I can express.

My film is a new, exciting journey. In the last 15 years, I have worked with various renowned advertising agencies of Pakistan, so ad making is one interesting zone. But the new film is a completely new and exciting thing. My first film as a writer is ISHQ 2020. It’s a youth oriented romantic film. I have also written a few songs for the film.

As Head of Films for Crew Motion Pictures I am involved in five projects right now. Pakistani cinema is on the rise and I feel very lucky to be a part of this revival. Meanwhile, I continue to write Pakistani dramas as well.

Do creative people suffer the hardest?
If you are working for yourself, like when I write for myself that is not the zone where I will suffer. But in creative areas where others are judging your creativity, like ads, then it can be difficult. As creative people, the subjective opinions become really difficult to handle and manage. Sometimes irrational criticism hurts and demotivates you. Basically, in the creative world 2+2 is not always 4!

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