Home, is it a place or a feeling, or an intangible combination of both?
It is a question many of us have faced as lockdowns have meant spending more time at home whilst dreaming of travel to the places we feel a deep connection with. Home, in both this physical and intangible sense, has always been central to the Malik family. Their home in North London embodies the many threads of their dual Pakistani and Irish heritage.
Azhar Malik a young medical student arrived in England as a refugee. Starting over, he learned to speak English and resumed his medical studies. It was love-at-first-sight when Azhar and Brigid met at the London hospital where they studied medicine in 1991. Brigid had grown up by the wild open space of the sea near Dublin. They found each other and a home in London where Azhar and Brigid have dedicated a combined sixty years of service to the NHS where they work as doctors and educators. They have also raised their three beautiful and clever daughters here. Rohi aged 24 and Zohra aged 22, who are both studying to become a doctors and Sive aged 20 who is studying economic history and social policy.
Says Rohi, “Lockdown was strange and challenging as it was for everyone I think. I actually stayed up in Manchester and worked as a healthcare assistant in the hospital where I’m training. It felt good to be able to contribute something to the NHS during the pandemic.”
She was also able to spend some time with the rest of the family at their home. As the sisters have all been away studying Rohi says this was “A blessing because we don’t usually have much time together as a family, as we are spread around the country.”
Brigid and Azhar bought their North London home whilst expecting their first-born Rohi. As Brigid says, "It was an old run-down house, as a young couple we did everything ourselves.” Over time they coaxed the dilapidated structure into a cosy and vibrant home for their growing family. The rooms filled with colour and textiles, rugs, embroidered quilts and furniture from Pakistan.
The family loves music and cellos, violins, sitar and tablas can be seen around the house.
Zohra says, “We grew up watching and dancing to Bollywood nonstop, that’s still most of what I and my sisters do together when we’re at home!” Brigid adds that she, Azhar and the girls share many of the same interests including music and other hobbies. Zohra confirms “I love cooking Pakistani food, I’ve learnt a lot from watching and helping my dad over the years. He’s a really good cook so we’re lucky to have him to learn from.”
Sive has inherited her parent's ethos of creating beauty from saving and recycling and her room is full of found treasures. Ever the "nature-child" of the family, Zohra says, “Probably the most notable thing about my room in London is that it’s filled with plants because my mum has taken it over as a little greenhouse for all her seedlings for the allotment while I’m at Uni, but I love it because it feels like a little jungle now.”
Indeed nature is also an important part of their lives, all the sisters have potent memories of their family travels in Ireland and Pakistan, and the uniquely wild and beautiful landscapes of each country.
Rohi adds during their most recent trip to Pakistan they visited the stunning Thaar desert and its villages. Sive recalls “My favourite memory from travels in Pakistan is probably a trip we did from Islamabad to my Dad’s village and then to Multan in a sort of mini-bus with quite a few of our cousins our age, it was a long journey but we all became close whilst also getting to see more of the remote areas of Pakistan and I think I was old enough for the first time to appreciate the beauty.”
Brigid reflects how important it is to them to respect and learn from people from different cultures and countries, “I’m a great believer in humanity, and the more open minded exposure we have to different peoples, the more we can see we are like each other. Our concerns ,challenges, joys and sadness are similar.”
The sisters reflect on the many ways that their dual cultural heritage is threaded through their lives. All of them agree that being very family-oriented comes from their loving but at times fiery Pakistani side of the family. As Sive says, “It’s always been so nice having relatives of all ages and generations eating and going out altogether. Also, my dad and his family are all very open with each other and communicate any problems which I think is a good way to be!”
What is clear for the Malik sisters is that no matter how far apart their busy lives take them, a home will always be where each other is. Zohra adds “Me and my sisters also always had the dream to have a little house together somewhere in the countryside that we could all take our children to on the weekends.”