This Pakistani pilot urges the world to always stay united
Mahipal Ladher, a pilot working at Pakistan International Airlines, has been flying people stranded due to the lockdown, desperate to head home. Mahipal is the first pilot from Tharparkar, a poverty stricken district of Sindh province with a population of 1.6 millon people. The Tharparkar desert lies along the Pakistan-India border.
When Mahipal was a little boy, his town didn’t have a single paved road connecting it to any other town. It would take almost 12 hours to reach the nearest town, barely 70 km away. While growing up, Mahipal grazed cattle and at times, walked for a few kilometers to fetch water for his home, like other children of his town. But every time little Mahipal saw an aircraft show up in the sky, his heart would skip a beat. The boy would run after the plane, chasing the contrails, dreaming he would be flying one such aircraft someday.
Tharparkar has always been an example of Hindu-Muslims unity where the two communities draw strength from a shared heritage and history, and perhaps that’s the reason why Mahipal holds the values of co-existence so dear to his heart.
Studying initially in a government school and later an army-run school, Mahipal came to Karachi for higher education and training. “I have been living in Karachi for the past 17 years and thanks to its diversified culture, the two things I have learned here are invigoration and charity. People here just don’t stop living and giving!,” he says.
With COVID19 pandemic being so dangerously contagious, his country is also locked down like other parts of the world. “Like many others, I played my role by raising money for the needy from home. I also had to do my duty. There were people who were stranded and needed to reach home, specifically in the Northern areas of Pakistan where one relies upon the air mode of transport as the roads are covered with snow most of the time. PIA never stopped flying to such areas. I take pride to be a part of the crew that takes such people home and brings a smile on the faces of their loved ones,” he says.
Talking of family, he says the COVID-19 pandemic has made us realise that the whole world is connected, like a family. “Sadly, the only time we start acting like one is when we face such a crisis. Having said that, it is still a positive sign that we are all in this together. We have become the best version of ourselves, trying to help each other in every way possible. All I truly want and hope is that this sense of belonging stays even when this pandemic is over,” he says.
While there is gloom everywhere and we have lost so many lives to the virus, it’s certainly not the end of the world, unless we bring it upon ourselves deliberately, says Mahipal. “In 1918, when the world wasn’t this advanced, people fought the Spanish Flu pandemic simply by following the rules spelt out by experts. We need to do the same and we will get out of it for a fact. We have to rise above and we will, it’s the aftermath we need to look out for. The recession is going to hit the world pretty bad and we will have to change the way we live. The world needs its rich to help the poor,” he says.
Mahipal urges everyone to hold on to optimism. “Mother Nature works in mysterious ways. We’re being pulled back so as to bounce back, finding better versions of ourselves. There may be delay but there’ll definitely be a better future tomorrow”.
Among the heartwarming videos and posts showing people helping each other, there’s one that Mahipal particularly likes. “So there’s this poor old woman who was being offered a ration bag and she refused to take it saying that she already has few days’ ration at home and that there might be many more needy people out there. Such a generous, honest and caring gesture! This is all we need in this difficult time,” he says.
And it’s not just about just providing for the needy. “Not everyone is blessed enough to donate monetarily. The least we can do is to stay home, not endanger our own lives and others. Like the saying goes in Urdu — Miley toh phir shayed zindah nahin reh saken.. zindaa rahey to phir zaroor milengey.”