VAGARIES OF FATEArchive
IT all started when she sent in a job application to a human resource firm that was providing services to Pakistan International Airlines. A whirlwind romance ensued, and a year later they were married. From their first meeting to the last, there was nothing between them but unflinching commitment and joyous love. Together they weaved for their family a future filled with happy dreams. In fact, just a few days before she left, she had her husband don his wedding turban again and dressed in her own finery to take a fresh picture reflecting the wedding.
On the morning she was supposed to leave, Asma Aadil was reluctant. Sensing her unease, her husband, Aadil Malik, advised her to call in sick and stay home. But, mindful of her duty, she set off for work, asking her in-laws to take care of her four-year-old son Talha and year-old daughter Hania.
Becoming curious as to why she hadn’t returned at the time she had said, her father-in-law called her continually before her flight, the ill-fated PK-661, took off from Chitral airport. She typed a ‘thank you’ in response, but the message was delayed. It was delivered to her father-in-law’s phone at 4:17pm — just about the same time when the aircraft went down in the mountains near Havelian.
Meanwhile, her husband was parked at the airport and was looking up some friends there to pass the time. He expected to pick her up and drive home, which is located just a few kilometres from Islamabad airport.
Tragically, the flight never reached its destination. Instead, there was a call from the PIA office informing Malik that the flight, which his wife was on as a crew member, had crashed. Shaken to the point of nearly leaving his senses, he says he cannot quite recall the subsequent trip to the Ayub Medical Complex, Abbottabad, to identify the body.
“It’s as though some angels gathered us in and we reached the AMC in almost no time,” he says, tears rolling down his cheeks. “I recognised a part of her face and the necklace she had been wearing that day….” He is unable to finish his sentence.
Sitting among friends and relatives that have come to condole, Malik talks about Asma in jerky sentences. “She was so loving, so kind, I can’t even describe,” he says as he chokes up again. He keeps scanning the room as if trying to seek her out, then bowing his head with eyes vacant. Life seems to have ebbed out of him, too.
Malik had restrained her from working on international flight sectors. “I wanted her to stay home more, spend more time with our children,” he says. “She wasn’t too pleased, because the domestic flight schedule was too hectic, she said.” He had wanted her to leave her job, in fact, or at least give up flying and be transferred to the ground. Malik himself has by now joined Attock Oil as an executive after leaving the HR firm he had been working for earlier. But they had also been working on a future business plan, and Asma wanted this to come to fruition before she quit the PIA job.
Even so, whenever an airline accident occurred anywhere in the world, Malik expressed concern over her career. When the Airblue plane crashed in Islamabad in 2010, out of fear he put his foot down and said she could not carry on with her job. But he relented after a few days, and she resumed duty.
Asma’s mother-in-law too confesses that she had always harboured misgivings about her daughter-in-law’s job, most recently expressing them after the plane crash in Brazil in which football players and journalists were killed. “I was concerned about her children,” she grieves now. “What future will they have with their mother having died in their formative years? And she herself was so young, only 29…” Her voice peters out.
Talha knows that his mother’s plane has crashed and that her phone is broken. And he wonders whether or not she will return. He sent her a voice WhatsApp message on Friday: “Mama, I miss you, Papa is also missing you, when will you come back?” He is concerned that she hasn’t replied.
Malik and his parents are worried about the future of young Talha and Hania. But they don’t blame PIA like so many other people do. “The plane wasn’t faulty. How can a crew or a pilot risk his own and others’ lives by flying an aircraft that is not fit to fly? It was fate,” says Malik, as he contemplates the prospect of now travelling the long path of life on his own.
Published in Dawn December 11th, 2016