A personal essay recounting one man’s extraordinary journey to Paris, followed by an imagining of his first night (spent at the famous Père Lachaise cemetery, the resting place of many luminaries) by our editor Mehvash Amin.
From the depths of my earliest memories, at the tender age of six or seven, I held a burning desire within me—a dream to soar through the boundless skies, to taste the sweet freedom known only to the birds above. In the remoteness of my village nestled amidst the majestic mountains of northern Pakistan, there existed a weekly spectacle that ignited my imagination. Every Thursday at 8 p.m., an airliner, a majestic creature guided by the hands of a skilled pilot, would traverse the heavens directly overhead. As a young boy, I would eagerly await his arrival, perched upon the rooftop of our humble abode. It was during those precious moments that I made a solemn vow to myself: one day, I too would take flight at the helm of such a marvelous bird.
Yet, my journey towards fulfilling that promise was far from easy. Trapped within an open-air prison—a societal construct that denied me even the most basic rights—I found myself yearning for escape. Bound by the shackles of a lower caste, I faced a life sentence at the tender age of 16, condemned simply for daring to love a girl from a higher caste. In a desperate bid to save my own life, I seized my father's hard-earned savings—approximately $8,000—and embarked upon a journey to freedom, leaving everything behind.
Destiny, however, had its own plans for me. Through an unexpected layover in Istanbul, I found myself surrendering to the whims of chance and purchasing a discounted ticket to Paris. Armed with only an address and 100 francs in my pocket, I arrived in the City of Lights, unanticipated and unknown. It was on that very first night that I found myself amidst the company of luminaries—among the great personalities that rested eternally in the embrace of the Père Lachaise cemetery. Countless nights would follow, spent beneath the bridges of Paris, as I navigated the treacherous waters of survival.
Months bled into years, rife with hardship and uncertainty. Slowly but surely, I began to carve out a living through odd jobs, meticulously dividing my earnings into thirds: one part for sustenance, one to repay my parents, and the final portion reserved as savings for my cherished flying lessons. Overcoming my limited grasp of the French language, I toiled twice as hard as my peers, dedicating myself to evening theory lessons multiple times a week from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. My nights would end well past midnight, only to commence with my first daily job at 4 a.m. The fruits of my tireless labour would eventually materialize, as I proudly obtained my PPL pilot's license—a singular accomplishment that filled my heart with immense pride. No longer did I require any other credentials to validate my existence.
That pivotal juncture in my life reshaped me entirely, forging the person I am today. It instilled within me three invaluable values.
First and foremost, I discovered the exhilarating sensation of self-trust—the potent elixir that empowers us to seize the reins of our own destinies and take decisive action, rather than passively enduring the trials that befall us. I embraced the knowledge that I alone held the power to script the narrative of my life. Furthermore, I cultivated a steadfast discipline—a resolute adherence to rigour and meticulousness that has become my unwavering shield, both in the skies and in the intricacies of existence. This unwavering commitment propelled me forward, propelling me to transcend my limitations and reach ever-greater heights. And finally, I imbibed the art of anticipation—the supreme virtue that surpasses the mere synchronicity of man and machine. It is the ability to stay one step ahead, to foresee the unknown and prepare for it with unwavering determination. As a pilot, this skill is indispensable, for it is in the realm of anticipation that the mind must work tirelessly to outpace the very machine we command. Whether it is navigating uncharted territories or venturing into unexplored business realms, each project, each endeavor calls for a bold embrace of new adventures. My evolution as a passionate pilot went hand in hand with a fulfilling, free, and liberated entrepreneurial life. Fueling my thirst for adventure, in 2019, a friend and I embarked on an audacious quest—to fly from Paris to Melbourne in a single-engine aircraft. It was a sporting challenge that propelled us towards new horizons and faraway lands, spanning over 20 countries, with more than 30 stops and 90 hours of flight time. This extraordinary journey bestowed upon me the title of a modern-day Phileas Fogg, as I marveled at the wonders and surprises that awaited us on our global odyssey. Who would have predicted that one day I would traverse half the world purely for the joy of it? Yet, despite the rigour, the discipline, the countless hours spent soaring through breathtaking landscapes—gazing upon the intricate tapestry of blue and green reliefs, the vast seas, the majestic sunrises and sunsets—I recognize that my story is not yet complete. It remains unfinished until I return to the very roof under which my journey began—the humble abode of my parents in Pakistan. It is there, amidst the place where I first dared to dream, clandestinely mapping my celestial aspirations, that I shall touch down. To surf the skies of my village, to land the plane that liberated me, and to witness the fulfillment of a circle that was once broken. In the end, my story serves as a testament to the power of resilience, determination, and the unwavering pursuit of one's dreams. It is a reminder that within each of us lies the potential for transformation, the ability to rise above societal limitations, and the courage to embrace the unknown. I implore you to ignite the fire within, to trust in your own capabilities, and to embark on your own remarkable journey. For it is in the pursuit of our passions that we discover the true essence of life—a symphony of triumph, fulfillment, and the unwavering spirit of freedom.
At the cemetery Père Lachaise on the night that the young Pakistani—soon to be Jérémie Malvy, successful entrepreneur, pilot, philanthropist— spent his first night in Paris. The spirits of some luminaries buried at the cemetery gather around him.
An imagining by Mehvash Amin
Isadora Duncan: oh, look at this boy…. He seems to be spending the night with us. Does any one have a scarf to cover his shoulders?
Maria Callas: Isadora, you only think of scarves. Scarf, scarf, scarf… By the way, was the scarf that caused your death a Liberty one? How careless of you to let it catch in the spokes of your car, open-air car or not. I would sing for him, but I don’t think that will keep him warm or less hungry.
Marcel Proust: By the way, if he were to come to my grave he would see all the madeleines that some American tourists left on it today. Though I doubt if they had even read a page of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu…
Louis Ernest Ladurée: Some ignoramuses also left macaroons on my grave. Those are not the macrons I introduced at my and Jeanne’s bakery in 1862. The ones they all love nowadays are thanks to cousin Pierre… all right, but not as good as mine.
Gertrude Stein: Oh, he looks sad. A rose might cheer him up. There are rose bushes here and after all, a rose is a rose…
Alice B Toklas: …is a rose is a rose. That was quite a line, Gertrude. But it doesn’t cover all your oeuvre, as the mere mention of a madeleine doesn’t do justice to Marcel’s oeuvre.
Amadeo Modigliani: You know, he has that pensive air… and he is tall and thin… I could easily see myself doing a statue of him.
Georges Seurat: You know, Amadeo, even though we worked in such different mediums—and with different body types— I do see the point of your oeuvre. Ha ha ha! Did you get it, point!
René Lalique: yes Georges, point, pointillism. We all get it. But the boy. I foresee he will do very well and might even be able to afford an original Lalique from one of the antique shops… and Georges, are you trying on a new mode by manifesting that red half–circle on your face?
Appollinaire: René, Georges tries all kinds of things. And I suspect we all know where he came from and what will happen to him, we are in the other world now where past, present and future is a continuum we can access at all times. Had I been born today, though, I would have written about this Asian child—he comes from a place called Pakistan that did not exist in my day— who comes to France to escape poverty and then grows wings… it appeals to the nationalist in me.
Moliére: Ah, but the dramatic twist is that he didn’t choose France. A mere coincidence—a cheap ticket—made him come here. Good material for a play, a poem or a novel…
Colette: I agree. And it was a tragic moment in love, love for someone of a higher standing, a love that could not meet fruition, a love that drove him to seek to find his fortune elsewhere.
Alice: Oh look, he’s fallen asleep, without eating. There will be some bad days, then better days. Let’s go, mes amis, back to our world.
Colette: Bonne chance, l’étranger venu d’un autre monde! (Good luck, stranger from another world!)
All: Bonne chance.