Ardeshir Cowasjee, you were truly one in a million
Much has been said and read regarding Ardeshir Cowasjee since last night and I too want to remember him by a few anecdotes that have stuck with me since I first met him.
As an aspiring journalist, I longed to meet the great man; I wanted to pick his brains on his writing and just be in the company of this remarkable man. What started as research interactions overtime became a beautiful friendship. In him I did not discover a journalist but to use the term very loosely, Cowasjee was a ‘citizen journalist’. He wrote what many of us were thinking or wanted to write, but didn’t have the guts to.
Cowasjee often quoted Gandhi in many of his op-eds. My favourite quotation which he used often was, ‘you can know a lot about a nation by the way they treat their animals.’ Once on a visit to his house I found him terribly distraught. As became my habit with him, I questioned everything that he would say – not because I did not agree with him but it was a way to make him talk more and I did so love listening to what he had to say.
He, thus, started telling me about this couple who had visited him earlier that morning, complaining about how their neighbours had stolen their dog. He said, “what sort of a country is this yaar, where people steal each others dogs?” He just could not understand why people would do that.
His three dogs were his life, and I feel as though he loved his dogs more than he loved humans. He was a true animal lover, and he cared for them just as much, if not more, than he cared for people. No doubt, his Jack Russell Terriers will be lonely without him, and they will need much consolation, for they spent the most time with him.
The news of Ardeshir Cowasjee’s death made me very sad and I wish I had spent more time with him. I kept thinking about the moments that have always stayed with me. I was once researching the Asghar Khan petition in the Supreme Court and this was a case that was also very close to his heart. He devoted many of his op-eds to this case, asking various Chief Justices to take up the petition, and he would be happy that a verdict has finally been given. When I had told him that I was working on this case, he took it upon himself to help me out.
In the last few years I went to see his beautiful collection of art. He had a particularly keen interest in art, and he helped many artists financially in the 80s and 90s. His house is adorned by many works of great master artists of Pakistan. I also recently discovered that Cowasjee loved to paint and draw.
He was the curator of Jinnah’s Mausoleum. When Dina Wadia visited, he took her to her father’s resting place. He asked Dina why she did not visit the country her father created, and she said; no one had invited her until now. Much has been written about his love of a secular Pakistan, and how he thought Jinnah was secular, but Ardeshir Cowasjee was a fighting a battle to stop radical Islam in the country, and to change perceptions. He was fighting to see the Pakistan that he saw at her birth.
I met him last January, at the beginning of this year, and he had not been keeping well. His health deteriorated really quickly, and he would fall asleep while you were speaking to him, but he was ready to meet his maker long before, for he had done what he wanted to do, and did not see a reason to live. Many times he would say to me, I want to meet my maker and I would say to him, ‘don’t say such things’. Now I just wish I had spent more time with him.
I will miss his words of wisdom and Karachi is going to miss its oldest and most recognised citizen.
He loved Karachi and Karachi will always love him.
He was a true citizen of this country. May his soul rest in peace. Ameen.
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