Ardeshir Cowasjee, you were truly one in a million

Published: November 25, 2012
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His demise is a true loss to Pakistan. PHOTO: FILE

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.

Saram.Bokhari

Saram Bokhari

A former broadcast journalist who is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Public Policy.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • sars

    He was an inspiration to us all. He will be sorely missedRecommend

  • Basma aftab

    i dont kn much abt COWASJEE bt after reading this blog and listening news and his boldness abt his views nw really it compell me to say COWASJEE was a master piece.. Recommend

  • http://explainingindia.blogspot.in/ Sachi Mohanty

    Reading this after recommendation from my dear friend Ayesha.

    Strange that one should learn about someone when he or she dies. But better late than never.

    I hope to read his articles in the future.

    Twitter: @sachi_bbsrRecommend

  • mehru

    He was an are in himself !! one of the courageous brave person who had got the guts to bring forward the malicious rotten things of our society that’s why some of the people were against him. Besides an inspiration for us from our childhood. Recommend

  • Kishen Haridas

    He was the man of Principles …. Very sad news .. Karachi has lost its great citizen…..Recommend

  • Ayesha Pervez

    Lovely blog … May his soul rest in peace, Cowasjee has left behind a legacy.Recommend

  • bambi

    Very good write up saram!well done! :)Recommend

  • http://amenakhan.com amena khan

    i too wish i’d spent more time with him. i’ve been lucky to have had several opportunities to chat with him, but not enough it seems….

    its tough and thus unfortunate to find streets in karachi that are laced with a canopy of trees, ideal for shooting. i came across one in bath island once, slanty beams of sunlight and the works, it made my heart do crazy jumps of joy, then i shot some photos there for practice. saw a colonial looking house with an interesting old gate that told the story of a little girl and an inscription in some ancient text tiled on the boundary wall. it all looked quaint and so beautiful. many years later, as a professional film director, i had to find such a spot for some tv-commercial, so i went to take permission from the owner of the house. got a bit surprised to see mr.cowasjee there, the legend himself. he grinned when he heard i liked the stuff outside n wanted to do some shooting. he told me the story of how he saved the old trees, built a fence around them to ward off the town office ppl wanting to chop them down to widen the road, the road that he showed needed re-paving and they couldn’t be bothered with it. he talked about other spaces marked for public parks in the city’s original planning that the current authorities just sell off as more housing land, and how he saved some such necessary spots, mentioning two in particular behind park-towers mall, that he’d fought for then agreed to look after himself. took me there to show how with some regular water and sewage water the parks had sprung to life.

    during the shoot he’d step out now n then to enjoy the show. on another such shoot he ordered a nestle brand manager to send fruit juice packets for all the children at TCF school cowasjee campus on mauripur rd. poor guy’s legs started shaking and he made quick phone calls to get it done, while mr.cowasjee n i cracked up at his stressed state. apparently he had a reputation for being quite the terror. n enjoyed it thoroughly. even the area’s town police station cowered in front of a mary road shoot permission letter signed by him, n never asked us for a single rupee!

    once he told the story of his gate that i loved so much. he said it was his daughter’s sculpture project about mary and her little lamb, he loved it so he put it on the gate, as his best art collection piece. sadly the gate was crumbling and had to be replaced. n yes about the wall tiles he joked its some cuss words someone wrote on his wall n he just left them there. must’ve been the momentary shade of shock on my face that made him laugh n he said it was a blessing for his house written by a very very old visiting zoroastrian priest.

    he wanted what we all want, n said it straight to anyone’s face. “sala, cant make gutters, but are making atom bombs.” education for the nation, cleanliness, better city management, protection of people’s rights, better treated trees, animals….n yes, he did want a secular Pakistan. free of extremism. very aptly said about the govt and politicians running it “sala, ghada log hae”.

    there’s so much more of this good stuff, that may never end up being written or spoken about him…..he did say he was ready to meet his maker, and that beyond 80 one should well just take off. “the cost of medicines i have to take in a day could run a poor man’s household for a month” he said. but in our hearts we all really wanted him to live on for eons n keep making things right again.

    RIP mr.cowasjee – the fearless, the humorous, the kind….the last guardian of Karachi.
    we love u loadz and r missing u already. saying u’ll be in our hearts isn’t enough, so, may all who’s lives u’ve touched hope to carry some bits of your great spirit forward. ameen.Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com/ The Only Normal Person Here.

    Well written. He is indeed a great loss. RIP.Recommend

  • Asim Rao

    A great Loss to Pakistan and its great thinkers…. you will be truely missed Recommend

  • http://NA SOHAIL KHAN

    Truly a great loss for the nation.Recommend

  • Analyzer

    Or rather, 1 in 180 million. RIP Mr. Cowasjee.Recommend

  • Parvez

    If he could have read this I’m sure he would have liked it. Its straight and genuine, qualities among many more, that you could ascribe to him.Recommend

  • HABIB AHMED

    HE WAS A TRUE PAKISTANI ALWAYS STRUGGLED WITHOUT FEAR OF HIS LIFE BY DISCLOSING ONGOING CORRUPTION IN OUR SOCIETY.RIP. Recommend

  • Ashok

    Cowasjee will be sorely missed. I always looked forward to reading his very interesting columns. Rest in peace.Recommend

  • Wasim Zaidi

    Faiz Ahmad Faiz wrote :

    “…Mataa-e lauh-o qalam chhin gaee to kya gham hai
    ke khoon-e dil mein dubo lee hain ungliyaan mein ne…”

    What was remarkable about Ardeshir Cowasjee, was that while he was fully in command of his “mataa-e lauh-o qalam”, the passion, honesty and committment with which he wrote was of someone who had soaked his fingers in his “khoon-e dil” and wrote with his “khoon-e dil. He truly wrote with his heart.

    May his soul rest in peace.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com Anoop

    Heart warming.. With some Op Eds you just know it comes from the right place. A letter professing’s one’s admiration for a mentor like figure. You don’t need to be a Salman Rushdie to express grief and admiration in poetic sounding words. You needs words that come from the soul.Recommend

  • Bashir

    A great man. May his soul rest in peaceRecommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/14896/ardeshir-cowasjee-you-were-truly-one-in-a-million/ Talha Ahmed

    Sarim Bhai very insightful piece !! thanks a million.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/14896/ardeshir-cowasjee-you-were-truly-one-in-a-million/ Talha

    Did anyone attend his funeral? i had a chance to go, but couldn’t Recommend

  • ab

    read his articles every week and saw him 2 – 3 times on tv. not afraid to say what he wants. really a great man. will be sorely missed.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Talha: His funeral will tomorrow Tuesday 27 at 11 am. from his house – you have time.Recommend

  • ….

    Rest in Peace, dear Mr Cowasjee. Recommend

  • Viraf

    I feel it Ardeshir Cowasjee’s passing is a great loss to the people of Pakistan and I truly am saddened to hear of his passing. I pray that Ahura Mazda may bless his soul.

    I also feel that the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan should realise that this great man, Ardeshir Cowasjee, who cared so much for the nation was in fact a Parsi Zoroastrian and his life reflected the values of a true Zoroastrian; Good Words, Good Thoughts, Good Deeds. Another important Zoroastrian principle is that of Hamazor – To help humanity for its betterment. I would say Ardeshir encapsulated all of these qualities.

    Pakistan is being run by Islamic zealots and yet how many of them follow Islamic principles of Umma, Zakat and truthfulness!? It seems to me the modern day rulers of Pakistan care nothing for humanity and everything for money and power.

    Not many people know that Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s direct descendants too are Parsi Zoroastrians the most notable being Nusli Wadia, Jinnah’s grandson. I would suggest this reflects the pleuralism that Jinnah had in mind for his country and yet where is this pleuralism today with so many minority communities in Pakistan feeling threatened by the rise of extreme Islam in the nation?

    We are all God’s creation and we should all learn to love and respect each other irrespective of our individual backgrounds as we are all part of humanity.Recommend

  • Viraf

    I feel it Ardeshir Cowasjee’s passing is a great loss to the people of Pakistan and I truly am saddened to hear of his passing. I pray that Ahura Mazda may bless his soul.
    I also feel that the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan should realise that this great man, Ardeshir Cowasjee, who cared so much for the nation was in fact a Parsi Zoroastrian and his life reflected the values of a true Zoroastrian; Good Words, Good Thoughts, Good Deeds. Another important Zoroastrian principle is that of Hamazor – To help humanity for its betterment. I would say Ardeshir encapsulated all of these qualities.
    Pakistan is being run by Islamic zealots and yet how many of them follow Islamic principles of Umma, Zakat and truthfulness!? It seems to me the modern day rulers of Pakistan care nothing for humanity and everything for money and power.
    Not many people know that Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s direct descendants too are Parsi Zoroastrians the most notable being Nusli Wadia, Jinnah’s grandson. I would suggest this reflects the pleuralism that Jinnah had in mind for his country and yet where is this pleuralism today with so many minority communities in Pakistan feeling threatened by the rise of extreme Islam in the nation?
    We are all God’s creation and we should all learn to love and respect each other irrespective of our individual backgrounds as we are all part of humanity.Recommend

  • The Khan

    RIP sir. Slowly but surely God is taking everything that reminded us of the golden days of 1950s and 1960sRecommend

  • http://xx Afaqi,

    An embodiment of true humanistic values, an ideal character dedicated for the noble cause of the enrichment of human civilization based on equality of all with absolutely no prejudice based on ones color, creed or religion. He was really a powerful pen-weilder, a fearless facts finder and truth-seeker and an ideal follower, projector and protector of the noble ideals of Quaid-e-Azam. May God bless his soul, Ameen. Recommend

  • http://xx Sh. Salamat Ali,

    @Viraf:
    I share your heartfelt warmth and dedicated passion for the most noble and God gifted human being and an ideal son of Karachi and pride of Pakistan. He had the extraordinary courage of conviction and would not tolerate any wrong act of any civil or military ruler. He was most critical of ZAB for his policy of nationalization of all sort of industry( from the evil effects of which the country has not come out of it, despite daughter PM’s de-nationalization policy.) and for this ‘sin’, the first democratically elected PM thought it necessary to arrest this gifted man and put him in Karachi jail for 72 days. This and many other shameful acts of our rulers, having lust for more and more power, sex-oriented dealings of men and money through loot-ghasoot of national exchequer. Better keep silence but alas! Pakistan and its hard pressed people can never be same without, Ah! Ardeshir Cowasgee. May God bless the departed soul, Ameen.Recommend

  • Roses are Red

    Great article and I like the way you’ve put it together. Ardeshir Cowasgee I met you only once but it was an experience I can live with forever. Thank You ….Recommend