Zardari is an accidental president...
Renowned columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee shares his wisdom, experiences and humor. Ardeshir Cowasjee was born to the prominent Cowasjee (Parsi) family in 1926. Having served as Managing Director of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) in 1973,
What compelled you to start writing?
Well, in Bhutto’s time nobody would print what I wrote. In Zia’s time, if I remember correctly, the first article I wrote was a reproduction of a letter I had written to an ombudsman, complaining about Zia ul Haq.
I had written that I was very sad of living under a president who is always apparently under shock and grief. If a bus falls down a river, we see the headline “Zia Shocked”. If a child dies, “Zia is grieved”. If there is a riot, Zia is shocked. If Zia’s wife breaks her leg, he is grieved. That is what he used to say to the people: Zia shocked, Zia grieved, Zia shocked, Zia grieved. And then we had a headline which said, “Zia shocked and grieved!”
How long can you tolerate a person when he is sometimes in a state of shock and sometimes in a state of grief? He better take some action!
And the poor ombudsman, a good friend of mine, said you are not serious. I said I have a number of complaints which I’ve sent to you. So if you like, do something about it. He asked me to tell the press to stop writing, ‘Zia Shocked, Zia Grieved’ or let him live in peace. So that was my first article.
Corruption, nepotism and the incompetence of various governments have featured prominently in your columns. Is there any particular reason for this?
If you want to write about the government, what else can you write? How good they are at thumping the table… ours is the only assembly in the world which does this.
The other day while I was flipping through channels, I saw Zardari and company entertaining all the ambassadors. Zardari was making a speech. You should have seen the ambassadors’ faces. They were half asleep. Why are environmental issues so important to you?
I don’t want to die! We have the highest mountains in the world. All the glaciers will soon be melting. Do you think anyone is concerned? They write about water disputes. It seems as if all the taps are in the hands of the Indians. They have only two; we have seven taps. Does anybody tell that?
I am going to suggest the military should have environment protection plans as well. Because like it or not, a time will come when we will have the military ruling us again, one way or another. It seems to be the only disciplined
party. They have good training. You a vegetarian? also write on animal rights. Are you
No. Thank God no. I don’t eat dogs but I am not a vegetarian. How do you decide on the subject of your column every week?
There are fifteen things to write about. And around 30 people call me or email me on what I should write. So there are plenty of issues. Is one week enough to write on a subject and do you ever experience writer’s block?
I write once a week. It is an exercise of the brain. I have to churn out about a 1,000 words. That is enough for exercising my brain.
How do you conduct your research?
I read the papers everyday. Do you run into problems when you write against people? Do you get threats? Are you afraid?
What do I say? Somebody has to tell them, whether they listen or not. Do they not know what they are?
Plus, this is a nation of bullies. Every
second man is a bully. Everyday on the front page you can read news stories of target killings. So everyone is under threat. Have you ever run into any serious problems with the land mafia?
The land mafia keep on telling the courts that I am a blackmailer. The courts don’t listen to them. Why should I blackmail them? They think they can break all the laws. I took a stay order on the Glass Tower and it actually worked. Sometimes it works. How do you respond to negative feedback on your columns? Does it influence your future pieces?
Some people give constructive feedback. I say thank you. Some people are rude. I say thank you.
Most constructive criticism I get is from Indians abroad, in Canada and America. By name I can tell if someone is from Madras or from North India. And when I am intrigued by a man, I ask him where he is and what he is doing. Most of the time he is abroad and likes to read and write on different issues. Our
charyias don’t write. What is that one element that has made your columns so popular?
Who says they are popular? Well, people find them interesting to read, whether they do anything or not. I write for Dawn but sometimes the Urdu papers translate my work and more often than not, they republish without asking. Have you ever been offered a ministership, ambassadorship or other high position? How did you respond?
Yes, I have been many things. It was fun. I was Minister of Tourism in Bhutto’s time. Everybody wanted to sack me the day I was appointed. Then Zia appointed me as the Advisor on Ports & Shipping. He wanted to sack me in 48 hours.
I was also Chairman of Port Qasim twice. When Bhutto wanted to sack me from tourism, this was the other job he could offer me. Who are your favorite authors and columnists?
Amongst who? I read a lot on the internet as one has to keep abreast of international news and views. Have you ever thought of writing a book?
Who will buy it? Everyone will ask for free copies. Have you ever thought of compiling your columns?
They are all current and timely. These issues may not be relevant in the future.
Is Pakistani media on the right track?
Pakistani media will never be on the right track. You have always criticised the people who have ruled Pakistan, whether civilians or military men. What do you think of the present lot?
Nuisance. Zardari is an accidental president or imposed but he is there. Have we lost Jinnah’s Pakistan forever?
Oh yes, yes. A long time back. They censored his speech of 11th August, 1947. They don’t want people to read what he said. Please tell us about The Cowasjee Foundation and its activities.
We do charity work mostly for hospitals and schools that need it. It is a small family foundation. We never accept money from other people. Under which government do you think Pakistan progressed, even a little?
Ayub Khan. They all started well, be it Ayub Khan or Musharraf.
How do you see the future of Pakistan?
Dismal! It’s a dying country. That’s what I feel. In my lifetime, the state won’t disintegrate. But the way we are going, there will be no Pakistan on the map of the earth, in the years to come. Note: This interview first appeared in Slogan in its May 2010 edition. Published with due permission.