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,

Southasia - - Interview -

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.

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