The lion won’t roar again

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Zubeida Mustafa

IN Jan­uary 2012, I wrote about Ardeshir Cowas­jee af­ter he had an­nounced that he was “wind­ing down”. It was a sort of farewell to him in th­ese pages though ARFC wrote two more ‘ad hoc’ ar­ti­cles in 2012. But it was not the same as read­ing him ev­ery Sun­day (or Fri­day, be­fore 1997). Many read­ers had writ­ten to me ask­ing if he could not be per­suaded to con­tinue writ­ing.

On that oc­ca­sion, Jus­tice (retd) Ma­jida Rizvi had ve­he­mently stated, “My re­quest to him is to roar again and again as in the past to keep all on their toes.”

They liked his writ­ing and turned to the op-ed page of the pa­per to read him be­fore they started their ex­er­cise of go­ing through the grim re­ports the pa­per car­ries in th­ese dreary times that seem to be there to stay in Pak­istan.

He re­fused to be per­suaded by his read­ers and last Satur­day, Ardeshir Rus­tom Fakir Cowas­jee (to bor­row his style) de­cided to bid good­bye to them and all in this world that had pro­voked him into writ­ing in the first place.

He had a big fol­low­ing. His punches, fear­less hon­esty in iden­ti­fy­ing the wrong­do­ings and cor­rup­tion of the po­lit­i­cally pow­er­ful and the rich as well as his crisp style de­lighted those who made it a point never to miss out his col­umns though at times his writ­ing be­came a headache for us who han­dled his copy in Dawn.

He ob­jected very strongly to what he called our “self­cen­scis­sor­ship”. But for us there was al­ways the sword of li­bel hang­ing over our head — or so we thought. But ul­ti­mately I learnt to my great re­lief that the ve­rac­ity of what he wrote could not be chal­lenged. He was will­ing to name names and got away with it be­cause he was care­ful to tread on au­then­tic ground and armed him­self with rel­e­vant doc­u­ments which pro­tected him from le­gal ac­tion by those he at­tacked.

Loyal to his friends and very un­for­giv­ing to his en­e­mies, he wrote mainly in the pub­lic in­ter­est, tak­ing up causes which af­fected the com­mon peo­ple. He had his weak spots no doubt. His “patho­log­i­cal” ha­tred of the PPP ( as some­one de­scribed it) was one of them. His fam­ily busi­ness had been na­tion­alised by Z. A. Bhutto and so one could un­der­stand. But that did not stop him from send­ing me a copy of Sal­maan Taseer’s Bhutto: A Po­lit­i­cal Bi­og­ra­phy with a warm greet­ing in­scribed in it when I called him up to tell him I had re­tired from Dawn. “Tum ab kiya karega?” ( what will you be do­ing now?) he had asked with con­cern and the book was at my door within an hour.

No one gen­er­ally grudged him for pur­su­ing some sub­jects re­lent­lessly. He would not let them go. For in­stance, Karachi, the city of his birth, was one of his pet themes. It pained him to see it be­ing de­stroyed brick by brick as land was en­croached upon by greedy de­vel­op­ers and the land mafia. His firm and un­ques­tion­ing sup­port for the fa­ther of the na­tion and for Jin­nah’s Pak­istan ( a eu­phemism for a sec­u­lar state) also won him friends. He minced no words in chastis­ing the lead­ers of re­li­gious par­ties who were of­ten ridiculed much to their anger. He, how­ever, got away with it. His com­mu­nity — the Par­sis — were show­ered with the praise they de­serve be­cause they are re­spected and their con­tri­bu­tion to the civic life of this metropo­lis is un­par­al­leled and is widely ac­knowl­edged and ap­pre­ci­ated.

Much has been writ­ten and will be writ­ten about Cowas­jee’s writ­ings. As for him­self he dis­missed his col­umns as ones that were “read, may be di­gested and dis­carded”.

But he un­der­es­ti­mated him­self. His writ­ing made an im­pact — thanks to him the As­ghar Khan case in the Supreme Court against the ISI for fund­ing some politi­cians be­fore the 1990 elec­tions was re­vived.

To­day his col­umns con­sti­tute a valu­able record for this coun­try which has lit­tle con­cern for pre­serv­ing his­tory or doc­u­ment­ing it. Hence credit goes to Tyaba Habib, of Sama, for show­ing the fore­sight to un­der­take the job of pub­lish­ing his col­umns in a book Vin­tage Cowas­jee. That should be the best trib­ute he could have re­ceived.

What, how­ever, needs to be pointed out is that ARFC was as much a man of ac­tion as of (writ­ten) words. He was not much of a speaker, which he him­self ad­mit­ted. He not only wrote about many is­sues but also took ac­tion when it was needed. The case against the Glass Tower builder which Cowas­jee fought in the Supreme Court and won has be­come leg­endary. He man­aged to have the ex­tra struc­ture built il­le­gally on the en­croached land, along the main Clifton Road, de­mol­ished un­der court or­ders.

What is more, as the chair­per­son of the Cowas­jee Foun­da­tion he ar­ranged gen­er­ous do­na­tions for many projects for the ben­e­fit of the poor. One could go on re­count­ing his acts of phi­lan­thropy for there are so many. If he trusted you, he would promptly write a cheque for he knew his money would be used for a good cause. There are so many who will re­mem­ber him for the help­ing hand he ex­tended — the Sindh In­sti­tute of Urol­ogy and Trans­plan­ta­tion and The Ci­ti­zens Foun­da­tion are two prom­i­nent ben­e­fi­cia­ries of his gen­eros­ity.

Sadly the lion will not roar again. Rest in peace Ardeshir, we will miss you.

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