Will the lion roar again?

By Zubeida Mustafa

SO Ardeshir Cowasjee has decided to call it a day. He was one of Dawn’s longest-serving columnists and certainly the most feared because nothing could stop him from speaking out against what he perceived to be wrong. And in this calamity-stricken country of ours there was always much to provoke AC.

For over two decades he irritated and angered many of the high and mighty mandarins in their ivory towers because he was not afraid of unearthing their corruption. He had no qualms about naming names. His knack of raking up controversies and making the power-wielders cringe delighted the readers as long as they were not at the receiving end. It testifies to his courage that he did not change his style even when he received threats.

Having regarded him as the voice of society’s collective conscience, I found it painful when he declared in his last column (Dec 25) that he was “old … tired and disillusioned with a country that just cannot pull itself together in any way”. So he was winding down.

This is how many others also feel. Ardeshir Cowasjee, however, is wrong when he dismissively describes his columns as one that are “read, may be digested and discarded”. No, his writings are not of a transitory nature for two reasons.

First, in a country that refuses to keep records, all the wrongdoings he dug out and documented so meticulously will always be of value to chroniclers and researchers — and activists fighting for the same causes he espoused. Hence these columns are worthy of being archived and indexed on the web — a testimony to his hard work of 23 years. Secondly, Pakistan is a country that has a distinguishing quality. Things never change here and that includes the rulers’ propensity to exploit the people.
Since his mission has been to expose this exploitation, the columns will remain relevant.

Have the sins committed against the people — land theft, abuse of the environment and cheating and dishonesty — about which Cowasjee wrote with so much punch been eliminated? As long as we need the press as a watchdog we need the Cowasjees of our day. The aggrieved, who could have come to harm had AC not given them unstinted support, know what this means.

For him it has simply been a matter of upholding what is right. More importantly, the issues he has championed are human-interest issues that, unlike politics, are of direct concern to people like you and me.

Take the case of Aquila Ismail, so pertinent to today’s MP’s degree scams. Ismail was a member of the NED University syndicate in 1994-5. So was Cowasjee. This body was faced with the dilemma of awarding degrees to two students who had fraudulently obtained admission to the NED by filing forged certificates. Since they were well connected, the university senate was willing to overlook the transgression. The syndicate nearly agreed as Cowasjee was not present at this meeting.

Ismail dissented and incurred the wrath of the powers-that-be. Her home was attacked by some goons. She recounts her ordeal, “It was a harrowing time for me and my family. When Cowasjee learnt about the syndicate’s questionable decision he wrote about it in his column and expressed his respect for me for taking a stand on the issue.” He approached the chancellor and the matter was closed with the degree not being granted.

There are numerous such cases which received the Cowasjee touch through the power of his pen. Others have received help through his generosity — displaying the gentle heart beneath the gruff exterior.

As chairman of the Cowasjee Foundation he has supported causes he feels are just. When Zamir Niazi’s The Press in Chains was published in 1986 by the Karachi Press Club — the only institution willing to do it in Zia’s draconian era — AC bought scores of copies to present to journalists. That amounted to extending a helping hand to the KPC.

All the years while he was writing for Dawn’s OpEd, life was not easy for whoever was handling his copies. There were arguments in abundance. His presence in the Dawn office on Monday, the day after his column was published, invariably spelt disaster. He has never liked what he terms ‘self-censcissorship’ — he is quick at coining smart expressions.

He began writing when the hated press and publications ordinance was struck off the statute book. His very first (Nov 11, 1988) column was devoted to press freedom. He had called on the “disunited men of the press in Pakistan” to develop “a conscience and a spine”.

Cowasjee had spoken with great hope of the press council that was on the cards way back in 1988. But he wanted the regulatory mechanism to be devised by the press itself. “Let its institutionalists not select, elect or nominate to it even by ‘popular acclaim’ a toady, an acquiescer or a boneless man”. Where is the press council? Small wonder AC is a disillusioned man.

When I visited him last week he was sitting with a big notepad before him. It was blank. I asked him what he was writing. He said he was recording his thoughts. However, he did recite to me a stanza by the 19th-century Gujarati poet Dalpatram. It was lyrical. I couldn’t understand it fully.

‘Garda, lula, andua gharib maa ne baap;
Mahadev teno dikro seva kare hum aap.’

But what I did understand was that the poet talks of self-help even in the direst times of helplessness. That touched a chord in me.

Source: Dawn

26 thoughts on “Will the lion roar again?

    1. I started reading Ardeshie Cowasjee's articles from the first day these appeared in DAWN. In those days way back in late 80's and 90's we did not have DAWN on the web and used cut out his articles dfrom all the Sunday issues and save them in a box file. Now we do have the articles in the archives. I suggest these should be published in book form. Would that be possible.

      Jawed Reza Sheikh

  1. Ardeshir Cowasjee has played his inning well and its good that he decided to quit at a time when people still want him to continue. He is among those columnists who also give news in their column. He has his own style of talking and that was one of the reasons i interview him, last year. Its among the best and he was bold in his comments against the successive leaders. He was also one of my guests along with veteran Elahi Bux Somroo and Khanwar Idress on Pakistan. I recorded the prog. at the Sindh Assembly. Many times i got tips from his column and always admire his courage. However, he should have avoided too much criticism on ZAB, which at times also look irrelevant. Secondly, it also involve his personal experience or hate against the man. Only once i was disappointed when late chief minister Jam Sadiq Ali used some prayer leaders and got “fatwa” against him. I wish him all the best. mazhar

  2. So true while most of us captive salary class tax payers, see our salary taxes dwindled and swindled on the shopping sprees and life styles of our ruling elite and their never ending spoilt children we sit silently waiting for a saviour.We watch the common man on the street frustrated to make ends meet and a working middle class hitting the poverty line with inflation. Yet we say NOTHING. Let an army of Ardeshir Cowasjee's stand up and be heard. He has opened our eyes with wit ,humour and disgust and will be missed every Sunday morning .Your article was a fitting tribute to a lone warrier of civic rights and equality.

  3. Good that you chose to pay a tribute (while he is still around) to this outspoken journalist whose weekly column was a Sunday treat for so many of us.
    Will miss him. Interestingly his columns were always based on one or the other issue, a few being his very favourite.

  4. My request to him was to roar again and again as in the past to keep all on their toes

    1. No, indeed, he must not retire from writing his columns. We need people like him. His writing and thoughts are so valuable, plus he is a man with a true heart for the people – such people are rare. Do not go away from us, my friend!

      Maureen Lines

  5. Before this POST I have never heard about Cowasjee so feel very odd and willy nilly (willy nilly here means yes no yes no) to make any comments.

    But this WRITE UP tells much about his (Cowasjee) way and life. A writer when starts writing truth fearlessly and without caring about the adverse reaction from boss, Govt and other concerns then he/she is called a JOURNALIST and when he continues to go ahead strongly he/she becomes a LION.

    And LION never stops to roar!!!!!

  6. That is bad that Cowasjee has decided to retire, I did not know about it till I read your column today. Very sad..

  7. Your brilliant piece expressed both joy and sadness. about AC's larger than life presence and his retirement . He was indispensable for Dawn. What a sad day for all of us.

  8. He is a real lion, not many spoke like him, he is fearless, like Muslims of first century, never blinking, of very strong character. he must be disillusioned for for dismal state of affairs. Democracy in guise of kingship, mostly stupid, but wise for their coffers. How relentlessly he kept on raising his voice against vice, but "devot democrats" would not let even a shant good pass on to masses.
    May God bless you, we will miss you.

  9. Having left Karachi six years ago, I still miss his company. What will the future bring us – without critical minds like his expressed in a public forum. The secret of progress is freedom. The secret of freedom – however – is courage. Hopefully he shall remain among us at least as a private gentleman nevertheless. Wishing him well: an old friend, currently Swiss Consul General in San Francisco.

  10. Like all your readers I will miss Ardeshir Cowasjee's column- I hope he remains well in his 'retirement' and a guiding light for other writers and whistle-blowers.

  11. will the lion roar again?
    I read zubeida mustafa, s article and found it encouraging. The persons like cowasjee are assets for the nation. He always used his mighty pen for unearthing the truth buried beneath the debris of wickedness.Such type of persons may face some sort of threat but they eventually end up in content as truth is much liked by the almighty Allah. We need not to keep the truth under wrap out of fear. It must be kept aloft in any way.
    Download: eType1.com/f.php?FdV3pZ

  12. I started reading Mr. Cowasjee articles when I joined my collage. I believe his articles were inspiring and fearless. Looking at the current article writers, I believe no body can match Mr. Cowasjee writing skills and inspiring. We will miss you sir…

  13. I started reading Mr. Cowasjee articles when I joined my collage life. I believe his articles were inspiring and fearless. Looking at the current article writers, I believe no body can match Mr. Cowasjee writing skills. he is our inspiration

  14. Very sorry to hear about Mr. Cowasjee's retirement. Is there no way to talk him back to writing his columns?

  15. After reading this piece , i went back to read the famous play by G B Shaw : ** Androcles and the Lion**.

    The LION need not ROAR to be effective.

  16. your yesterday's excellent column on my brother was brought to my attention today. On behalf of my family 'THANK YOU'.
    May I, to the best of my ability, try to translate for you Kavi (Poet) Dalpatram's stanza as tought to us in the 4th Gujerati class at the BVS and quoted by Ardeshir.
    Gharda (old), lula (lame),andhra (blind), gharib (poor) ma ne baap (mother & father)
    Mahadev teno diikro seva kare hum aap.
    (Great is their son who looks after them)

    "Great is the citizen who cares for the old, lame, blind and poor of the Community".

    My best wishes.

    1. Cyrus, your brother is a grear writer. I always been reading his articles in Dawn Internet edition.
      I have communicated with him through e-mails. He is very bold in his expression and presents his views without fear or reprisals. We need more Cowasjees in that part of the world.
      I went to BVS Parsi High School and finished my high school in 1975 and my principle at that time was Dina Mistri. I had a pleasure of meeting her during our school reunion in Los Angeles.
      Parsi community is a peace loving community and has contribued a lot in both India and Pakistan. Your brother is a jewel in the crown of Parsi community. I still remember the days when I would take the tram from Regal Chowk to go home from school and pass by Holy Family Hospital and Parsi Colony where many of my Parsi friends lived.
      God bless you all for your great schools and your philanthrophy.

  17. Have been reading AC (as ZM puts it) since long. I must say he is real DARING PEN. Lion must continue to roar. Someone's idea, above, is supported. His articles be given the shape of a book. DAWN may take the step.

  18. mr ardeshir cowasjee made a valuable contribution through his courageous writings. even when one disagreed with him one respected his opinion. you have rightly pointed out that his writibngs would be of much use to researchers and historians.

  19. Your column on Mr Cowasjee was great and many thanks for recognizing how he was truly a lion in the media sector.

    Besides thanking you for it, I take this opportunity to request your help in getting in touch with Mr Cowasjee. As an ordinary member of public, I would like to give him an appreciation and thank you plaque by using your headline with a little change “ The Lion: Please do roar again for us”.

  20. We are really blessed such upright men among us. He was amazing while pointing out blunders and embezzlement of those in high seats of Power of this land of pure.

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