I found out like most others when twitter exploded with the news – Ardeshir Cowasjee is with us no more. Pakistan has lost a voice, a voice like no other. How befitting that a man who decried draconian state measures passed away on the day that all mobile phone communication was shut down across the country in the name of national security.

I didn’t know Cowasjee personally and only met him a couple of times. He had the kind of personality that stays with you for years. My meeting with him was truly unforgettable and I know I’ll always remember him fondly. I say this with confidence because just now, as I told my mother that Cowasjee was with us no more, she said “how sad” and then we both laughed.

We laughed because he had made us laugh when we met him and it is something we’ve spoken about for years. It’s been over a decade but the memories remain. When I was an International Baccalaureate student studying world religion as a subject, I became fascinated with Zoroastrianism and decided to do my summer project on the Parsis and their faith. And like all young, enthusiastic students who feel like their eyes have been opened for the first time, I was an eager researcher who wanted to know as much as I could possibly could. I stayed in Karachi for a while that summer so that I could learn and research. That’s when I bumped into Cowasjee.

He was walking around the lawns of the Governor’s House in a sleeveless, white kaftan surrounded by high society at a showing of the movie Jinnah. Amused and fascinated, I approached him about my project and asked if he could help. He said he would be happy to and set up a meeting at his residence.

The next day, after ringing the bell and while waiting for someone to open the door to Cowasjee’s house, my mother and I heard a squeaky voice yelling “Where’s your keys? Where’s your keys?” Confused, we looked around wondering if we’d dropped our keys. I even turned around to see if a child was playing a joke. But like a tape stuck on repeat, the squeaky demand refused to stop. When the door opened, we finally discovered the cheeky cockatoo perched on the bird cage behind us. It was just the start of a very amusing evening.

The person who opened the door escorted me up to Cowasjee’s study where he sat in tiny boxer shorts the wrong way around on his chair. A very excitable, little dog was bouncing around us the whole time.

Saala calm down!” Cowasjee demanded and the little dog sat still for a while.

It was hard not be distracted by an elderly man in boxer shorts, sitting the wrong way around in a chair but because Cowasjee was unapologetic about who he was, I quickly adapted and we started to have a serious conversation about the Parsi community and their faith. He explained to me how and why Zoroastrianism was the oldest monotheistic faith. He gave me reading material and a book I have with me right now as I write this. He explained the entire history of the faith from its Proto-Indo-Iranian origins to the founding of the religion by Zarathustra to the way it was practised in today’s world. We discussed the major texts and prayers. I questioned him on the rituals I found confusing and he explained them all to me patiently. I couldn’t understand, for example, why someone would voluntarily want their flesh to be consumed by scavengers until he connected it to the Zoroastrian concept of charity. Every Parsi should aim to be as charitable as possible and giving up one’s own body to animals to consume, which is worthless after death, is an ultimate form of charity. I still remember that moment because it was a moment of clarity. A concept I found so confusing suddenly made complete sense.

The highlight of that interview was when I asked him to explain another concept I found troubling and hard to understand: why didn’t Zoroastrians marry anyone outside their own community? Why couldn’t someone become a Parsi? Why this obsession with racial purity? I couldn’t, at that point, understand why the two had to even be connected, especially since the Parsi population is very low. They are dying out and I pointed out that to lose such a faith would be too big a loss for humanity. Surely, they could adapt just to survive? His answer left me stunned.

“Listen, if you have an Alsatian, would you breed it with a mongrel?” I watched as his excited dog starting jumping around again, as I absorbed his hilariously blunt comparison.

“I, erm, sir, I don’t know,” was all I could manage to muster.

“Well you shouldn’t,” he said. “And if the saala Alsatian has no one to mate with and has to die, you let it die.”

And that was that. A concept so confusing, so troubling, was so easily explained and then dismissed with an analogy that I couldn’t help but giggle at. That’s when I realised I had been asking questions because I was viewing his faith through the lens of mine. Cowasjee taught me to discard any preconceived notions and see it for what it is.

In the Parsi faith, death turns every soul timid and fearful. It is evil’s temporary triumph. It is not decided by God, but instead is the mischief of the evil spirit, Ahriman. Based on his last piece, I doubt Cowasjee was fearful at all. I can imagine him staring death in the face, defiant, unafraid. He had quoted Churchill: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

May the maker enjoy your company as much as we did, Sir.

 


Nabiha Meher Shaikh is a writer, a feminist and an unapologetic eccentric who blogs at I am woman, hear me roar.

 


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (58)

Akhtar
November 26, 2012 6:39 am
Nice post. Yes, Pakistan before 1970 was a place to be in. I am slightly younger than you, and enjoyed my youth then. Now I have nothing but regrets at the way the country has been taken from bad to worse. Current media is incapable of reporting correctly, or contributing to any improvement.
m.Jamil
November 26, 2012 7:45 am
Rest in peace my dear. We will miss you. jamil Sydney/Australia
Dr.Emile Unjom
November 27, 2012 4:58 am
Another voice has embraced the destined silence,but sad no one that mattered heeded to pay attention to the passion and pain he carried for his country though being a minority. A Pakistani through his sincere,timely and thoughtful columns have earned the respect all over the world. Rest in peace you have fought a good fight.
Mark Edward Croy
November 26, 2012 1:30 pm
We will miss this great voice of reason and peace...even here in America we have wondered at his resilience and courage. Surely, Heaven is a better place for his presence and Pakistan the less for his absence...
MianArshid
November 25, 2012 2:36 pm
May the maker enjoy your company as much as we did, Sir!
Mr.T
November 25, 2012 5:11 am
Specially pakistani and muslims are those people who never listen or follows the good person who died or still alive, and when they die they make tomb of them and the business starts. All the good people who still there (not much) but who ever we think is good enough try to be with them, go to them, help them out, talk with them may be you think they do not want but might be helpful...
Nayyar Ahmad
November 27, 2012 7:14 am
thanks for writing, it has been written a lot about his professional career, but his personal life, and way of living was also amazing, and interesting to read! i hope someone at least compile a book on his life! thanks
Jawed Reza Sheikh
November 27, 2012 6:01 am
A truly great man and writer. His articles are truly missed. I started reading his articles way back in 1989 when I returned to Pakistan and in those days when there was no computer and internet I would cut his articles and file in a box file to save these. May I suggest to Dawn to publish his articles with his family's permission in a book form.
Aimal Khan
November 27, 2012 4:04 am
Alsatians and Mongrels? Only a mongrel would giggle at what Cowasjee said.He was brave, usually right and often very blunt. He will be missed. May he be where ever he wanted to be.
kannan
November 26, 2012 9:48 pm
I have enjoyed reading his columns over many years. He made me realise India and Pakistan were not very different in the day-to-day life of its citizens, despite years of forced partition and supposedly different political systems. His sense of right and justice shone through his writings. A good man, a good life. I am sure many have been affected positively by him.
ahmed41
November 25, 2012 4:15 am
Thank you, Nabiha ji. All i know about him is through our e-mails. He was an enlightened person in matters of faith and belief. A hymn : ** This is my body ; here is my Soul . Back to my Maker , i take my soul *** He has gone.
Fahad
November 27, 2012 4:51 am
Such a courageous and honest person, I would have admired him more only if he had brains as well.
Wiqas
November 25, 2012 5:26 am
A beautifully writen article.
Dr. Hameed Khan
November 27, 2012 12:04 am
I have read his articles probably since he started writing in Dawn. One could sense the pain that he endured while wrting these lines for he surely loved Pakistan like so many of us. Yet for some time I had drifted away from his articles when I sensesd that there was hopelessness and despair in most of these writings. For instance in an interview to the Los Angeles Times in 2008 he remarked "Pakistan is going to break up in the years to come, and everyone who can should pack up their bags and leave,Pack up and leave if you can. There's no hope for this country".( http://articles.latimes.com/2008/feb/11/world/fg-columnist11).For those who have no choice but to live in Pakistan these remarks are demeaning. Pakistan is not just Karachi or Islamabad and the ills of big cities do not reflect the situation of the towns and villages where people are immune to political patronage, extortion and lawlessness that we see in these cosmopolitons. I love my country and even more when abroad. We are passing through a turmoil created by a confused system of government but history tells us that nations have risen from the ashes. There are people who have sacrificed everything for this country and a few crooks should not discourage those who are passionate about it. After all Jinnah returned to India in the darkest period of the sub continent,even though he could have stayed in Britain. Sorry Mr. Cowasjee, I wasnt pleased to read that you regarded partition of India behind all evils in Pakistan. Without Pakistan we would have been no ones.. We live for hope and we are Jinnah's followers.
NASAH (USA)
November 25, 2012 2:08 pm
A profound concept of CHARITY -- giving up your useless dead body to feed vultures. Great people Parsis and a great humanist religion - Zoroastrianism.
Babar Naseem
November 26, 2012 7:14 am
Cowsjee was my neighbour , i know him , he was the most courageous person on the soil. If we could have a person like him, in power . Pakistan will dedfinitely be a different place.
farhan
November 25, 2012 3:58 am
because the value of every precious thing is realized once we lose it.
Rohinton
November 25, 2012 3:39 am
I knew Ardeshir Uncle/Ardeshri Seth from arms length through my father for almost half a century. He was larger than life, awed and respected, loved but never feared always admired. About 6-7 years ago he had writtne a very amusing piece when his another Ardeshir Cowasjee of the Parsi Community passed away and he had a first hand view on what it would be like if he had passed away. In memorian it would be appropriate if Dawn would consider reprinting the article. I am sure Ardeshir Unlce would have a nice chuckle from above
Imran
November 24, 2012 10:21 pm
Rest in Peace Mr. Cowasjee. You did the part that a thousand men only dream of.
Muhammad Farooq, ON, Canada
November 26, 2012 2:45 am
Thanks Rohinton for the suggestion. I hope the Dawn would re-publish the said article.
Agha Asad Raza
November 26, 2012 2:55 am
Well written!! May his soul rest in peace!!
azad
November 24, 2012 11:57 pm
He was always a power voice with integrity.
taranveer Singh kafir
November 25, 2012 4:42 pm
parsi people are realy great people :) they have very little population in India. but search on google, list of famous parsis in India. they have huge list of famous people. some people are good some are very good but cowasjee was great. Iran could be a superpower if it could be a parsi religion country. they are genius as Jewish people. they have a great role in development of India despite of little population. love you all.
Salman
November 25, 2012 12:33 pm
In Cowasjee we have lost a voice of humanity. He like his name was a true interpreter of sanity. He was of that breed of Pakistanis which is now becoming history , a thing of the past, he was an admirer of Jinnah and rightly so. He continued to making Pakistani society a fair place for everyone irrespective of cast, creed and culture, I think its a loss we would mourn for many many years to come, may his soul rest is peace.
Aslam Khan
November 24, 2012 9:29 pm
Likes of him represented the great old Pakistan which we've allowed to slip out of our hands. We can honour him by devoting ourselves to creating a tolerant and a well educated society. I am sure these two strides being complimentary in essence will take Pakistan out of the current morass.
mannan
November 26, 2012 4:54 am
I used to read the Sunday Dawn , for one single reason - the column by Cowasjee. Though Cyril Almeida is doing a great job but Sunday Dawn will never be the same without Cowasjee. I never met him ,but i did see him driving his Mercedes Convertible and when I waved to him he waved back as if he would for a friend. A TRUE PAKISTANI AND A GREAT SOUL.
janan
November 26, 2012 9:03 am
RIP we lost a great personality and great man.
GhostRider
November 26, 2012 5:01 am
this small sentence is enough to straighten our priorities..but alas!! sanity is the latest casualty in post-zia Pakistan
Zakintosh
November 24, 2012 8:36 pm
What a lovely piece, Nabiha Meher Shaikh. Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us all.
Baber Khan
November 26, 2012 11:59 am
Gosh!! What a man!
muzaffar
November 26, 2012 5:20 am
may his soul rest in peace he was good phianthropist and good columnist and had very kind heart for poor he was shipping tycoon as well
Hafiz
November 26, 2012 12:45 pm
Truly amusing! I have been an ardent AG fan. Nabiha you have done justice to one of the finest pakistani. May his soul rest in peace.
nomi
November 24, 2012 6:49 pm
Thank Nabiha for this. May God rest cowasjee's soul in peace.
Dany..
November 24, 2012 6:32 pm
Why do I happen to know much more about this great man after his death. Why should not we talk about these immortals like this when they are alive?
Irfan Butt
November 25, 2012 5:56 pm
Few years ago, I wrote an email to Mr. Cowasgee, asking him why he is critical of Paksitani society while he seem to not mind the dictatorial actions of a super power like USA. He wrote me back a few morcels for thought. He wrote "Sher ki marzi, anda dey ya bachha dey".
ram
November 25, 2012 2:07 am
I wrote him: I understand your disappointment...But crusaders never leave battle half the way Jinnah did not get what he got by his ability only. Deputation of the Best in his time persuaded to come back and take over. It was preordained for him and so is Pakistan . From Sir Syed Ahmad to martyrs till now....their efforts and blood never go in vain. Your body may have become frail....not your brain and noble wishes. Plurarism will soon take over. French revolution and marxist ways were outcome of desperation and later it got a near right path...So will this nation. I strongly urge you not get disappointed and losing faith....Messiah is waiting a long rope to End You go on doing your duty with full faith. Dont be a part of frustrated 180 millions.... Struggle is meaning of life...Defeat or Victory is in Hands of God...but struggle itself is mans duty and should be his Joy. We are not path makers....we are just to clear/clean path and lighten it for those who are to follow.Leave rest upon Creator....May be delay... but finally HE is to Clean up as all holy books say. This is a period of Punishment of our doings....It is not that it will never end. Discipline Democracy will come ...my Faith and I earnestly Hope you will Live to See It...AMEN He replied: I hope you are right about what is to come. But do not see in my lifetime. Thank you for your message and I wish you all the best for the new year. AC
Al
November 25, 2012 6:02 am
I am grateful to the 5-6 thoughtful emails from Mr. Cowasjee I recieved in response to my sundry comments on his opinion pieces. of which I was a fan. He responded promptly and courteously. Unlike most other DAWN columnists, when he spoke of Pakistan as a secular state that Jinnah had envisioned, you knew he was speaking from the heart, for as a Parsi he had a stake in that vision. May his soul rest in peace and his words guide the affairs of the state.
raika45
November 25, 2012 1:23 pm
In the passing away of Cowasjee, Pakistan has lost a part of it's story teller.One that talked of the past through the ages to the present.I frankly did not read most of his articles because I am not a Pakistani and your internal affairs is not my concern. What I read impressed me.With the passing away of your old story tellers, you are left with ones that see conditions in this modern era.I an 67 years old. Trust me . Life in the 60's right up to the late 70's was a golden era for your country.Things were going good, other than the war India.Writers then were pretty unencumbered by religious tensions or economic and financial problems of the country.Times have changed.The new breed of serious writers have a heavy burden to bear taking into consideration your country's current state of affairs.Time will tell how they will be able to carry out this task.
Hamid Jawed
November 26, 2012 12:47 pm
Karachi will not be Karachi without him. Will always be missed.
Masooma
November 26, 2012 6:31 am
I pray that your optimism comes true, for all our sakes.
SALEEM KHANANI
November 24, 2012 8:06 pm
Ardasher Cowasjee “I am 86 now, too old to pen weekly columns. Besides what’s there to write about with the same old politics and same old politicians. Do you really believe that they will go away? I am bored writing about them again and again,” he said in an interview last month. A sad comment by probably the most sincere and patriotic Pskistani journalist. He did not write for money. He did not have to. He never went for gimmicks to increase his ratings. He did not have to. He did not forge and spread rumors. He did not have to. Was he a "journalist"? Pakistani journalists, most of them, don't do what he did. And yet the learned ones loved him for his sincerity, patriotism and real journalism with the ability to write the truth. In the end his final comments sum up the pessimism that many of us experience but do not find the words or the ways to express it. Or perhaps we don't want to express it, deal with it or share it with others. Keeping it hidden in the aging closet of our subconscious will not change anything. We must express it but not with a negative attitude. It's expression should be coupled with a plan to change it into optimism. And it begins with the motivation and determination to change oneself. We cannot change the existing politicians, bureaucrats and religious patriarchs. But perhaps a new Cowasjee may show the right path to the young Pakistanis of today to follow a path different than that of their elders.
Wali Mohammad
November 26, 2012 5:32 am
The great man will no more physically but virtually will remain in the memories of readers.
Ather
November 25, 2012 7:54 am
Cowasjee you'll be missed! You were a great human being and an equally great Pakistani. I always held that you should have been the president of this country. Indeed your death is an intense loss for this country. Rest in Peace, Champion of Justice...
Aamir Alvi
November 26, 2012 1:12 am
A truly great man
dr bajwa
November 25, 2012 3:14 pm
Big man! We salute him and his courage! Dr yahya hassan bajwa Switzerland
Latif Khan
November 26, 2012 11:38 am
Cowsjee has left enormous wealth of his writings and understanding of the making of Pakistan based on unbiased impartial constitution with fundemental human rights where everyone becomes Pakistani. This knowledge and wisdom need to be unlocked for the new generation of Pakistanis.Our universities can play a major role to promote this idea through the institutions. This knowledge need to be assimilated into the structure of our teaching institutions all over Pakistan. He worked for humanity, God will be very pleased with him...
hari
November 26, 2012 9:14 am
I used to follow his columns whenever they appeared; of late not much; I came to know thru this columns only that the revered person is no more; slowly, all the persons who were personally ivolved in Partition and the aftermath, are slowly fading and going; time; He had beautiful remembrance of undivided India and its benefits! May his soul rest in peace. Hari
Ch Farooq
November 25, 2012 11:30 am
Pakistan lost another honest and brave voice. He'll always be remembered as a straight forward and brave speaker who would not hide his trueself under any situation.
Aijaz Ali
November 27, 2012 6:29 am
Great writer/columnist and philanthropist Mr. Ardesher Cowasjee left this world on 24th November 2012. His 22 years association with DAWN, as regular columnist, has jolted power seekers in Pakistan. I read almost all of his 22 year articles published in DAWN. I learned how to write from Cowasjee articles. Every sunday like many others I was also anxiously waiting for his weekly article. The famous judges case was tackle by Supreme Court because of his indepth research about the issue. Today we regular readers of DAWN are mounring his death. God bless this great soul. Regards, Aijaz Ali Khuwaja aakhuwaja1@yahoo.co.in
ali basra
November 24, 2012 7:25 pm
thankyou for your so informative blog
Ms Samreen Sheikh,
November 26, 2012 7:58 am
Thank you very much dear Ms Nabiha. The mind, heart and soul of AG must have felt happily relieved at such a fine, deeply felt write-up on this sad occasion of his departure from this mundane world to the final resting place in the world hereafter. May God bless the departed soul for ever.
safar shah
November 24, 2012 7:14 pm
Wonder if he realizes that his 'Sala Alsatian' is a mongrel as well.
Hafiz
November 26, 2012 12:27 pm
Truly Amusing!
ahmed41
November 25, 2012 11:59 am
We must encourage DAWN to remember him in a suitable way for his remembrance day ~~~~the 40th day ( Chehellum) from 23/11/2012
Parvez
November 26, 2012 9:21 am
From your write up one gathers that the man had a developed sense of humour and a tendency to ' wing it ' in order to give the narrative colour, all part of a great personality.
ahmed
November 29, 2012 1:14 am
Excellent Article, very well Written. Mr. Cowasjee, we will miss you..
ZS
November 25, 2012 11:20 am
Brilliantly written as always , z
Zafar
November 25, 2012 5:05 am
A great humanist, who always said what he felt without anysugar coating. I have read many of his articles and cannot remember an instance when I disagreed with him, but he was the mind that brought up the subject.
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