COLUMNISTS are a peculiar breed of writers and perhaps no one assumed the persona of a columnist as well as Ardeshir Cowasjee. His age, pedigree, wealth and chutzpah gave him a vantage point that few could ever hope for. But what made Mr Cowasjee such a beloved columnist for many readers was the mixture of gravitas and mischievousness that he brought to his writing. The Cowasjee column, spread over 22 years of writing through much wrenching change and occasional spurts of hope in this country’s history, was a testament to the power of the pen in an era much before the revolution in electronic media transformed the media landscape and minted dozens of new stars. That Mr Cowasjee was able to stay relevant even in the transformed media landscape of the last decade said much about his ability to connect with readers and act as a voice of inspiration amidst the uncertainty and chaos of history unfolding.
He was able to do it largely through a steadfast commitment to two ideas. First, the original idea of Pakistan, as conceived by Mohammad Ali Jinnah and forgotten soon after his death; and second, the idea that Karachi could be rescued from the depredations of its political, business, sectarian and ethnic leaders and turned into a thriving multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religion city that Karachi’s denizens could be proud of. Inherent in both ideas was the belief that the Pakistan of today — uncertain, fearful, troubled and weak — is not the only Pakistan that can be imagined, or made possible. In his last years, even the indefatigable columnist was wracked with doubt about whether a transformation — a positive, healthy one — was possible any longer for Pakistan. But he soldiered on, never abandoning the city, and country, that was his home until death came calling. And that’s why, nearly a year since he wrote his last regular column, he remains one of Pakistan’s most beloved columnists.