I waited for Cowasjee to say “saala” but he never did

He told me to never grow old, not once, but twice.

Khawaja Ali Zubair December 24, 2012
I was just another reader who looked up to him. After his last submission in November 2011, it became clear that Mr Cowasjee saw an end to life imminent on the horizon; well at least that is how I interpreted it. By July 2012, I finally mustered the courage to type out a mail of candid praise, and in that I mentioned my desire to meet him.

A reply followed and to my surprise, it included an invitation to his residence. The lady on the phone explained that I had to find a certain Mary Road in Bath Island and ask for the house of the writer. She said everyone on the street knew where Cowasjee lived.

On the morning of 30 July, 2012, I finally undertook that visit and was led in by the lady on the phone, Amina Jillani. We walked into the 89-year-old house where amongst many objects was placed a six foot wide replica of the SS Fakirjee Cowasjee. It was a perfect miniature ship, carved to utmost detail and it embodied memories. “Bhutto took it all” was what Mr Cowasjee later said to me.

Of the true losses that he had suffered in life,  nationalisation of his shipping line was perhaps the most significant.

I sat down with Amina and waited for Mr Cowasjee to join us. What preceded him was his entourage of animals, two dogs and a blind parrot. We finally heard his voice and he walked in with help of his stick, adorned in one of his beloved night-gowns. I presented him a bouquet of flowers, and he took them with genuine delight.

We began to talk about him and his preoccupations as his animals paraded around me. Our conversation shifted to my education in politics to olden Karachi and to the ships he lost for which he received a negligible settlement.

I must add that conversation was not easy, neither for him nor for me.

Even with an ear-piece, he was hard of hearing. Twice, he asked me to speak louder, complaining that he couldn’t understand what I was saying. A few minutes later, he told me to never grow old. I was surprised at this statement.

We then talked about the wide chair he sat on and he told me that it was a few hundred years old. “People in those times were fat,” he remarked with a smile. By this time, I was aware that it was taking him a significant amount of effort to entertain a conversation with a complete stranger.

His eyesight was impaired, he was hard of hearing and then there was this lack of focus. But he was kind and hospitable. I waited for him to say his famous “saala” but he never did. He was reticent now, quieter.

Half an hour into our conversation, he fell asleep. I asked Amina, whether I should take leave now. “It is completely up to you,” she said with a smile. I then walked up to him and placed my arm on his shoulder, “Mr Cowasjee, I must take leave now.”

The grand old man opened his eyes, and advised me again, "Never grow old".

Now, I understood better.

He seemed more aware of me now than he ever was during our conversation.
With much gratitude he added, "Thank you for the flowers. I am much obliged."

I told him that it was the other way round. We agreed that we would meet again, when my forthcoming semester ends and I was in Karachi again. It was never to happen.

We were now at the end of our conversation. I shook his old hand. Cowasjee looked up with a subtle smile on his face and said in a very slow manner, "Is there anything I can do for you?"

This perhaps was the last thing he said to me. He truly meant it but I had nothing to ask for. The favour was already done.

As Amina walked me out of 10 Mary Road, I bluntly asked her:
“Will he live long?”

“Well, you saw for yourself. He is holding on.”

Thus, the grand old man of Karachi passed away.

I write this epitaph, primarily to write away my grief. I wish people to know more about his last days.

Today, I wish I had found him sooner; Ardershir Cowasjee, a true human.
Khawaja Ali Zubair Khawaja Ali Zubair is a Master of International Affairs Candidate at Columbia University.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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