End of an era: Verbal vigilante Ardeshir Cowasjee dies at 86

Published: November 25, 2012
Ardeshir Cowasjee. PHOTO: FILE

Ardeshir Cowasjee. PHOTO: FILE


Few people, if any, can make the word ‘Saala’ acceptable in a serious conversation.

One of Pakistan’s best-known personalities and widely-read English columnist, Ardeshir Cowasjee passed away on Saturday after suffering from cardio-respiratory failure at the age of 86.

Known for his outspoken weekly columns in Dawn, one of Pakistan’s leading English newspapers, he has documented the country’s history for generations to come through the written word. Known for his Bohemian ways, a trait he was, in fact, proud of, Cowasjee was famous for always being ready for a debate, on any topic, with anyone. From colourful robes to fine-tailored suits, Cowasjee’s sense of style often gave him an air of aristocracy.

Born on April 13, 1926, in Karachi, his legacy is a fairly straightforward one. The scion of a wealthy Parsi family, he completed his schooling at Bai Virbaijee Soparivala (BVS) Parsi School and later pursued higher education at DJ Science College. After World War II, he joined his family business – primarily merchant shipping, among other interests. In the later years of his life, Cowasjee tried to keep it as lively as possible, often seen cruising around the streets of Karachi in his metallic powder blue convertible Mercedes.

He is survived by two children, his son Rustom – of whom he once said, “I could never have wished for a better son,” – and daughter Ava, who followed her father’s footsteps with her involvement with several philanthropic ventures.

His most prized memories, however, were of his late wife, Nancy Dinshaw. It was perhaps only when he spoke of his “lovely Nancy” that one got a chance to see the romantic side of a generally critical and dismissive Cowasjee. “She would always point her finger at me and say ‘Tum bara hi shaitan hai’ (You are a very mischievous man) in Gujrati,” he once told this correspondent. “She was a remarkable woman. I did not deserve to be her husband.”

As a columnist, Cowasjee spoke up and wrote against what he perceived to be wrong in the country at large and on the developments in his beloved Karachi in specific.

Cowasjee voiced his blunt opinions for over 30 years through his columns in Dawn. Dealing with Cowasjee’s sharp tone and piercing words must not have been an easy task for the now retired MA Majid, former editor of Dawn’s editorial pages. “He was a socially committed man with a very brave spirit and never had a meek approach towards anything he found wrong or undesirable,” he said of Cowasjee.

Well known columnist and dear friend, Zubeida Mustafa called his columns “a hot potato.” Through his pen, he often opened up Pandora’s Box as he spoke relentlessly against social evils, including, but not limited to, land allotment, environment, female illiteracy, corruption, nepotism and honour killings.

But his favourite subject was Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He almost adored the Quaid and relentlessly championed his cause. He used to project the human side of the Quaid, and, at the same time, cast him as a no-nonsense man, a man of character, straightforward, honest and, above all, a man who believed in egalitarianism and who wished to shape Pakistan as a social welfare state with every citizen, irrespective of his religion, cast, creed and race having equal and equitable rights.

Cowasjee was also a man of extreme likes and dislikes. He had a good friendship with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but later developed differences with him. In 1976, Bhutto jailed Cowasjee for 72 days, an incident which he not only never forgot, but also never ceased to mention in his columns. “He [Bhutto] never told me [why I was arrested],” he would often say.

On December 25, 2011, fittingly, or ironically, the Quaid’s birthday, Cowasjee brought his 22-old-year era of weekly columns for Dawn to a halt, stating in his last column: “Now, old at 85, tired, and disillusioned with a country that just cannot pull itself together in any way and get on with life in this day and age, I have decided to call it a day.”

Condolence messages

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Asraf expressed their grief and sorrow over the demise of Cowasjee. They prayed for eternal peace of the departed soul and for courage to the bereaved family to bear with the loss.

In his condolence message, President Zardari paid great tributes to his services for journalism.

Premier Ashraf paid rich tribute to his services for journalism and said that, in his death, the nation had lost a true, patriotic Pakistani. He appreciated that Cowasjee always espoused righteous and just causes.

The funeral will be held at Cowasjee’s residence, 10 Mary Road, Bath Island, Karachi, on Tuesday November 27 at 11am. (WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING FROM RABIA ALI and MAHNOOR SHERAZEE IN KARACHI)

Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • cyrus
    Nov 25, 2012 - 9:53AM

    May his soul rest in eternal peace.


  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson
    Nov 25, 2012 - 9:55AM

    A man of wisdom and truth. A true Pakistani with clean hands and clear approach who was not happy the way our country went out of its way after the death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah the founder of our nation. He never minced his words and said openly what he thought was best for the country. Sir, May Your Soul Rest In Peace, Amen. My heartfelt condolences to his near ones and dear ones.


  • M. Salim
    Nov 25, 2012 - 11:18AM

    A huge intellectual loss for a derailed Nation. We should name a park or avenue after Ardeshir and also make sure his “Rustom Baug”, adjacent to Park Tower Karachi, blossoms in his indelible memory for posterity.


  • Syed A. Mateen
    Nov 25, 2012 - 11:20AM

    I don’t find any replacement of Mr. Ardeshir Cowasjee in the very near future as no one in the country can dare to write against the ‘wrong’ which now a days has become the ‘right’.

    As Pakistan has become one of the top most countries where journalists are killed, I am afraid that no body will think to become another Ardeshir Cowasjee, though it is the need of the hour to produced more writers, thinkers and journalists in the print media.

    While Mr. Cowasjee was alive he has take a number of builders and developers to the task by taking individual cases in the court of law where the Honourable Courts granted stay orders against certain building structures due to building code violations.

    I remember in one case, the Glass Tower, one of the project on the main Clifton Road was ordered by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to demolish the front portion of the building so as to clear the area close to the main road which was illegally covered by the Builder and Developer.Recommend

  • Nasamajh
    Nov 25, 2012 - 2:32PM

    You will be missed, Sir!


  • Nov 25, 2012 - 2:33PM

    A GREAT ERA of Journalism,Has Passed away,But Not In Silence, After Living His Life In Full,a 21 Gun Salute, To a man who never compromised on Principles,As well as Had a GREAT Innings,I must Say, His Columns,Articles, Manners, attitude,on How to Behave, In social Gatherings, He saw Ups and downs of So Many Political Dynasties, it is hard to imagine that he never went over board in HEIGHTS, of Recognition,and also His Spirit to work,Tirelessly for a Better Karachi, as his own Motherland,as well as Pakistan as his Fatherland,and The Journey Of His Pen,I have No words to Express,SADLY——with wet Eyes, I feel,I learnt a LOT from Him,to be Honest,His Knowledge on ART was so Great,plus Intellectually he was way way Beyond any Art Critic in Pakistan as there were NONE to match Him in Conversations of Art,-For,writing in English Does not Make u an ART critic, But he was a writer, EXTRAORDINAIRE, that did not Write on ART every now and Than,His class analysis of Current affairs of Symbolism, as well as relating to core issues,were a CLASS of Its Own,-Particularly-Knowing it all well that its Place in History Books are some what Placed Differently,I certainly Wish that, My Paintings Could talk,for umpteen years he watched my Works in Progression,or we had Listening Glasses,on my Paintings,so i Could Replay,all the Comments that He gave to My works,GREAT ASSET, i shall Live By His words,Ameen,PAKISTAN has lost a Last Remaining Foot soldier,No One I repeat No one Will fill his Boots again,Farewell My Hero, May Heavens open Doors for you To the Journey Un Known- Rest In Peace Sum Ameen-(Ardeshir Cowasjee )


  • Hammad
    Nov 25, 2012 - 2:58PM

    This man was a saint. I will miss him deeply.


  • SK
    Nov 25, 2012 - 3:09PM

    good man. did justice to Karachi as a citizen


  • Acorn Guts
    Nov 25, 2012 - 4:19PM

    “The politicians are in it for money, they are jobless otherwise don’t you see? It is a job now to come back again; there is still money in the kitty to rob again” Cowasjee


  • M. A. Changezi
    Nov 25, 2012 - 5:01PM

    Rest in peace dear friend. You will be badly missed.


  • Ilyad
    Nov 25, 2012 - 9:57PM

    Dear Cowasjee sahib – rest in peace, may Allah bless you. He should be considered a true martyr because he continued a jihad by pen through out his life. We will miss him.


  • Max
    Nov 26, 2012 - 1:38AM

    The last true citizen of Karachi is gone, his words “tired, and disillusioned with a country that just cannot pull itself together in any way and get on with life in this day and age” are indeed the true state of our city and our nation, and a sign of impending doom. RIP.


  • faraz
    Nov 26, 2012 - 8:44AM

    His demise is a great loss specially for the people who always want’s to read and listen to whatever the truth is, i always loved to read his columns infact it was my first time of reading an english newspaper obviously DAWN and the first ever column was Cowasjee’s……be blessed Ardeshir Cowasjee will miss you now and forever, you served us with your words of wisdom..



  • Sid
    Nov 26, 2012 - 10:24AM

    RIP one Pakistani who wrote the truth and always promoted peace facing India


  • S. A. Sheikh,
    Nov 28, 2012 - 11:56PM

    I feel extremely sorry to know that a popularly elected PM threw this monumental personality behind the bar for seventy days, merely because he had criticized the policy of nationalization of industry, a policy which did maximum damage to the country and its people. In view of all such evil doings, all involved with such cruel acts of injustices to such a noble dignified man of sterling qualities of heart and mind must beg apology from the soul of the departed ideal Pakistani and proud son of Karachi. Pakistan and the people of Pakistan can never be the same after the passing away of Ardeshir Cowasgee. May God bless the departed noble soul , Ameen.


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