Ardeshir Cowasjee at T2F
I am sitting at The Second Floor waiting for the amazing and colourful Ardeshir Cowasjee to take me and a room full of people back to the Karachi of old – a memorable journey of the City of Lights that many of us have never been fortunate enough to have known.
We are assured that Ardeshir’s one hour storytelling session will take us through the glory days of Karachi: communities, old families, the vibrant cultural scene, the ship he built, and a whole lot more. This is a unique opportunity to discover Karachi through the eyes of Ardeshir Cowasjee and despite the threats of on-coming rain, there was no way I was going to miss it.
I am going to try and blog some of the stories live so that friends in other parts of the world can enjoy them in real time – this is my first attempt at live-blogging so I am not sure how successful I will be. You be the judge. An advance warning though – I will not risk losing the thrill of listening to Mr. Cowasjee’s stories by concentrating on the blogging too much so, for all you know, I might just stop before I begin.
Five minutes before the arrival of one of Karachi’s oldest citizens, the room is full of anticipation – the audience is a mixture of young and old – some here to relive old memories, others to find out what it is that their parents’ and grandparents’ generation ooohs and aaahs about, and misses with such intensity.
He arrives and is welcomed with a great deal of affection and warmth. As was to be expected, he starts off with a very typical Adershir remark: Obviously people in Karachi don’t know how to enjoy themselves – so many here to listen to me. This city needs entertainment. Tell President Musharraf.
Snippets from Adershir Cowasjee’s talk:
“When I was a kid, there were 10 of us in each car on the way to school – not like these days, one person in each car and, that too, an official car. That is why there are traffic jams.”
Story about Pakistan’s first shipping company – the Muhammadi Shipping Company. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah started planning to set up this company as early as 1946. He sent Yusuf Haroon from Bombay to Karachi to speak with Rustum Cowasjee about buying his shipping company. Rustum refused to believe that Jinnah had asked to see him, telling Yusuf, “you never tell the truth”.
When Yusuf Haroon (who was Jinnah’s C-in-C and bodyguard) came back and reported this to Jinnah in Bombay, Jinnah supposedly said “He’s right- you never do tell the truth” – and he then wrote a letter to Rustum requesting him to come to Bombay. So of course Rustum went.
Jinnah offered to buy his company saying that the new country would need a shipping line – Rustum told the Quaid that there was no point in buying his company, that he only had 6 ships, Pakistan would need at least 200. So Jinnah asked him to set up a new company, and buy the necessary ships. He collected Rs. 2 Crore and Pakistan’s first shipping company was thus registered in Bombay.
Asked for more stories about Jinnah, Mr. Cowasjee said, “What is there to say? He was a real gentleman. And it was because of him that we have Pakistan. So many people say that they sacrificed a lot for Pakistan but no … if he hadn’t been here at that time, there would be no Pakistan. He founded Pakistan.”
When asked: Bhutto was your friend but he sent you to jail? Ardeshir said “Yes, so?” Three station house officers came to arrest him from his house, telling him that he should feel honoured that so many officers had been sent to arrest him. It was no matter that there was no warrant or show cause notice, no legal reason for his arrest. The person responsible for his release from jail, he said, was mainly Bhutto’s mistress Husna – he said people in government were more frightened of her than they were of Bhutto. She put a lot of pressure on Bhutto for Cowasjee’s release. He turned to some of the men, smiled and said “You know that the pressure of a mistress cannot be ignored – especially not someone like Husna.”
Cowasjee says that in the early days of Pakistan, Jinnah’s prediction had been that “Each successive government will be worse than the last.” And apparently, says Ardeshir, he was right.
Abdul Sattar Edhi is known to have recently said: “There are only two real Muslims in Pakistan – Roland De Souza of Shehri and Ardeshir Cowasjee.”
About Dr. Abdus Salam – Ardeshir says he asked him once, “So are you a Pakistani or not? When you get an award, you are accepted as one, otherwise you are labeled a non-Muslim, a non-Pakistani. To which Dr. Abdus Salam who was Ardeshir’s contemporary, said: “Does it really matter?”
Ardeshir Cowasjee has always been an amazing man – and tonight, as always, even though he rambled on about a lot of things that many of us didn’t understand, he was interesting to listen to. True to himself, he also cursed and was casually dismissive of a number of things.
When asked for his advice to the young people of Karachi, he said: if you can get out of Pakistan, get out now! And what if one couldn’t get out, then what? His answer: “then suffer.”
He was a riot and most people were in stitches at the stories he had to relate and, more so, in the manner that he related them. He has been, since the twenties, a colourful part of this city and he remains so today.
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