Ardeshir Cowasjee at T2F

July 20, 2007 at 6:57 pm 15 comments

ArdeshirI 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.

the waiting karachiites

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.”

Adeshir at t2f

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.”

holding court

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.

kids_lapping_it_up

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15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Arsalaan Haleem  |  July 21, 2007 at 10:13 pm

    An excellent write-up. Though, you missed out on the interesting anecdote about the Gandhi’s statue that remained in AC’s garage for safe keeping.

    In case, you are wondering, I was the one sitting right behind you in the Yellow Shirt.

    Reply
  • 2. Jehan  |  July 21, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    Actually I did put in that anecdote Arsalan but then I removed it thinking it was too long and complicated. But since you have requested it, here it is:

    According to Mr. Cowasjee, the Quaid-e-Azam was really concerned about anyone being hurt or injured in the riots following the partition. He went to the extreme of asking Yusuf Haroon to have Gandhi’s statue moved to a safe place so that no-one would damage it.

    Yusuf asked Ardeshir and his buddies to wrap it up and take it to the police station for safekeeping. The trip to the police station was a waste of time because at 3 a.m. it was locked up and there was no-one who was available. So the statue was moved to the Cowasjee home. They tried to shift it to the Indian High Commissioner’s home the next day but he refused to take it because he was afraid the rioters would burn down his house.

    So it remained a guest of the Cowasjees until it was moved to the Indian High Commission where it still resides. Throughout this ordeal, the only damage to the statue was that Mr. Gandhi’s glasses broke. Other than that it was none the worse for wear.

    Reply
  • 3. jamash  |  July 22, 2007 at 1:20 am

    Indeed an excellent coverage, Thank you blogging it🙂

    Reply
  • 4. Arsalaan Haleem  |  July 22, 2007 at 2:20 am

    Police Station??

    I thought that they took it to their school (BVS) but the chowkidar didn’t let them stored the statue there. Or rather, the school was closed……I think this what he (AC) said.

    Reply
  • 5. Tj  |  July 22, 2007 at 2:36 am

    Perhaps you should think about writing for Travelogue!

    Well narrated.

    Reply
  • 6. Tj  |  July 22, 2007 at 2:37 am

    Let it rest, Ars.

    Reply
  • 7. Jehan  |  July 22, 2007 at 7:15 am

    You are probably right about it being BVS – and not the police station! I stand corrected.🙂

    Reply
  • 8. vivido  |  July 22, 2007 at 7:39 am

    nicely written. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • 9. mansoor  |  July 23, 2007 at 2:00 am

    beautifully written jehan.

    im sorry i missed out on the event, wanted to come badly.. but alas!

    Reply
  • 10. Jawwad, Desi Back to Desh  |  July 23, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Really wanted to be there but had issues with the baby sitting arrangement.

    I think t2f is doing really well on the event front and filling a major gap in our social scenes. We could use more events like these.

    Reply
  • 11. sumaiyya  |  July 23, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    very nicely written!
    thanks for sharing.!

    Reply
  • 12. omar r. quraishi  |  July 23, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    yes — well-written jehan — you should write for a newspaper

    Reply
  • 13. rahmat masih  |  August 5, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    Before soliciting journalists from among bloggers (Ghazab, Omar Saheb!) may I suggest you ask them for an opinion of your paper and of your own writings. You may wish to withdraw your suggestion.

    Reply
  • 14. MJ  |  August 14, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    *sigh* If still in Pakistan I’d give up anything to be there…
    I’m more than convinced his session must have been a riot. I had a chance to meet AC once too – stuck in zamzama traffic…

    i was stuck in zamzama traffic once and saw AC in his mercedes with his driver… and it so happened that I was stuck right next to his car. As I looked over I saw him staring intently at me or lost in thought but whatver it was it gave me the opportunity to boldly smile back at him and I quickly mouthed the words ” I love your writings” He responded by giving me the most beautiful smile ever and I cant explain the feeling!

    It is our absolute fortune to still be blessed with senior and knowledgeable people like AC himself. A thumbs up to t2f for these terrific opportunities.

    Reply
  • 15. Hamid  |  August 17, 2009 at 6:59 am

    Very well written. Listening AC is always a good experience. I like him as guest in TV shows. He gets very provocative. A real asset for Pakistan.

    Reply

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