Remembrances
4:16 am
Mon November 26, 2012

Renowned Pakistani Columnist Cowasjee Dies At 86

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 8:44 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's remember another man who was resilient in a struggling country. Ardeshir Cowasjee has died at the age of 86. He was a newspaper columnist in Pakistan, though that phrase does not quite capture him. He was old enough to recall his country's independence in 1947. He was the offspring of a wealthy family and the owner of a shipping line which the government nationalized in the 1970s.

He was a religious minority - a Zoroastrian - in an overwhelmingly Muslim country that became increasingly intolerant. Yet he remained one of his country's most outspoken citizens. When we met in Karachi 2008, I wondered why he didn't leave. Why did you decide that?

ARDESHIR COWASJEE: Where you want - why should I leave my home? Who the hell are you?

INSKEEP: Is there something that you love about this city?

COWASJEE: I'm 82. Where do you want me to end up, in an old people's home in America?

INSKEEP: Instead he remained in his own Pakistani home, a stone house in the city, where he kept paintings on the walls of ships he'd once owned and welcomed guests while wearing a bathrobe. He had his own style. He'd been in politics once, until he was thrown in jail. Afterward he wrote letters to the editor of the English-language newspaper Dawn and wrote them well enough that he was offered a column.

He managed for a quarter-century to skewer Islamists and intolerance and corrupt officials and more. In a country obsessed with its constantly convoluted politics - which personality was up or down - the old man kept his eye on the future. He wrote about parks, and preserving open spaces, and land use, and pollution.

In short, he wrote about all those basic things in the developing world that enrich people's lives when done properly and shorten people's lives when they're not. In late 2011, he declared he was sick of his country's decline and that he was finally done writing. But even after that he wrote a little more.

To understand Ardeshir Cowasjee's achievement, consider that the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Pakistan among the world's more dangerous countries for reporters. More than a few outspoken correspondents have been killed, but Cowasjee, carefully choosing his targets and relying on his prestige, endured. He succeeded in doing something that's not easy in Pakistan. He died of natural causes after a lifetime of saying what he thought. It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.