23 June 2011

Letter from Ardeshir Cowasjee to Mr. Justice (R) Sardar Muhammad Iqbal

Ardeshir Cowasjee is arguably Pakistan's most influential columnist. He's lost the bite he had a decade ago - and they are hundreds of aspirants to the title - but, back in the day, the Cowasjee column was The Last Word.

Before he became Dawn's Sunday centrepiece, he was a letter writer. It was his wit and turn of phrase in this avatar that got him the column (and maybe the fact that he's also very influential and would have got it if he'd asked anyway).

So anyway, like I said in my previous post, while looking for something, I found something else. In this case, it was a letter Cowasjee wrote to Mr. Justice (Retired) Sardar Muhammad Iqbal on his appointment as Wafaqi Mohtasib (Federal Ombudsman).

I've scanned a copy of the letter that I have. It is epic on so many levels.

But in case you can't make it out, I've transcribed it below:


Ardeshir Cowasjee 10 Mary Road Karachi 0402

Wednesday September 14 1983

My dear Sardar Iqbal,

Congratulations! Placed as you are, high up in the hierarchy, I am sure you will be able to do some good.

While doing good, I hope you will effectively deal with sycophancy, the destructive weapon of the low. Somebody has even tried to call you God Almighty (MUSLIM September 6). A blasphemous act by any book, then I suppose you will forgive him. It is not peculiar to our country alone to call somebody God. Many a member of Brooks has entered the club having been awarded the CMG wearing an expression saying “Call Me God”, and when he gets the KCMG, “Kindly Call Me God”, but on trying hard and being elevated to GCMG his expression conveys to those around him that even “God Calls Me God”.

The complaint I make today (No. 001 for identification purposes) is against the Ministry of Information. I charge them with overexposing our President, bringing him and his Government into disrepute and harassing the people in the process.

Please have counted how many times the word “ZIA” appears in the newspapers. And, as if enough is not enough, they headline him over columns unnecessarily. A bus falls into a ravine and “ZIA SHOCKED”, a 98 year old poet dies and “ZIA GRIEVED”, an earthquake in Bulgaria and again “ZIA SHOCKED”; the President of Oongabonga dies (probably of overeating the wrong flesh) and we again read “ZIA GRIEVED”. Rene Frank dies, but the headline reads “ZIA CONDOLES DEATH OF RENE FRANK” (DAWN September 10). Such headlines appear so frequently and repeatedly that we get the impression that we are being ruled by a President in a perpetual state of either shock or grief.

The again, our men of the Ministry forget that Marconi established wireless communication in 1897 and it is times like the present when men like me and many others bring out their transistors and wait for Lillibudero. The BBC said at 0700 on September 11 that the President’s car was stoned at Dadu, that there were disturbances and hostile demonstrations, and that tear gas had to be used. Half an hour later, DAWN and MORNING STAR headlines read “NO POLITICAL UNREST IN SIND SAYS GEN ZIA”. The continuation columns were headed “NO UNREST IN SIND”. Of course, we know that what the BBC says is not gospel, but then its credibility is better than that of our Ministry and its is heard all over the world. It is a very powerful weapon and ways must be thought of to counter whatever they may falsely say. Mere saying that its new head is a Yehudi will not help.

The TV men run a close second. They invariably bring on the President at the wrong time, disrupting people’s expectations. The man who has been waiting to see his favourite serial, or the one good film of the week, is antagonized when Sadar-i-Mumulekat is brought on instead. An incident which you may remember occurred some summers back. For once in its life, PNSC had done something right and bought time to show the Wimbledon finals live. Offices and shops were closed, people stopped doing what they were doing, and then, lo and behold, on came our President and he outlasted the finals. He could have been shown at any other better time, unlike the live Wimbledon finals.

The InfoMin men traditionally contribute largely to their masters’ downfall. You will no doubt remember the Rotiman (the innovator of the Black press laws). He ‘discovered’ the man in Saidu who had heard an ‘avaz’ calling upon him to seek his maker, failing which, his apostle. He then had a great dream which told him he didn’t have to go for there existed such a man in Rawalpindi. Overwhelmed with joy and happiness, the Saidu man spun, wove and stitched a woollen choga and trekked to ‘Pindi’. And the next thing we say on the front page of the PAKISTAN TIMES (a good paper in Mian’s days – MHSRIP) was Ayub Khan wearing that choga which fitted him well - - even the sleeve length was perfect. Then came FRIENDS NOT MASTERS, then “Decade of Development”, and then rot. The Rotiman has gone SOUTH, but word has it that he wants to come home. Lately he lectures our Press extolling the “Freedom of the Press”.

Bhutto’s Nasim Ahmed was no better. By the time he finished, the people were wrought into one. No one, just no one, believed what he made the Press print, or the box say.

At present our media is not beyond redemption. You have got an able Secretary. Your Ministry can perhaps do something.

I hope you are well.

Good wishes

Yours sincerely

Ardeshir Cowasjee

Sardar Mohammad Iqbal



PS: The mail being undependable, perhaps someone would be kind enough to acknowledge receipt of this communication.


(1) The God Calls Me God routine is from Yes, Minister a well known and well-loved satire that, rumour has it, was taken off PTV because it was being taken too seriously!

(2) I have no idea who Rene Frank was/is.

22 June 2011

How Mian Jan got a job

My grandfather, Syed Mahmood Alam, was a tennis player. He has the distinction of playing Wimbledon twice: Once as an Indian and then as a Pakistani.

Few people know that tennis is also how my grandfather landed his first job.

Last night, while I was searching for something else, I came across a note he wrote about how he was hired. I thought I would share it with you.