Two takes on Karachi

Steve Inskeep,  born June 16, 1968 (age 44)) is one of the current hosts of Morning Edition on National Public Radio. He, along with co-host Renée Montagne, were assigned as interim hosts to succeed Bob Edwards after NPR reassigned Edwards to Senior Correspondent after April 30, 2004. Inskeep and Montagne were officially named hosts of Morning Edition in December 2004. Prior to being host of Morning Edition, he was NPR’s transportation correspondent and the host of Weekend All Things Considered.

Inskeep is the author of Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi published in October 2011. The book looks at changes in Karachi, Pakistan as it grew dramatically in the second half of the Twentieth Century. Inskeep has made several trips to Pakistan in his role at NPR.[1]

Inskeep was raised in CarmelIndiana, and graduated from Morehead State University in MoreheadKentucky, in 1990. His first professional experience in radio was a stint as a sportscaster at WMKY-FM in Morehead.

(from Wikipedia)

What follows is a transcript of ‘Two takes on Karachi from Leading Citizens’, originally published on June 3, 2008. I came across this on Twitter today and thought it was in keeping with the current bunch of posts I’ve been putting up here.

To give you a clue, Fatima Bhutto is the daughter of (late) Murtaza Bhutto and Afghan-Pashtun Fauzia Fasihuddin Bhutto, who divorced when she was three. Later, Murtaza Bhutto married Ghinwa, a Lebanese ballet teacher, whom Fatima considers to be her real mother and political mentor. She made a name for herself over the years, but shot to fame after penning ‘Songs of Sword and Blood’. Belonging to the Bhutto clan, being extremely pretty and dating George Clooney didn’t hurt either.

(photo credit Amean J.)

Ardeshir Cowasjee passed away a few days ago, if you happened to glance at my previous post. Fellow Pakistanis need no further introduction. He was a fun guy and his death feels like a real loss somehow. Sadly, there may not be many patrons of the city who were as devoted as Cowasjee. “He was a man of means and he wasn’t greedy. Most people don’t have the time for public interest – becoming richer than they already are.”

(photo from Dawn.com)

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I’m Renee Montagne at NPR West.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I’m Steve Inskeep in one of the largest cities in the world. We’re reporting this week from Karachi, Pakistan. It’s part of the Urban Frontier, the name we’ve given our series on changing cities, and we’re about to see that change at it looks to two of Karachi’s leading citizens.

Both have found ways to speak out, even in times of military rule and political violence. One of them bears Pakistan’s most famous last name. She’s Fatima Bhutto.

Ms. FATIMA BHUTTO (Writer, Columnist): Karachi is a city unlike any other I’ve ever visited. This is a city of immense importance, but it’s also a very sad city because of what’s happened here, because of what continues to happen here.

INSKEEP: Fatima Bhutto met us in the home office that her late Aunt Benazir once used. Her grandfather, another prime minister, used the same office until he was hanged. Her grandfather appears in a huge painting on the wall, shouting to a crowd. His granddaughter does her shouting in print. She’s a writer. Read some of her newspaper columns, and it becomes clear that she was a vocal opponent of her own aunt’s government. She says the reason was a series of killings here in Karachi.

The other column that struck me may be difficult to talk about, but it was the one that you wrote after your aunt Benazir Bhutto was killed, in which you attempted to remember her fondly but made it clear, as I recall, from the first line, you never agreed, or you did not agree with her policies.

Ms. BHUTTO: No. Benazir Bhutto’s interior minister, a man named Nassir Lababer(ph), who most notably heralded the Taliban in Afghanistan as my boys, launched, really, I mean, an operation of ethnic cleansing against this city, against a city that through troubles, through violence and through danger, has always managed to survive, has always coexisted with its differences.

INSKEEP: Because you wrote about your unhappiness while she was alive, I wonder, did you ever talk with her about that?

Ms. BHUTTO: Well my father, my father Mir Murtaza Bhutto, was killed during her last government. On his way home from a public meeting, his car was stopped. There were 70 to 100 policemen outside out house. Some were in trees in sniper positions. They fired. They fired at the men. Seven men died that night – two, including my father, from point-blank injuries. My father was shot on the side of his face besides receiving other injuries.

By the time my mother and I left the house to go look for him in the hospital -we left about 45 minutes later because the police didn’t let us leave earlier -the streets were clean. You know, we didn’t see any glass on the roads. We didn’t see any blood because they’d washed it up. You know, the police were not arrested. The police were, they were cleared, honorably cleared in an internal review and restored to their posts, whereas the witnesses were all arrested and spent several months in jail.

And I did – I mean, I last spoke to my aunt about that. I called her when I found out that the witnesses had been arrested and the police reinstated, and I asked her why that was. And she told me – I was 14 at the time. She told me that I was very young and I didn’t understand the intricacies of the law, and it’s not like the movies. We do things differently here.

So I don’t feel really that she answered my questions in any way that was meaningful. I wish she had, because they are questions – these are questions that resurfaced after she was killed.

INSKEEP: That’s Fatima Bhutto, one of the leading citizens of Karachi, Pakistan. She is often asked if she’ll follow her famous relatives into public office. She’s dismissed the idea so often that when we visited, we didn’t even bother to ask. And then we got to wondering if that was a mistake. The local newspaper showed her working a rope line of admirers as her mother talked about placing her in the National Assembly. It was Fatima Bhutto’s birthday party. She’s 26.

That same day, we listened to a very different independent voice in Karachi. He’s a man who’s been involved in Pakistan’s politics for decades. In fact, he was briefly imprisoned in the 1970s by Fatima Bhutto’s grandfather. You reach him by crossing a brilliant green lawn. It’s surrounded by trees and a stone wall. Then you step into a cool, stone house where you meet a white-bearded man.

Without so much as a hello, he leads you directly to the bar.

Mr. ARDESHIR COWASJEE (Columnist, Dawn Newspaper): (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: The man pours himself a glass of orange juice and quinine. His name is Ardeshir Cowasjee. He’s a columnist for the newspaper Dawn. He recently referred to Pakistan’s founder as that man of great perception, and then added there were no others to follow him.

When you were born? Where you born? And say your name.

Mr. COWASJEE: Karachi, 1926. I was born here, I lived here, I grew up here.

INSKEEP: You must remember a very different, much smaller city.

Mr. COWASJEE: Oh, yes, a very nice city. There was discipline. There was law and order. Nobody would kill. I mean, a chap got killed once in two years.

INSKEEP: Cowasjee is 82. He grew up in this port city. His family owned cargo ships. He still keeps paintings of two ships on his wall.

Unlike other non-Muslims, Cowasjee stayed in Pakistan after it was formed as an Islamic state. He stayed even after the government nationalized his family’s shipping firm.

Why did you decide that?

Mr. 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?

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

INSKEEP: I would like to tell you that Cowasjee is as elegant in person as he is in print. It’s better to say that he’s the keeper of his own style. He greeted us at the door wearing shorts and a bathrobe. He invited our producer to remove her scarf – and also, if she wanted, her shirt.

People in Karachi know that he acts as he wants, but they take his columns seriously. He’s the kind of writer who’s willing to compare some provincial official to an out-of-touch French king. He’s also become involved in one of Karachi’s central issues: the use of land. He joins lawsuits to stop developers from misusing land. He fights to preserve open space, though he says he wins no more than one time in 10.

In spite of losing nine out of 10 cases in your view, is there something essential about this city that is left to save, that is worthwhile?

Mr. COWASJEE: You see the trees in my garden? You see the little plot outside my garden? It’s constant war all the time for the last 50 years.

INSKEEP: Constant war over his garden. He is gesturing toward a strip of land just outside his wall. It was marked off years ago for development, but Cowasjee planted trees there and has managed to keep it green ever since.

Is there a way, then, that all this time that you’ve been writing about this city and its development and its government or mis-government, that you’ve been basically defending your own yard?

Mr. COWASJEE: My own bottom. What sort people don’t understand about that? I’m looking after my own backside.

INSKEEP: Well, thank you very much for taking the time to speak.

Mr. COWASJEE: Have lunch and get out.

INSKEEP: Ardeshir Cowasjee stands up, he gestures into the next room and says that’s my library. He’s looking at a floor-to-ceiling window that shows his lawn and those trees. His dining-room chair is positioned so that he can look out of that window whenever he takes his meals alone.

Our stories from the urban frontier are collected at npr.org, and you can find some of Cowasjee’s columns there, as well. We are reporting all week from Karachi, one of the world’s largest cities, on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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13 thoughts on “Two takes on Karachi

  1. indiajones November 28, 2012 / 4:09 pm

    Please correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t Ardeshir Cowasjee born in Quetta, Pakistan, like the late inimitable editor of the Indian tabloid Blitz, Russi Karanjia ? – Another Parsee to boot ! Though one adopted Karachi as home, and the other, Mumbai.
    One thing to be learnt from the Parsees, is that they adopt the country, even the city, where they live in, as their own. CR Irani of the Statesman, Calcutta, is another example…I used to hear his speeches live, as a kid. If you take the names of Parsees in law and industry, it would be practically one too many to be exemplary, like Tata and Palkhivala, and even Wadia ( connected with Jinnah, Founder of Pakistan ).
    Best Wishes .

    • Munira November 28, 2012 / 4:16 pm

      Nope, he was born in Karachi, and remained a pucca Karachiite to the end! 🙂
      I have a very strong connection with the Parsi community, since I went to a Parsi school for the first 12 years of my schooling life, and you’re right, they’ve done a lot for Karachi since they first arrived here. Karachi’s first mayor was in fact a Parsi (can’t recall his name now) and the wealthy ones contributed a lot towards public welfare as philanthropists. Invaluable people I tell you. It’s sad their numbers are dwindling the way they are…
      My mother’s best friend is a Parsi by the way……it helps that both our communities are Gujarati speakers 🙂
      http://munirazoom.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/mum-in-mama-school-late-40s-spilling-over-into-the-50s/

      • Munira November 28, 2012 / 4:28 pm

        p.s Just found out…the first mayor of Karachi was Jamshed Nusserwanji Mehta, from November 1933 to August 1934…

        • indiajones November 28, 2012 / 4:56 pm

          Aw, well, have it your way, but can’t help reproducing the following from Wikipedia:

          “”””””
          Rustom Khurshedji Karanjia (September 15, 1912 – February 1, 2008) was an Indian journalist and editor. He typically signed his reports as “R. K. Karanjia”.
          Karanjia was born in Quetta now in Pakistan; Quetta is also the birthplace of Ardeshir Cowasjee, a Dawn columnist.[1] “””””””

          It’s just a technicality, but I think someone in Wiki got it right !

          Coming to the larger Parsee community, I can’t help but think, that perhaps because of their rigourous rules about inter-marriage within their own community, which is largely contributory to their diminishing numbers, they have either produced geniuses and top-calibre people who contributed to the growth of social well-being, or nincompoops/duds, who provided a source of companionable merriment. Yes, I had the privilege, of such company, years ago, in Irani restaurants in Mumbai, frequent haunts of the Parsee community – and suspected that I am one such of the latter brigade, myself.

          As for Fatima Bhutto, she may be a rank outsider now, but some quiet young folks in Pakistan do think that many years down the line, ” just you watch “….she is going to don the mantle of leadership !

          GK, Chennai.

          • Munira November 28, 2012 / 5:10 pm

            Well, now, the plot thickens! Let me do some more research and get back to you….
            Have you heard of Quratulain Hyder? I recently read a story by her in which the central characters are Parsi. It was in Urdu, but I transcribed it into English for some of my Indian friends who can’t read the Urdu script. They loved it! I’m planning to put that story up on my blog soon….wonder if you’d be interested in reading it?

          • indiajones November 29, 2012 / 10:46 am

            Yes, Munira Begum, I would most certainly be interested in reading Quratulain Hyder. I have heard of her, spoken of in venerable terms, but do regret that I never got round to reading her. Sure you would do a lot of people a favour by putting it up in your blog, not just me.

  2. Sid Dunnebacke December 1, 2012 / 2:45 am

    I love WordPress – here I can learn about Ardeshir Cowasjee from a very wise woman from Pakistan, via a story on NPR’s Morning Edition, which I listen to most days! I’m going to try to find this report, as I’d like to listen to Cowasjee. He’s an ornery fellow, isn’t he? Not what I expected after reading your prior post.

  3. huge December 1, 2012 / 10:08 pm

    Accord to our media Pakistan is all about the Taliban, terrorism and blasphemy laws. So what I love about your blog is that we get to know that your country is so much much much more. You tell us about the amazing places, food, family, culture and, of course, people – I’ll be finding out more about Ardeshir Cowasjee…

    • Munira December 8, 2012 / 12:11 pm

      It’s good to work in this unofficial ambassadorial way 🙂

  4. Yasmin Elahi May 22, 2014 / 9:59 am

    Interesting write up..though I am not very keen on the Bhutto clan but remained a big fan of A.Cowasjee. In fact made it a point to read his weekly columns in Dawn! But in his end years there were some points on which I disagreed. Blaming Islam for everything right and left is not fair, because we should blame the errant followers not a religion if things are going in a wrong direction!

    • Munira May 22, 2014 / 11:12 am

      Just something I stumbled across by chance and I thought I’d share it here on my blog as it seemed relevant in wake of Cowasjee’s passing. You’re right, he became more than a little acerbic…though really, who can blame him for becoming so embittered. Not blaming religion is a point that shall remain moot….there is a very good reason why all followers tend to become errant. Religions have not evolved very well, have they? Just saying 🙂

  5. indiajones May 22, 2014 / 4:48 pm

    I just couldn’t let this pass. I forgot all about this post, till the sudden comments, two years on. First, having read Cowasjee’s write-ups for about four years till he passed away, I can say for sure, there never ever did he “blame” Islam, as Yasmin Elahi put it. If anything, he only found fault with the manner in which it is practiced today, above all the way in which it was thrust down others’ throats, take it or else…as if one size of shalwar or suit fits all, or one medicine for everyone cures all ills.
    Meantime, I think I will read your cat story, last post, again, to assure myself that the world is still a wonderful place to live in.

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