A tribute to the renowned columnist, Amina Jilani (1937-2017).
Amina Jilani, who died in December at the age of 79, was a woman of strong opinions, and had no qualms about expressing them. The columns she contributed to DAWN, The Nation and The Express Tribune were forceful indictments of the powerful, whether in or out of the government. The issues Jilani wrote about were close to her heart, ranging from matters of democracy and governance to human rights, and the need for a clean environment. She certainly did not have party favourites and politicians of all hues were equally targeted by her acerbic pen, although those in uniform were handled a little more gently.
For many years, Jilani appeared to be in the shadow of her long-time friend, employer and popular DAWN columnist, Ardeshir Cowasjee. In fact, I first met Jilani when I took an out of town journalist friend to meet Cowasjee at his home. Cowasjee was a larger than life figure and yet Jilani, I sensed, played a major role in helping him formulate his thoughts. Without exactly interrupting the flow of conversation, she prompted him with information and jogged his memory when it lapsed.
While it would have been difficult for many to work in proximity to Cowasjee – known for his strong opinions and language – it was easy for Jilani as she shared many of his opinions and positions on issues.
However, Jilani soon made a name for herself as a regular newspaper columnist. She wrote under the byline ‘Jaywalker’ in DAWN for many years before moving to The Nation to write under her own name. She seemed to have finally found a niche for herself in The Express Tribune for which she continued to contribute a weekly column until she was too ill to do so. Her anguish at the frequent loss of life (as a result of terrorism) and the apathy displayed was expressed in a mixture of anger and sorrow in a column she wrote for The Express Tribune: “‘Yet another bomb blast benumbs Quetta’, reads one headline on October 26, 2016, when the news of the attack on the police academy on the night of October 24 broke in the press. It should not only be Quetta that is benumbed, but the entire nation, including the heads of government and army. How many more of Pakistan’s youth are going to be eliminated through the State’s confused and confusing policies, and the perceived needs and dangerous support by both military and civil leaderships which are definitely not on the ‘same page’ – not that they have ever been since the inception of the country?”
Jilani’s family was originally from Bahawalpur. Although educated in England and well-travelled, Jilani’s concerns related closely to developments in Pakistan. After working abroad for many years, she settled in Karachi in the early 80s and joined the Cowasjee Group. She primarily managed Ardeshir Cowasjee’s home-based office and as their friendship grew, began to look after his health as well. While it would have been difficult for many to work in proximity to Cowasjee – known for his strong opinions and language – it was easy for Jilani as she shared many of his opinions and positions on issues. As she battled cancer, it was appropriately the Cowasjee family that cared for her until her final days.
Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum Y&R.