The Softer Side of Mr. Jinnah

Posted on March 21, 2009
Filed Under >Darwaish, History, People
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Darwaish

(This is the first in a series of special posts to celebrate Pakistan Day 2009.)

More than 61 years have passed since the death of founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. But even today, nothing about Jinnah seems ordinary —not his legal career, politics, personal life, his legacy and even the property he left behind.

The great South Asian intellectual Eqbal Ahmed once described Jinnah as an enigma of modern history. His aristocratic English lifestyle, Victorian manners, and secular outlook rendered him a most unlikely leader of India’s Muslims. Yet, he led them to separate statehood, creating history, and in Saad R. Khairi’s apt phrase, “altering geography”.

Much has been written about Jinnah’s legal career, politics, his role as a founder of Pakistan and his vision, but even today, very little is known about Jinnah’s personal life. This was probably because Jinnah never had time to write a diary or an autobiography and whatever little he wrote was formal and matter of fact.

For most of his life, he remained reserved, taciturn and secretive. He wrote his will in May, 1939, but it was only after his death that Liaquat Ali Khan, his close associate and the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, came to know that he was its trustee and executor. His only child, Dina Wadia, has hardly ever spoken about her father in public. So furious was Jinnah with Dina that he disowned her after she married a Parsi man against his wishes, and yet he left two lacs for her in his will. Akbar Ahmed’s movie Jinnah had just ten to fifteen minutes on Jinnah’s personal life, which are nowhere near enough.


Jinnah’s first wife, fourteen year old Emibai from Paneli village, died just eight months after he left for London at age sixteen in 1892, to join Graham’s Shipping and Trading Company, which conducted business with his father in Karachi. It was a forced marriage, as Jinnah’s mother was afraid that if he went to England, he might end up marrying an English girl. He barely knew Emibai.

Jinnah’s second marriage with the most beautiful girl of Bombay – Ruttie: The Flower of Bombay – was like a fairy tale. It began in the summer of 1916 in Darjeeling or “Town of the Thunderbolt” (how appropriate considering what was to happen there).

Jinnah had established himself as a lawyer and a politician by then and had become friends with Sir Dinshaw Maneckjee Petit, the son of one of the richest and most devoutly orthodox Parsis of the 19th century. The Petit`s chateau overlooked Mount Everest and it was there Jinnah met his only daughter Ruttenbai Petit or Ruttie as she was popularly called. Merely sixteen at that time, Ruttie was a charming young girl. Stanley Wolpert writes in Jinnah of Pakistan:

“Precociously bright, gifted in every art, beautiful in every way. As she matured, all of her talents, gifts and beauty were magnified in so delightful and unaffected a manner that she seemed a fairy princess”.

A dazzling beauty and full of life, Ruttie had exquisite taste and affable manners. Quick-witted, she was easily one of the best dressed and most popular women among the elitist circles of Bombay. She was intellectually far more mature than other girls of her age, with diverse interests ranging from poetry (Oscar Wilde being her favorite, whom she often recited) to politics. Her large collection of books, which remained in Jinnah’s possession after her death, reflected her deep interest in poetry, literature, history, occultism, mysticism and sorcery. She was an excellent horse-rider. She attended all public meetings and was inspired by Annie Besant’s Home Rule League. A fierce supporter of India for Indians, Ruttie was once asked about rumors of Jinnah’s possible knighthood and whether she would like to be Lady Jinnah. She snapped that she would rather be separated from her husband than take on an English title.

Jinnah on the other hand also had a special interest in acting and in Shakespeare’s dramas. While in London, he had acted in some Shakespearean plays and even considered seriously taking up acting as a profession. It was his dream to play Romeo at The Globe in London. Khwaja Razi Haider thinks it was probably Jinnah’s deep interest in Shakespeare that gave him insight into the intricacies of the human character, which he was to use for grasping the essentials of Indian politics.

Jinnah was thirty-nine and Ruttie sixteen, but the age difference proved no obstacle in their love. Love has no logic. He was enamored by her beauty and charm and she was awe- struck by “Jay”, as she called him. Jinnah asked Sir Dinshaw for Ruttie’s hand in marriage, who became furious and refused. Jinnah repeatedly pleaded his case but Dinshaw never gave in, as Jinnah had a different faith and he was more than twice Ruttie’s age. Their friendship ended and Dinshaw forbade Ruttie from meeting Jinnah while she lived in his house. He even got a court injunction restraining Jinnah from meeting her (a pity no biographer has yet traced the court papers). The couple continued to meet secretly, and patiently waited for two years until February 1918 when Ruttie turned eighteen, and was free to marry. She walked out of her parental home to which she was never to return, and converted to Islam at Bombay’s Jamia Mosque, under the Muslim Shiite doctrine, on April 18, 1918.

The very next day, Jinnah and Ruttie got married in a quiet ceremony at Jinnah’s Malabar Hill house in Bombay. Located in a most highly-priced area today, with Maharashtra’s Chief Minister as its next-door neighbor, Jinnah House remains a dispute between India, Pakistan and Dina Wadia. Jinnah owned another house at 10 Aurangzeb Road, Delhi, which he sold just before Partition for Rs 3 lacs. The Dutch Ambassador to India lives there now. The Raja Sahib of Mahmudabad, who signed as Jinnah’s witness, and a few other friends, attended the wedding. Maulana Muhammad Hasan Najafi was Ruttie’s witness. Jinnah presented the wedding ring to Ruttie, a gift from Raja Sahab, and paid Rs 125,000 as haq mehr . Nobody from Ruttie’s family attended the wedding. Interestingly, the Nikah Nama stated “Ruttenbai” as the bride’s name instead of Marium, her Islamic name. The honeymoon was first at Raja Sahab’s Nainitaal mansion, and then at the Maidens Hotel, a magnificent property just beyond the Red Fort.

Gandhi’s grandson Raj Mohan Gandhi writes about the wedding in his book Understanding the Muslim Mind:

“For the first time in his life, a girl had absorbed Jinnah’s emotions. Living for sometime now in a large but somber Malabar Hill house, bowing to ladies (on occasional parties) and praising their sarees but otherwise keeping a distance from them, (he) fell in love with Ruttenbai. Joy and laughter entered Jinnah’s life. The Malabar Hill house became brighter.’ She presented him with a daughter, Dina. But, ‘Alas the happiness was not destined to last; Sarojni’s veiled prediction of trouble came true” .

Sarojni Naidu was a huge admirer of Jinnah, wrote several poems and prose pieces on him, and many historians believe she was in love with him. She wrote this about the wedding in a letter to Sir Syed’s son, Syed Mahmud:

“So Jinnah has at last plucked the Blue Flower of his desire. It was all very sudden and caused terrible agitation and anger among the Parsis; but I think the child has made far bigger sacrifices than she yet realises. Jinnah is worth it all – he loves her; the one really human and genuine emotion of his reserved and self-centred nature. And he will make her happy.”

The first few years of the marriage were a dream for Ruttie and Jinnah, the happiest time of their lives. They traveled across India, Europe and North America together. Ruttie watched with a great sense of pride the feverish political activity of her husband. She would be seen in the visitors’ gallery when Jinnah was due to speak, accompanied him to the High Court, and even attended the Nagpur session of the Congress in December 1920. According to Wolpert:

“They were a head- turning couple; he in his elegant suits, stitched in London, she with her long, flowing hair decked in flowers. There was no limit to their joy and satisfaction at that time. Their only woe was Ruttie’s complete isolation and ostracism from her family.”

Kanji Dwarkadas, a veteran leader of Congress and a close friend of the couple, who looked after Ruttie during her last days, wrote in his book Ruttie Jinnah: The story of a great friendship:

“For Jinnah, who was not generous in many matters, no expense was too great to satisfy the extravagant claims of the baronet’s spoilt child. During a visit to Kashmir, she spent Rs 50,000 in refurnishing the boathouse and Jinnah gladly paid all the bills. He treated her wonderfully well, and paid without a murmur all the bills necessitated by the luxurious life she led. Ruttie’s fabulous beauty, spontaneous wit, and immense charm have been praised to the neglect of her serious interests.”

Even though Ruttie was much younger than Jinnah, she made him a very happy man. They had no separate existence and Jinnah found her a great source of inspiration. He resigned from the Orient Club where he used to play chess and billiards. He was so deeply in love with Ruttie that he would return from the law courts on time each day and talk to her for hours on end.

Unfortunately, their happiness was short- lived and the marriage started to crack after 1922-3. What caused the ruination of the Jinnah-Ruttie marriage? Was it Jinnah’s busy political life and his inability to give enough time to Ruttie, their age difference, or their incompatibility of temperaments? He was cold, introverted and domineering. She was young, extroverted, glamorous. There is no clear answer but the fact remains that Ruttie and Jinnah still loved each other despite the rift in their marriage. It is evident in every letter Ruttie wrote during that period, and every book written on their relationship. She moved to London with Dina in 1922 and from there too, her heart was still set on her life with Jinnah. She wrote in a letter to Kanji in India:“And just one thing more – go and see Jinnah and tell me how he is – he has a habit of overworking himself and now that I am not there to tease and bother him, he will be worse than ever.”

After her return, the couple tried one more time to save their failing marriage and took a five-month tour to Europe and North America together. But the rift grew and by January 1928 they were virtually separated, when Ruttie became seriously ill with cancer. Shortly before her death, she wrote a letter to Jinnah from Marseilles, France where she had gone for treatment. It turned out to be her last letter to him (larger view of original hand-written letter with typed text here and here).

It is a pity that none of the letters that Jinnah wrote to Ruttie have ever been made public. M.C. Chagla, a former Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court and a diplomat at the UN, has described the last days of Ruttie and Jinnah’s marriage in his book “Roses in December”. Chagla knew the couple very well, as he assisted Jinnah at his chambers during that time. He idealized Jinnah but severed all ties when he began working on the idea of an independent state for the Muslims of India. He writes:

By 1927, Ruttie and Jinnah had virtually separated. Ruttie’s health deteriorated rapidly in the years after they returned from their final trip together. Ruttie lived at the Taj Hotel in Bombay, almost a recluse as she became more and more bed-ridden. Kanji continued to be her constant companion. By February 18, 1929 she had become so weak that all she could manage to say to him was a request to look after her cats. Two days later, Ruttie Petit Jinnah died. It was her 29th birthday.

She was buried on February 22 in Bombay according to Muslim rites. Jinnah sat like a statue throughout the funeral but when asked to throw earth on the grave, he broke down and wept. That was the only time when I found Jinnah betraying some shadow of human weakness. It’s not a well publicised fact that as a young student in England it had been one of Jinnah’s dreams to play Romeo at The Globe. It is a strange twist of fate that a love story that started like a fairy tale ended as a haunting tragedy to rival any of Shakespeare’s dramas.”

The second time Jinnah ever broke down was in August 1947 when he visited Ruttie’s grave one last time before leaving for Pakistan. The architect of Pakistan paid a high price for Partition by leaving two of his most beloved possessions on ‘the other’ side of the border, the Jinnah House on Malabar Hill where he had the happiest moments of his life, and his beloved wife Ruttie who remains buried in Bombay. Jinnah left India in August 1947, never to return again, but he left behind a piece of his heart in a little grave in a cemetery in Bombay.

Note: This essay builds on an earlier version, originally published at All Things Pakistan. Versions of this article have also appeared in The Friday Times and Pak Tea House. Ruttie Jinnah’s Last Letter and some other photographs have been taken (with permission) from Dr. Ghulam Nabi Kazi’s flickr page.

38 Comments on “The Softer Side of Mr. Jinnah”

  1. Ghani Sarfaraz says:
    March 22nd, 2009 1:07 am

    Dear Darwaish, this is a great post and even more wonderful photographs. Specially that ones of Mr. Jinnah relaxing, him with his daughter, and the one in the suit along with the stunning portrait of his wife. This is the Jinnah that we do not give enough attention to.

  2. ASAD says:
    March 22nd, 2009 2:43 am

    Excellent post.

    Very timely.

    We need to go back to Jinnah and his vision. And reject the vision of those like Sufi Mohammad!

    Thank you for this great post Darwaish.

  3. Kulbir says:
    March 22nd, 2009 4:49 am

    Its a wonderful piece and in fact a very rivetting one. I am one great amirer of Qaid but the literature furnished by you is engrossing as well as nostalgic.

    Kulbir

  4. March 22nd, 2009 7:06 am

    u must mention that mother Ruttie’s Muslim name was Maryam Jinnah

  5. Nida Beg says:
    March 22nd, 2009 7:30 am

    Wonderful piece of history. An excellent reminder of the human side of founder of Pakistan which we often tend to overlook. It breaks my heart to see the mess we have turned Jinnah’s Pakistan into. It wasn’t supposed to be like that

  6. March 22nd, 2009 7:54 am

    Like the first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion, Jinnah was a secular at heart but both countries turned into fiercely religious societies. I guess that is what we call irony.

    http://real-politique.blogspot.com

  7. Farrukh says:
    March 22nd, 2009 9:45 am

    That is a dashing picture of the couple at the beginning

  8. March 22nd, 2009 9:52 am

    Darwaish, another fabulous post by you. Also, I had a query: apart from Wolpert’s biography to which you have referred are there any other biographies of Jinnah you could direct me to? Thanks. Have upload your post on my blog.

  9. shahzad shameem says:
    March 22nd, 2009 9:58 am

    Wonderfull brother, kindly poste some more such unique rather antique pictures of our beloved father of Nation., Mohammad Ali Jinnah rahmat ullah alaih

  10. Manu says:
    March 22nd, 2009 10:26 am

    Somethings last for ever and Qaid was one person who will live forever in our hearts. This is great writing about a man who was amongst the greatest!

    Manu (India)

  11. AMIN PANAAWALA says:
    March 22nd, 2009 10:49 am

    No benifit to cry over split milk.We are very sensitive people.We are always confused in slogans.Leaders exploit us.We always think after thing is done.The matters we are now discussing that were to be discussed/thought before partition .FEASIBILITY?CONSEQUENCIES?People around him ,what they thought ,?what they have planned?As Panditjee planned.

  12. bonobashi says:
    March 22nd, 2009 11:22 am

    On a minor point of detail: no house in Darjeeling has a view of Mount Everest, to see which one has to travel a few miles to the summit of Tiger Hill – the peak is visible as a small feature in the far distance; on the other hand, Kanchendzonga seems to loom over the town. Possibly what was meant (the source of the passage is not clear) was the Mount Everest Hotel, run in later years by the Oberois, on Jalpahar, in which case the Petit villa must have been higher up on Jalpahar. One of the old Parsi families will presumably know.

  13. Mohsin Irshad says:
    March 22nd, 2009 12:21 pm

    He was a gem of a person. A modern, educated person but wanted an Islamic state(no offense to liberal fascists) .He knew Muslims will suffer in India because of the’ll be in minority. Majority will always rule the minority, doesnt matter how many laws you make .Thanks to him and Iqbal for providing us a separate homeland.

  14. sadar says:
    March 22nd, 2009 1:19 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this story.

  15. Shahzad says:
    March 22nd, 2009 5:03 pm

    125000 Haq Mehr in 1918… wow!! What is this amount like in 2009? Any idea?

  16. Abhinav says:
    March 22nd, 2009 7:01 pm

    As an Indian, seeing the state of affairs today, I admit that Jinnah was always on the right side of history.

    Gandhi was impractical and not-so-bright (for the need to stay polite) for trying to make an inclusive society where Hindus and Muslims can stay together. That attempt is still being carried out by many impractical leaders in India present in the Congress party.

    Jinnah had the wisdom to realize that segregation and division on basis of religion is the best way forward for all. But even after sixty years, the incompetent secular leaders of India have not gotten 1% of wisdom of what Jinnah had all along.

    That is why the state of India is where it is. A tension free and terrorism free India would have been on the way to compete with China, but now we are going in the path of destruction.

    If only we had a single Hindu leader like Jinnah, who could have ensured a complete partition and a Hindu state, we could have been much better off than today, and would have been a serious competitor to China.

    That is why I will always respect Jinnah as a man of foresight and wisdom. He could envision that the current state of India and determine that partition was the best way forward.

    The unfortunate thing is that even today, majority of Indians do not agree with me and they continue with the failed outcome of the attempt to make an inclusive and multicultural society by voting for Congress.

  17. Yasin says:
    March 22nd, 2009 7:02 pm

    Very nice post. Thank you.

    I think we have helped create a “superman” syndrome for Jinnah and have forgotten that he was a human and with all human emotions. This is a much more complete picture of Jinnah and one that inspires even more respect for him

  18. tariq khan says:
    March 22nd, 2009 7:57 pm

    thanks for a fasinating write up. you provide great informative pieces and this one has me waiting for the next one in the promised seies on my hero jinnah of pakistan your site is a daily more than once habit of mine and keeps in touch with my beloved pakistan even when the stories bring tears but nevertheless it is my pakistan with all its warts and thorns. thanks again to you and your talented team an admirer of atp Tariq k

  19. Shiraz says:
    March 22nd, 2009 9:04 pm

    very nice post! thanks.

    Does anyone know who were the role models of Quaid-e-Azam ?

  20. Bitter Harsh Truth says:
    March 23rd, 2009 5:43 am

    A truly fascinating post about the great man. A story many Pakistanis would never know.

    It is now our duty to take Pakistan forward and make the dream come true. We CAN if we work for it together.

  21. Murtaza Shah says:
    March 23rd, 2009 9:24 am

    This post was very touchy and excellent. I consider myself very strong man emotionally, but tears flew through my eyes when I was reading this, I don’t know why?

  22. Faizan says:
    March 23rd, 2009 3:49 pm

    This is the best piece I have read on this blog. Kudos.

  23. Raj says:
    March 23rd, 2009 9:15 pm

    Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be opposite of everything that was India or as he would say ‘Hindustan’.

    I think he got his dream fulfilled.

  24. Sadaf Shahid says:
    March 24th, 2009 8:55 am

    Excellent analysis of Jinnah’s marriage and his personal life. Gives a nostalgic feeling. Thank you for writing this beautiful essay.

  25. zulfiqar mir says:
    March 24th, 2009 9:18 pm

    I have a one question to the author and all the readers of this article:

    while i agree that the piece is well written but my dear friends — this article contains the details of the personal life of our beloved leader. these records and details are meant to be private and thats exactly what they should be. did the writer take permission from the concerned authorities or the remaining family members of the Jinnah family ? This is unacceptable. How would any of us feel if our personal stories are made a “treat to read” ?

  26. Usman says:
    March 24th, 2009 11:57 pm

    @ Zulfiqar

    Yes, I agree that the author should declare the copyright owner of the materials that are published on the website.

    Borrowing personal letters from someone who himself did not own the copyright to those letters is inexcusable.

    One question arises – if any letter is not in the copyright of a person – then should it be printed or not? I guess then the publisher could do the ethical test by deciding whether or not the material under consideration would enrich/inform/not cause turmoil among the public/website visitors.

  27. fatima says:
    March 25th, 2009 2:42 am

    very touching article abt jinnahs life
    thanx for writting it down

  28. Naeema says:
    March 25th, 2009 9:51 am

    Very nice article and reminds us of the side of Jinnah we usually forget.

  29. Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi says:
    March 25th, 2009 11:00 am

    I think Darwaish is doing a great job of re-writing these stories again. There is nothing really ‘private’ for avid readers of Mr Jinnah’s biographies. I can testify that all the references quoted are from published material. There are two full fledged biographies of Ruttie Jinnah today, and all the matter written above is common knowledge to the readers of those books. The books of Kanji Dwarkadas and Justice Chagla came even before Partition or soon thereafter. The pictures are today common property – we see the same pictures copyrighted to a dozen books. The Quaid-i-Azam Papers Project in the Cabinet division and the Quaid-i-Azam Academy are all doing a great job in disseminating these pictures and biographies in an environment where the reading habit is almost extinct. Let us be positive in our outlook and see the true man Jinnah, whom we love and admire.

  30. Shahid Rafiq says:
    April 15th, 2009 2:13 pm

    The good human beings make great leaders. One has to accept that. This was really touching to know that THE MAN had a loving and romantic heart. Now I love him even more.

  31. Syed Haque says:
    September 12th, 2009 8:31 pm

    Love story although brief parallel to “Titanic” in many ways
    the lovers have no idea. The iceberg was lurking in the dark night to destroy their boat (Luxury Liner). Both Mohammed Ali and “Ruttie’s” life story reading through their letters it seems they were in love for sure. In this scenario the man survived and the women died so young. “ Bravo praise the Lord”.

  32. Azeema Sultan says:
    December 25th, 2009 3:37 am

    “I have lived as plain Mr. Jinnah and I hope to die as plain Mr. Jinnah. I am very much averse to any title or honours and I will be more than happy if there was no prefix to my name.”

    A truly inspiring story of a great man that most Pakistanis would never know!

    It is unfortunate to see Jinnah’s Pakistan in state of chaos today. We need to get back to Jinnah’s principles of Unity, Faith and Discipline. That’s the way to move forward.

  33. Farrukh Bokhari says:
    January 13th, 2010 8:00 pm

    Is there any book containing with Ruttie-Jinnah letters?

  34. Mariam Azhar says:
    January 14th, 2010 3:23 pm

    Fascinating writeup!!

    There are few books containing some of the letter written by Ruttie to Jinnah. As rightly pointed out by Darwaish, it is rather unfortunate that none of the letter written by Jinnah to Ruttie have ever been made public. I am sure somebody have got them. Probably Dina Wadia?

    Anyways, the books that I know of are:
    Ruttie Jinnah: The story of a great friendship by Kanji Dwarkadas
    Ruttie Jinnah: The Story, Told And Untold by Khwaja Razi Haider

    Hope this helps!

  35. Anil says:
    February 17th, 2010 11:49 am

    M.A.Jinnah and Ruttie Petit later called Ratanbai’s love life seemed so much as a heart touching idyll.

  36. ck says:
    April 6th, 2010 6:42 pm

    A very nice post didn’t know any about Jinnah’s life till now. I do have an un answered question.
    If He married a Parsi girl after she converted to Islam and enjoyed a life of romance (however brief) why his daughter couldn’t marry the man of her choice and enjoy her life?

  37. Durrani says:
    June 4th, 2010 1:33 am

    Shirazi, a very good one. Please keep up the good work. Thanks

  38. zaheer babar says:
    December 25th, 2011 1:31 pm

    well written. never had any time to read into personal life of Mr. Jinnah. This was a very good one.

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