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 â€”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 Indiaâ€™s Muslims. Yet, he led them to separate statehood, creating history, and in Saad R. Khairiâ€™s apt phrase, â€œaltering geographyâ€.
Much has been written about Jinnahâ€™s legal career, politics, his role as a founder of Pakistan and his vision, but even today, very little is known about Jinnahâ€™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 Ahmedâ€™s movie Jinnah had just ten to fifteen minutes on Jinnahâ€™s personal life, which are nowhere near enough.
Jinnahâ€™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 Grahamâ€™s Shipping and Trading Company, which conducted business with his father in Karachi. It was a forced marriage, as Jinnahâ€™s mother was afraid that if he went to England, he might end up marrying an English girl. He barely knew Emibai.
Jinnahâ€™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 â€œTown of the Thunderboltâ€ (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:
â€œPrecociously 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 princessâ€.
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 Jinnahâ€™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 Besantâ€™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 Shakespeareâ€™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 Jinnahâ€™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 â€œJayâ€, as she called him. Jinnah asked Sir Dinshaw for Ruttieâ€™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 Ruttieâ€™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 Bombayâ€™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 Jinnahâ€™s Malabar Hill house in Bombay. Located in a most highly-priced area today, with Maharashtraâ€™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 Jinnahâ€™s witness, and a few other friends, attended the wedding. Maulana Muhammad Hasan Najafi was Ruttieâ€™s witness. Jinnah presented the wedding ring to Ruttie, a gift from Raja Sahab, and paid Rs 125,000 as haq mehr . Nobody from Ruttieâ€™s family attended the wedding. Interestingly, the Nikah Nama stated â€œRuttenbaiâ€ as the brideâ€™s name instead of Marium, her Islamic name. The honeymoon was first at Raja Sahabâ€™s Nainitaal mansion, and then at the Maidens Hotel, a magnificent property just beyond the Red Fort.
Gandhiâ€™s grandson Raj Mohan Gandhi writes about the wedding in his book Understanding the Muslim Mind:
â€œFor the first time in his life, a girl had absorbed Jinnahâ€™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 Jinnahâ€™s life. The Malabar Hill house became brighter.â€™ She presented him with a daughter, Dina. But, â€˜Alas the happiness was not destined to last; Sarojniâ€™s veiled prediction of trouble came trueâ€ .
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 Syedâ€™s son, Syed Mahmud:
â€œSo 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 â€“ he loves her; the one really human and genuine emotion of his reserved and self-centred nature. And he will make her happy.â€
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 visitorsâ€™ 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:
â€œThey 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 Ruttieâ€™s complete isolation and ostracism from her family.â€
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 baronetâ€™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. Ruttieâ€™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 Jinnahâ€™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:â€œAnd 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.â€
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 Jinnahâ€™s marriage in his book â€œRoses in Decemberâ€. 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. Ruttieâ€™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. Itâ€™s not a well publicised fact that as a young student in England it had been one of Jinnahâ€™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 Shakespeareâ€™s dramas.â€
The second time Jinnah ever broke down was in August 1947 when he visited Ruttieâ€™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 â€˜the otherâ€™ 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.