Mr and Mrs Jinnah

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Zafar Aziz Chaudhry

It is a paradox that the public lives of all great men become famous and renowned, whereas their internal or family lives are either little known or, in most cases, are painted as dull or gloomy. About our own Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, much has been written about his lifelong struggle for a separate homeland for Muslims, which is a magnificent chapter of history, but very little is written or known about his family life.
After returning from England as a barrister, he chose Bombay for his legal practice. He settled close to a Parsi community where Sir Dinshaw Petit, a Parsi businessman, became his good friend. Sir Dinshaw had a daughter namely Miss Rattanbai Petit, who in her teenage was extremely enchanting and precociously bright and who was in the words of Stanley Wolpert, “almost too lovely, too fragile to be real, and her intellect was so probing that she took as much interest in politics as she did in romantic poetry.” At that time, Mr Jinnah was 22 years older than her. During their mutual family sittings, her adolescent mind was captivated by Jinnah’s brilliance when they sat in family unions. Both of them developed a love for each other. The Quaid met Ruttie’s father to tell him that he liked his daughter and wanted to marry her, but to his disappointment, Sir Dinshaw rejected this proposal. Later, he also obtained an injunction from the court against Jinnah for marrying his daughter. The ground taken was that Miss Rattie was still a minor under the law and could not marry. Moreover, both belonged to different religions and therefore, their marriage was not possible. Jinnah believed in the rule of law, and despite his infatuation for Ruttie, he restrained himself from meeting Ruttie and waited for two years until she became of marriageable age. To overcome the hurdle of differences in religions, Rattie embraced Islam, and then they got married on April 19, 1918.
The news of their marriage spread like wild jungle fire in the entire country, and members of the Parsi religion became hostile to Jinnah. Rattie’s father and other members of the Parsi community boycotted with Mr and Mrs Jinnah. But the Quaid and his wife remained unruffled, because of Jinnah’s flourishing legal practice and his growing popularity as the sole spokesman of Muslims of India.
Beyond this point, none of the historians has thrown light on Jinnah’s personal life. Some historians like Hector Bolitho, Stanley Wolpert and Aziz Beg have covered Jinnah’s private life very sketchily. Only two historians, namely Khawaja Razi Haider and quite recently, Ms Sheela Reddy of India, with her consistent research, uncovered from the hidden sources the detailed depth of their domestic life.
A couple of years ago, an Indian historian, Sheela Reddy, wrote a remarkable book by the title, “Mr and Mrs Jinnah; the Marriage which shook India,” in which I found very fascinating details of their marriage. The paramount quality of the book is that the author quite scrupulously avoided bringing in the politics of the day, and also refrained from passing any adverse remark against the primary characters of the book. Her account from beginning to end is non-partisan and just. The book is quite bulky running into 421 pages in small print but is very incisive and analytical although, towards the end, it becomes slightly laborious. She has dwelt at length about their romantic life; their trip to Nainital for their honeymoon and their frank discussions about politics and other social issues. But there was a great chasm between their mood and temperament. Jinnah was cold and objective while Ruttie was warm, vivacious, romantic and had a deep interest in literature and poetry. Mr Jinnah, being a busy lawyer, had to give all his time to his profession, due to which Ruttie felt neglected and forlorn. This caused her severe insomnia and depression. She died when she was barely 29 years of age.
Sheela Reddy, being a seasoned journalist with over 35 years of experience, kept exploring various sources in India and Pakistan to discover some details of the personal life of the Quaid. Through her visits to the Nehru Memorial Library in Delhi, Sheela found around 100 pages of letters that Ruttie had written to Sirojni Naido and her daughter as pen friends. Those letters had great information about Ruttie and her lonely life in Bombay. Later, Sheela visited Karachi and found the personal collection of Ruttie and Jinnah’s letters stored in Dr Mahmud Husain Library’s basement at the University of Karachi. Thus, the author succeeded in exploring a wealth of Ruttie’s personal letters, which made her job of exploring their private lives quite easy.
After returning from their honeymoon in Nainital, they settled in Bombay where Ruttie decorated their palatial house with an interior of her choice; adding antiques and works of art to reflect the dignity of her great husband. Not confined to her home, Ruttie enlivened the office chamber of her husband. Hector Bolitho, the great journalist and his first biographer in this context, had remarked, “Mr Jinnah succumbed to the desire of his loving wife; he enjoyed her spontaneity and allowed her to influence his behaviour as a politician.”
Jinnah had firm habits and a personality so rigid against his wife who was warm, lively and full of love. Hence, it was one of the most tragic stories of all time. Their temperaments were diametrically opposed to each other. Ruttie was like a flower, which had once bloomed to the epitome of charm and then wilted. It is a story of two utterly desolate people; both equally incapable of being effusive to one another, yet so terribly in love with each other.
The love story of a teenage girl who married a man almost twice her age, because she loved him with all her might. The heart-wrenching tale of two people who couldn’t have been more different from each other. Ruttie was not merely an exquisite beauty; she was smart, witty, and full of life. But the life was sucked out of her gradually, as Jinnah went to his job and she was left behind sulking in utter loneliness.
Her Parsi community, her parents and all her relatives had boycotted her due to her marriage with Jinnah. Hence, she was cut off from her entire society. Being lonely, she became obsessed with metaphysics and mysticism, which afflicted her with tension and insomnia. This made her ill and neglected as there was nobody to look after her. In such a state, she breathed her last on February 20, 1929, when she was barely 29 years of age. In her last letter to Jinnah, she expressed profound love for her husband; calling him her “darling” and “sweetheart.” Her death made Mr Jinnah mellow for the rest of his life. As she was being lowered into her grave, the Quaid broke down and wept bitterly. That was the only occasion when he had shed tears. Of the loss of her life, he never married again.