The woman Jinnah loved

Published: May 23, 2010
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The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association khaled.ahmed@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association [email protected]

The personal life of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) arouses great compassion simply because he was an astutely rational man. He was married off in 1892 when he was 16 and still in school in Karachi. He travelled to Kutch to marry a bride called Emibai. Fatima Jinnah said the wedding took place in Paneli Gondal in Gujarat. Then Jinnah took off for England for his studies.

Evidence on Emibai is so hazy that you have to look up the book Ruttie Jinnah by Khwaja Razi Haider (Oxford University Press, 2010) to know that she may have died in Bombay when Jinnah was studying to become a lawyer: “His father, sister and his wife were living in Khoja Muhalla of Bombay; and it was during these days that Emibai fell victim to an outbreak of cholera” (p.4).

When Jinnah’s father wanted him to remarry he refused “and stood by this decision for about 22 years” (p.5). The granite in the man showed early. With his hard work, good looks and eloquence, he mingled with Bombay’s Gujarati-dominated elite with ease.

At the Parsi Club he socialised with his clients, the family of Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit. Sir Dinshaw’s daughter Rutten Bai, born in 1900, was the arguably the most beautiful girl in Bombay with a readiness to shock with unorthodox views. Ruttie was drawn to him perhaps because he was so “understated”. The Petits took Jinnah along on a vacation in Darjeeling. That is when Jinnah had his defences down and Ruttie got close to him.

The romance was no flash in the pan. Ruttie wanted to get married at the age of 16. Sir Dinshaw went to the court and got a restraining order (p.24). The couple then waited for two years till Ruttie reached legal age and married him after leaving her parental home.

They wanted a civil marriage and the law then stated that you had to forswear religion to get married in court. That meant Jinnah had to resign his Muslim seat in the Imperial Legislative Council (p.29). She embraced Islam and married him. It was now much more than innocent love sealed during horse-riding in Darjeeling.

The Parsi community was outraged as were the Muslim religious leaders. They kept referring to the civil marriage, which never took place, and called Jinnah an apostate for having contracted it.

But Jinnah did not care. He even insulted the viceroy Willingdon to defend her against criticism. She was by his side in the 1921 Nagpur joint session of League and Congress and defended his not addressing Gandhi as Mahatma—only because he didn’t want religion dragged into politics. When the pro-Gandhi namesake of Jinnah, Jauhar, began attacking Jinnah she successfully persuaded him to call off the war of words. Ruttie and Jinnah separated a few months before her death at the age of 29 in 1929. Jinnah’s daughter Dina was 10 years old at the time. Later, Jinnah could not bear to see the pattern repeated: Dina married a much older man of a different faith and became a relapsed Parsi after divorcing him.

In 1946, Jinnah met Dina Wadia and his two grandchildren in Bombay. Boy Nusli Wadia liked his Jinnah cap and wanted it, which he got: “Nusli prizes the cap to this day”. Jinnah cried when Ruttie died. Later in life, he used to take out her belongings and look at them, not letting go of her memory. It remains a mystery why Ruttie and Jinnah never got together again.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 23, 2010.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Shams
    May 23, 2010 - 11:12AM

    Khalid sb…there is a possibility that the ‘born-again’ crowd may see your comments as against the Islamic republic. Thanks for reminding us of the real Jinnah. Recommend

  • Zakaria Nutkani
    May 23, 2010 - 11:35AM

    A marvelous piece of writing! I am wondering if Jinnah was against dragging religion in Politics as mentioned in case of his refusal to address Gandhi as Mahatma then why he fell pray to politics of two nation theory and a separate homeland for some Muslims. I am afraid, he was more interested in securing a prominent place in politics than to keeping away religion from politics. The religion which Gandhi is accused of propagating was more a popular form of religious outlook among all inhabitants of sub continent. Gandhi was more like a mystic than a religious zealous whereas Jinnah despite bearing a liberal outlook happened to be the most conservative leader of undivided India. History is still unable to reconcile with his approach of dividing Indians on grounds of religion which, of course, he could not do except for helping British rulers fulfill their mission of ‘divide and rule’. The very base of his decades long politics has been rejected by his followers who found it unnecessary and impractical to remain stuck to two nation theory. It is evident from 1971 debacle and current political situation in Pakistan. Recommend

  • May 23, 2010 - 2:33PM

    Zakaria – I agree with you. Gandhi was hardly a ritualistic hindu as made out by some wanting to paint him in the saffron vein. He was a reformative hindu along the lines of vivekananda.

    While I am an admirer of Jinnah – you cannot ignore the fact that the man saw himself being overshadowed by Gandhi in Mumbai’s political circles – there were others like Bose who left the congress to fight a violent struggle against India. And I am grateful Bose did not succeed – a person who can forsake his principles to visit Hitler…gandhi was greater than any leader anywhere (including jinnah, and even the likes of nelson mandela and others) only because he believed the means could not be sacrificed for the end. And since he unlike the more urban-oriented jinnah or nehru knew how religiously intermixed india’s villages were – he predicted the massacres during partition.
    One must stop equating jinnah with gandhi – Jinnah was a shrewd politician who sensed a winning cause (pakistan) and was looking only at short-term gains as long as he was at the helm. Present-day pakistanis should look at Gandhi without the prism of religion to appreciate the struggle he lead that was more social and economic than political. They will then begin to demand a modicum of statesmanship from their own leaders. Recommend

  • May 23, 2010 - 2:56PM

    One of other parts of Jinnah’s past that we tend to ignore was his love of acting, and the fact that he wanted to become a Shakespearian actor. Modern interpretors of Jinnah would have a heart attack.Recommend

  • C.M.Sarwar
    May 23, 2010 - 9:02PM

    Khalid has written a beautiful piece on the very personal life of Jinnah,in the context of his married life.Jinnah was a very private person and kept his emotional side strictly to himself.As regards Jinnah the politician I think it is important we take into account all the circumstaces which led to Partition and creation of Pakistan before we pass hasty judgement on Jinnah.Jaswant’s book on Partition throws better light on Jinnah’s role in Partition.In fact,Khalid’s article is not about jinnah,the politician and should not be used to muddle up other issues.Recommend

  • May 24, 2010 - 1:23AM

    Thank you for writing about Ruttie—a beautiful and fascinating woman we hear so little about. As someone who likes to read about Jinnah and Ruttie, however, I would not agree that Dina’s marriage to Mr. Wadia (as Jinnah liked to call him)was “a pattern repeating itself”. If one delves into the story, what one finds is that Jinnah did not respect Neville Wadia as a person. Jinnah’s opposition to Dina’s marriage thus may have had as much to do with the fact that Neville was not Muslim—incidentally, he had converted to Christianity (as did his father) and converted back to Zoroastrianism shortly before his death–as the fact that Jinnah found Neville fickle and untrustworthy. Jinnah was correct in his assessment. Dina was not happy in her marriage to Neville Wadia, as Neville, according to many reports, was not faithful to Dina. This is in stark contrast to the love story between Ruttie and Jinnah. And though Jinnah and Ruttie may have found it difficult to bridge their generational gap or spend as much time together as Ruttie would have liked but Jinnah’s busy schedule could not accomodate, neither ever stopped loving the other or was in the least bit unfaithful. Both Jinnah and Ruttie were strong personalities, full of principles. Not something one can say about Neville Wadia!Recommend

  • Sami ur Rahman
    May 24, 2010 - 6:41PM

    Without induldging in the same old superficial Jinnah vs. Gandhi debate, I’d simply say this piece is informative to the core!

    As for the debate, there’s a very good book – a bestseller, indeed – by a Hindu nationalist, available in bookstores these days. Why not study that?Recommend

  • Saif
    Jun 13, 2010 - 12:18PM

    What a wonderful story, i wish we could get more on their love story…. it intrigues me what made that young girl fall in love with a mature man, and what made a man like Quaid go for someone so young and lively…..I guess true loves understands nothing but loveRecommend

  • Allmixedup
    Jul 17, 2010 - 12:37AM

    Thanks for this nice article on Jinnah.

    I would like to point out that though in Pakistan, Gandhi is considered to be a Hindu leader, in India he is actually detested by Hindu nationalists and was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic!Recommend

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