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.