Remembering Dina — Part II

In conversation, Dina recalled her father with warm affection

Akbar Ahmed November 08, 2017
Dina Wadia. PHOTO:FILE

Dina Wadia wrote another letter early in June 1947 from Juhu, Bombay, after hearing of the announcement of the date for Pakistan:

Papa darling, At this minute you must be with the Viceroy. I must say that it is wonderful what you have achieved in these last few years and I feel so proud and happy for you. You have been the only man in India of late who has been a realist and a[n] honest and brilliant tactician — this letter is beginning to sound like fan-mail, isn’t it?

The letter had begun, “It was really so sweet of you to write as I know how very busy you are,” and ended: “Take care of yourself. Lots of love and kisses and [a] big hug.” It is a typical letter from a daughter to her father and there is no hint of estrangement in it.

In conversation, Dina recalled her father with warm affection, describing him as a “sweet man.” Of course he was austere, she said, like many other men born in the Victorian era, but mentioned the happy days in London. She remembers sitting at the edge of his bed in the morning having tea while he read the papers, and recalls him as always having time for her. He often quoted Shakespeare to her and his favourite lines were from Hamlet: “This above all: To thine own self be true, / And it must follow, As the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

She dismissed the characterisation of her father as cold, remarking that he would put his hand on people’s shoulders while he was talking with them. He would interrupt his file work to speak to her, to explain things to her. When I told her that Mountbatten had called her father a psychopath, she replied with spirit: “Mountbatten was the psychopath.”

But in the last years Jinnah was very sick and in any case he was reserved and brought up to be restrained and reticent.

Dina did not agree with the way in which her father was portrayed in the film Gandhi, although she enjoyed the film. Dina saw it again in 1995, when, in the light of our meeting, she watched it carefully. She noted that her father appeared “shifty-eyed” and “furtive”; even his clothes were shabby, his collars too big. In reality her father was a “dandy,” she said, “meticulous” in his dress. Besides, he had started wearing the sherwani and the film shows Jinnah always in a Western suit.

[On Partition]: The partition of India split Dina from her father. It was a sword hanging over every Muslim home. Jinnah’s was no exception. His one child Dina had to make a choice. She had either to accompany her father to Karachi and the new homeland he had created or to stay with her husband in Bombay. She chose to remain with her husband and children. She would not see her father again; he would be dead within a year.

The partition of father and daughter may have been overshadowed by the larger partition of India but in its personal tragedy it creates a powerful metaphor. It was made more poignant by the fact that the date of partition — midnight on 14-15 August — was her birthday. In her flat in Bombay, she had put out two flags, Indian and Pakistani, symbolising her dilemma. Dina’s predicament must have weighed heavily on Jinnah and added to his sorrows as he saw the havoc caused by partition.

On her mother

“She was young, beautiful, very very intelligent, very bright. Loved beautiful things, and she was a humorous, fun person. They had the same sort of interests, like in politics and things like that, and he was already at a pinnacle in a way. So that was very glamorous. They fell in love, and my grandfather was absolutely appalled, first because of the age difference. I think he was 39 and she was 16 and she came from a prominent Parsi family, and he wasn’t too anxious that she should marry out of her community. My father was a Muslim; distinguished or not it didn’t seem to matter. The moment she was 18, that was it. She walked out and married him.”

Additionally, Dina remembers her “warm, intelligent,wonderful” mother thusly: “She was humorous and loved poetry and the arts” According to Dina, Lady Petit, her grandmother, “adored” Jinnah.

[On Jinnah’s relationship with her mother]: “Well, what happened is that he was a very, very busy man. He had all his cases, he had a living to make. And then he had politics. And he had, you know, a young, beautiful girl, but he wasn’t able to give her the time that she should have had…Then she fell ill, she fell very ill. And that was very difficult. She died of colitis. But very bad colitis. I believe there are several types, and I think she had one of the worst. She was very very, very sick. I used to visit her when she was ill, in any case.”

[On Jinnah’s reaction after her mother’s death]: Ruttie’s death “devastated” Jinnah, according to Dina. “He would never be the same again; something died in him.” “A curtain fell over him,” said Dina, remembering her childhood. “I think he withdrew a lot. Not in his work, in his politics, but I think he became even more dedicated to his work then.”

On Pakistanis

Dina expressed her irritation about Pakistanis who only seemed to be interested in whether her father ate ham and drank whisky. To put the matter to rest, I asked Dina whether the story about her mother offering her father ham sandwiches in the middle of a political campaign had any factual basis. She recalled that over sixty years ago they were traveling by train to a hill station when ham sandwiches were brought with the food as part of the menu. Her father had them sent away.

The savage scale of the killing of refugees on both sides shook Jinnah to the core, hastening his end. This is precisely how Dina saw her father’s death. She believed that he literally sacrificed himself for his new nation. Her bitterness towards Pakistanis is explained by the nation’s failure to recognise his supreme sacrifice and live up to his ideals.

On Gandhi

Dina confirmed that there was little “personal animosity” between her father and Gandhi, only “political animosity.” Gandhi was “charming,” “sweet,” “enchanting,” and had a “sense of humour” as well as an eye for pretty girls, she said chuckling, recalling she was young and pretty when she first met him.

She kept abreast of affairs in South Asia. “They don’t respect Gandhi in India, so why should they respect my father in Pakistan. No man is a prophet in his own country.” She also observed that there was a lot of what she termed “sick thinking” in the subcontinent, that it was going in the “wrong way towards fundamentalism,” and like “global warming,” there was “global fundamentalism.”

During her 2004 visit, she wrote of her father in the visitors’ book at the Quaid-e-Azam Mausoleum in Karachi, “This has been very sad and wonderful for me. May his dream for Pakistan come true.” That statement revealed her feelings for both her father and the nation he created.

When she died in November 2017, the world media was using the freeze-frame picture of hers from Mr Jinnah — the Making of Pakistan. It showed a confident, dignified and impressive person. My tribute had not been in vain.


Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th, 2017.

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C M Naim | 4 years ago | Reply The last sentence is so moving, so full of modesty.
Muhammad | 4 years ago | Reply Thank you sir for writing this. Quite revealing. I feel sad we/Pak didn't own her more in her lifetime. I feel sad how we treated the closest family - both sister and daughter - of the country's founder.
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