Jinnah's abode: No. 35, Russell Road

Published: July 21, 2013
SHARES
Email
Pakistan’s most famous man once stayed here, but few signs remain. PHOTO: TOOBA MASOOD

Pakistan’s most famous man once stayed here, but few signs remain. PHOTO: TOOBA MASOOD

The Indians get India House. And a serene cross-legged Gandhi in Tavistock Square. And Chicken Tikka Masala, now one of Britain’s favourite national meals. And Bollywood premieres in Leicester Square. When I asked some friends living in London what comes to mind when I said ‘Pakistan’, I got ‘Im-run Kahn’ (New Zealand), ‘houses in the middle of the desert and sand everywhere’ (Brazil), ‘your terrorists’ (Belgium) and ‘no clue’ (Ireland).

So when, during the course of research for my MA dissertation, I read the following sentence in Stanley Wolpert’s biography of Quaid-e-Azam, I thought it might help me feel a little more rooted in London, to allow me to feel as if I could have a foot in both my Pakistani and British worlds: “His father deposited money enough to his account in a British bank to allow Jinnah to live in London for three years. There is no record of precisely how many hotel rooms or ‘bed and breakfast’ stops he rented before moving into the modest three-story house at 35 Russell Road in Kensington…”

He was seventeen when he first arrived in London in 1893 to study law, and still Mohammed Ali Jinnahbhai. It was from this address that he sent a letter to Lincoln’s Inn requesting that his surname be shortened to just ‘Jinnah’, according to Maddy Wall, a spokesperson for the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, also known as English Heritage.

In 1955, the London County Council received a request to install a blue heritage plaque on the house, denoting the historic significance of the site. According to Wall, 35 Russell Road is now a private property, and a quick search online reveals that while the 14-bedroom house was up for sale in 2003, the Pakistani High Commission was unable to rustle up the asking price of 1.25 million pounds. This place, I thought, could show you another side to Jinnah — the young lawyer in London, as opposed to Jinnah the iconic, mythical leader (who is perfectly preserved in a somber portrait at Lincoln’s Inn).

A short walk from Kensington Olympia tube station, past the Irani cornershops and Lahore Karhai restaurant, the house lies at the intersection of Russell Road and Holland Gardens and has been divided into two sections, with seven flats in each section. (There are no rules preventing the restructuring or renovation of these private properties, despite their historic status). Were it not for the ink-blue circular plaque that lies between what is now Nos 35-A and 35-B, you would have never guessed that ‘Quaid i Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah founder of Pakistan stayed here in 1895’.

I don’t know what exactly I was expecting, but the house, with its row of silver garbage cans lining the front porch, a lime green tennis ball among the plants and the whine of construction taking place in No 35-A did not conjure any particularly patriotic feelings. I’d read that the house’s banister had been painted green and the halls inside festooned with paper flags, a Pakistani flag draped over the window and Jinnah’s chair, wardrobe and some mirrors preserved in the first-floor room he had occupied. But there was no answer when I buzzed the intercom for the seven flats (at this point I was pretty determined to feel something, even if it meant dealing with a cranky tenant). The blinds on all the windows remained firmly pulled down.

And so my friend and I gave up, walked down the street towards a Japanese restaurant where we ate duck pancakes as Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga played on the music system.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 21st, 2013.

Like Express Tribune Magazine on Facebook, follow @ETribuneMag on Twitter to stay informed and join the conversation.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (11)

  • Humza Y
    Jul 21, 2013 - 4:11PM

    What was the point of the last line?

    Recommend

  • Addressed to the Author
    Jul 21, 2013 - 5:19PM

    Very interesting. I would surely like to visit this place. Kudos and thanks for informing us all.

    Recommend

  • Arzoo
    Jul 21, 2013 - 5:39PM

    @Humza Y: It’s not only “the last line,” the whole write-up has very little “point.” Just take it as a personal blog and skim through it. Quaid lived at 35 Russell Road for a brief period of time in 1895 and early 1896. Earlier he had lived at 40 Glazbury Road in West Kensington, not too far away, for a longer period of time. As people familiar with England well know, there are thousands of buildings across the country bearing plaques announcing to the world their famous residents who have made a mark on history in plethora of fields including politics, literature, science, etc. London alone has close to a thousand such places with the earliest surviving belonging to Napoleon III on 1 King’s Street in St. James. More relevant to Pakistani researchers would be Quaid’s palatial house in Hampstead that he acquired in early 1930s, fully staffed with a coterie of British servants, that would depict an extremely successful barrister, well versed with English law, who was recruited to fight for the freedom and establishment of Pakistan, only because he uniquely possessed the ability to do so.

    Recommend

  • JD
    Jul 21, 2013 - 6:57PM

    Were you under the impression that you’re on a treasure hunt and in the house you’ll find priceless old records of buried ‘treasure’ ??

    If you really want to feel something, just read the history.. study your leader.. and try to become what he wanted the youth of his country to be.

    OR

    Just keep listening to Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga please.

    Recommend

  • Uza Syed
    Jul 21, 2013 - 9:20PM

    How much of our money your dad depositted there in Banks to last how many years of Japnese restaurants and ‘duck pancakes’ and, of course, the music of Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga massaging your sad self-love in the name Pakistan and its founder.

    Recommend

  • Rashid
    Jul 22, 2013 - 12:42AM

    A moving account of our greatestest leader’s stay in Britain. Britain owes it to Jinnah and Pakistan to preserve every bit of scrap that has an association with Jinnah’s stay in Britain. Britain is blessed to have Jinnah as a part of their history.

    Recommend

  • Raj Kafir
    Jul 22, 2013 - 8:39AM

    Let us name Russell Road as either Shar-i- Quad -i- Azam or Allama Iqbal Road.

    Recommend

  • Blah
    Jul 23, 2013 - 3:40PM

    who lives there now?

    Recommend

  • Constitutional Kafir
    Jul 23, 2013 - 4:20PM

    @Raj Kafir:
    What about Jihadi Street?

    Recommend

  • lucky
    Jul 23, 2013 - 8:58PM

    This article is taken from UK newspaper ” the telegraph ” article “Mohammed – the profit and loss” published on 22 nd march 2003 please follow the link : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/3312176/Mohammed-the-profit-and-loss.html

    Recommend

  • lucky
    Jul 23, 2013 - 9:01PM

    “Except duck pancakes as Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga played on the music system” This article has taken from UK newspaper ” the telegraph ” article “Mohammed – the profit and loss” published on 22 nd march 2003 please follow the link : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/3312176/Mohammed-the-profit-and-loss.html

    Recommend

More in Magazine