Jinnahs better half

Print edition : June 06, 2008

This is virtually the first book on Jinnahs relationship with his wife and unlikely to be excelled.

THIS book fills a void in the literature on Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his wife, Ruttie, and fills it most admirably. Hitherto, a memoir by Kanji Dwarkadas, a devoted friend of the couple, held the field. It was a slim volume of 63 pages published by the writer himself in 1963 Ruttie Jinnah The Story of a Great Friendship. It contained interesting letters, including some from Ruttie. Kanjibhai, as he was called, was a follower of Annie Besant and wa s Secretary of the All India Home Rule League when she was its leader and Jinnah its president in Bombay. He was active in the labour movement and wrote two volumes of memoirs, Indias Fight for Freedom and Ten Years to Freedom. Opposed though he was to the partition, he never wavered in his affection for Jinnah, for which another friend, Sardar Patel, teased him often.

Khwaja Razi Haider made a name as journalist, poet and scholar. He became Deputy Director of the Quaid-i-Azam Academy in Karachi, which has conducted research on Jinnahs life with consistent commitment. This is an outstandingly able work on a subject on which literature in English and Urdu is sparse and spread over many sources and needs collation and analysis. It is the first work on the subject and is unlikely to be excelled.

Rutten Bai, daughter of Sir Dinshaw Petit, Baronet, married Jinnah on April 19, 1918, after she converted to Islam. She was 18 and he was 42. She died on her 29th birthday in early 1929, a few months after they separated.

Ruttie was intelligent beyond her years, refined and cultured. An ardent nationalist and a devoted wife, she would be seen in the Visitors Gallery when Jinnah was due to speak and was present in the High Court when Jinnah defended one of the accused in the famous Bawla Murder case.

She was at the Town Hall where thousands assembled under Jinnahs leadership to protest against the Governor Lord Willingdon. The police roughed up Jinnah and let loose a water hose at her as she was addressing the crowd. She did not budge. She accompanied Jinnah to the Nagpur session of the Congress in December 1920.

Sir Dinshaw was opposed to the marriage and got a court injunction restraining Jinnah from meeting her. A pity no biographer has yet traced the court papers.

Sarojini Naidu commented on the marriage: So Jinnah has at last plucked the Blue Flower of his desire. It was all very sudden and caused terrible agitation and anger among the Parsis; but I think the child has made far bigger sacrifices than she yet realises. Jinnah is worth it all he loves her; the one really human and genuine emotion of his reserved and self-centred nature. And he will make her happy. (A letter to Syed Mahmud; A Nationalist Muslim and Indian Politics by V.N. Datta and B.E. Cleghorn; page 31.)

He did. For Jinnah, who was not generous in many matters, no expense was too great to satisfy the extravagant claims of the baronets spoilt child. Rutties fabulous beauty, spontaneous wit, and immense charm have been praised to the neglect of her serious interests.

An appendix contains a list of books in her collection, which remained in Jinnahs possession. They reflect her deep interest in poetry, literature, history and the occult sciences. Kanjibhai shared the last.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah poses for a photograph during an interview in Karachi on September 18, 1947. He died a year later, on September 11, 1948.-BERT BRANDT/ACME/AFP

She was spirited and told off more than one Viceroy. When Lord Reading told her I am very anxious to go to Germany, but I am afraid I cannot do so she asked, Why not? Reading explained: You see the Germans will not like us, the British, any more after the war and I cannot go there. Ruttie said Oh! adding, How is it then, that you came to India? When she was introduced to Lord Chelmsford, she did not curtsy but folded her hands after shaking hands with the Viceroy. Chelmsford pompously told her: In Rome you must do as the Romans do. She retorted quickly, That is exactly what I did, your Excellency. In India I greeted you in the Indian manner.

The book has interesting information on Jinnahs daughter, Dina. It reproduces from Qaaid-i-Azam Papers letters she wrote to him as late as on June 5, 1947.

The breach between husband and wife remains shrouded in mystery. Their relationship was close until the end of 1927. It survived his break with the Congress in 1920. Jinnah confided to a friend, It is my fault: We both need some sort of understanding we cannot give.

Rutties death-bed letter to him on October 8, 1928, is heart-rending. Darling thank you for all you have done. If ever in my bearing your once lined sense found any in ability or kindness be assured that in my heart there was place only for a great tenderness and greater pain a pain my love without hurt. When one has been as close in the reality of life (which after all is death) as I have been, dearest one only remembers the beautiful and tender moments and all the rest becomes a half veiled mist of unrealities. Try and remember me beloved as the flower you plucked and not the flower you tread upon.

I have suffered much sweetheart because I have loved much. The measure of my agony has been in accord to the measure of my love

I have loved you my darling as it is given to few men to be loved. I only beseech you that our tragedy, which commenced with love, should also end with it. Darling good night, and good-bye. Ruttie.

Kanji was by Jinnahs side at her funeral, and he wrote: When Rutties body was being lowered down the grave, Jinnah was not able to control his emotions. He broke down and wept like a child. Then, as the nearest relative, he was the first to throw the earth on the grave, and he broke down suddenly and sobbed, and wept like a child for minutes together.

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