Going by official records December 25 is the 140th birthday of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, also known as the Quaid-a-Azam (The Great Leader). While we can call Jinnah controversial, there is no denying his immense popularity and the impact he had on the history of Indian sub-continent, if not the world. While a lot is known about his abilities as a lawyer and his politics, very little is known about his personal life. And as regards his romantic side our knowledge is almost negligible. The popular belief is that Jinnah was a cold and aloof man incapable of romance and love. However, is that really the truth? Let us try to find out.
We know that he was first married as arranged by his family when he was 15 or 16 to Emibai, who was 14. From his school records it is seen that he took a month of leave for this marriage which took place sometimes in February 1892. Jinnah spent almost one year in India after that studying at school and getting involved with his father's business, before he went to England in January 1893 where he stayed till August 1896. What were his relations with Emibai before he went abroad? Did they correspond while he was away? Was there any love or even affection between them? We do not know. Also it is not clear if he ever saw Emibai again; for according to some accounts she died while he was still away. But some authors claim that when Jinnah returned he settled in Bombay and his father, sister and wife were also living in Bombay. And it was here that Emibai contracted cholera and died. What impact this had on Jinnah is not known, except that when his father suggested he should get married again Jinnah, who was barely 20 years old, refused and declared that he will never again get married.
After a few years of struggle by the turn of the century Jinnah established himself as a successful lawyer in Bombay. The dashing, immaculately dressed and sophisticated 25-year-old was now without doubt the most eligible bachelor in Bombay; and yet there are no accounts of any romances or scandals associated with his name. Is this because he played very safe and did not let anyone find out when he chased women – or allowed women who no doubt chased him to catch him – or because he just did not play the field? We do not know but the later looks more likely.
A few years later Jinnah started to take an active part in Indian politics. He was a leading member of the Home Rule League, which demanded autonomy for India and in this way he was far ahead of Gandhi or Nehru in advocating India's freedom. During this time Jinnah became friends with Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, another member of home rule league and a well renowned poetess. A couple of years younger than Jinnah, Mrs Naidu who was called the ‘Nightingale of Bombay’ became a great admirer and named him, the leading ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. And here we find a possible romantic association between Mrs Naidu and Jinnah. Mrs Naidu was not that candid about her feelings. During the Congress session of 1915 which both she and Jinnah were attending, she read a poem in public dedicated to Jinnah:
'In the non-tide hours, O love, secure and strong
I need thee not...
But in the desolate hours of midnight when
An ecstasy of starry silence sleeps
On the still mountains and the soundless deeps,
And my soul hungers for thy voice...'
Just what exactly was Mrs Naido looking for is not clear; for she was married and had several children. One thing is clear that it was one-sided and Jinnah remained cold and aloof to any romantic overtures from Mrs Naido, or form any other suitors, till the day he met his nemesis, a very young Parsi girl. Rutten Bai Petit was the only daughter of one of the richest men in Bombay. As a personal friend of her parents Jinnah was a frequent visitor to their Palatial House. Ruttie, as she was known, was a precocious child who did not play with dolls and did not have much to do with friends her own age. Instead she read books and preferred company of her parents' guests with whom she would talk on all subjects under the sun, including Indian politics about which she had her own well formed opinion.
Besides her intelligence, knowledge and immaculate manners, she was incredibly beautiful. Anyone who ever met her was captivated by her beauty, and as she entered into adulthood she was named the ‘Flower of Bombay’. In 1916 Jinnah spent two months of the summer vacations at the Petit Summer Residence in Darjeeling. It was here that the romance between Ruttie and Jinnah blossomed.
Just what Ruttie saw in Jinnah – or Jay as she called him – is not hard to guess. With her extensive interest in romantic poetry and prose it is not difficult to see how Jinnah appeared to her as a character right out of those stories. But it was more than that. For Ruttie, who was used to getting her own way and could have had any other man on his knees by just fluttering her eyelids, Jinnah posed a challenge. And finally with her love of adventure, and fondness to shock others, this romance presented her with an opportunity to create some real waves.
Why Jinnah fell for Ruttie is a bit more difficult to understand. Was it the intoxicating concoction of beauty, youth, intelligence and charm that made him succumb? Or was it that getting into his forties he decided it was time to settle down as they say? Maybe it was all of this; but why someone less than half your age – almost a child? I don't know why. Perhaps his emotional development was stunted at the age of 16/20 when he lost his first wife or maybe it was simply a case of – as one of my friends who was contemplating marriage to a much younger beautiful woman once said to me – ''I know it may not be the right decision. But the problem is when given this chance how can I say no?'' While we will never know why we know for sure that Jinnah fell and he fell hard for Ruttie.
On return from the vacations Jinnah asked Ruttie's father Sir Dinshaw permission to marry Ruttie who point blank refused. Ruttie would have nothing of this and continued her liaisons with Jinnah and Sir Dinshaw got a court order which forbade Jinnah to have any contact with Ruttie who was still legally a minor. Ruttie had no respect for this and wanted to continue meeting Jinnah who, however, refused to break the law and for a period of 18 months he severed all contacts with her.
On February 20, 1918 Ruttie turned 18 and the court order became invalid. Right away Ruttie and Jinnah started to meet again and plan their future. On April 18 Ruttie left her parents house with nothing and went with Jinnah to Jamia Masjid where, in front of Maulana MH Najafi, she converted to Islam. The very next day she was married to Jinnah by Maulana MH Najavi, who wrote the nikah-nama in Persian. Her haq-maher was set at Rs1,001, but Jinnah presented her with what was then a princely sum of Rs. 125,000 as a wedding gift.
Ruttie's conversion to Islam is controversial. Some Muslim ulema who were against Jinnah later denied she ever converted, while liberal anti-Jinnah intellectuals give this as an example of Jinnah's Islamic tendencies. Both are wrong. Her conversion to Islam is well recorded and witnessed by Maulana Najafi; and as for the reasons these were practical rather than religious. The only way Jinnah and Ruttie could have wed was in the civil court, and here according to the law of that time both parties entering a civil marriage needed to declare under oath that they do not have any religion. Now we know that Jinnah never claimed he was anything other than a Muslim, even if he did not follow Islamic rituals, but at this stage he may well have gone ahead and given the required declaration in court. The problem was that he was a member of the Imperial Legislative Council on a seat reserved for a Muslim and declaring himself to have no religion would have cost him a set back to his political career. It is very likely that Ruttie, who was very much interested in Jinnah's political future, would have offered to pay the sacrifice and convert so that the marriage can take place under Islamic laws.
By all accounts, Ruttie and Jinnah's married life at that time was a fairy tale. Everyone who knew the couple has commented how much they loved each other. Jinnah gave up the membership of his club where he spent evening playing chess and billiards and would come straight home spending the whole evening in the garden talking to his wife. Otherwise not wasteful with money, Jinnah happily paid the vast sums Ruttie spent on decorating their residence or buying the expensive clothes she was fond of. There can be no doubt the Ruttie was the only woman for whom Jinnah ever felt romantic love. As Mrs. Naido commented on Ruttie's decision to leave her parents and community, ''Jinnah is worth it all – he loves her: the only really human and genuine emotion of his reserved and self-cantered nature.''
Ruttie was with him wherever he went, and was fully involved with his politics. In fact it looks as the fire of fierce nationalism she had in her turned Jinnah into a little bit of a revolutionary. This was demonstrated when in June 1918 under his leadership the citizens of Bombay blocked a farewell party in honour of the racist governor of Bombay Lord Willingdon. Here for the first time Jinnah put himself in physical danger and was assaulted by the police who were trying to clear the protestors. Ruttie was drenched when the police turned a water hose at full power on her, but the tiny slip of a girl did not move from her position.
Jinnah and Ruttie's love became cemented by the birth of their daughter Dina at midnight on the night between 14 and 15 August, curiously the same time as the birth of Pakistan 28 years later.
Alas like all fairytales this one did not last.
It looks as the earliest problems in the marriage came about in early part of 1921; however they had nothing to do with Jinnah and Ruttie's relationship. In January 1921, All India Congress and Muslim League held the annual joint session in Nagpur. It was largely through Jinnah's efforts that the two parties had been holding joint sessions for a few years. In this session, very cleverly, Mohandas Gandhi managed to isolate Jinnah.
Since his arrival from South Africa, Gandhi had introduced communalism into Indian politics. At that time he had allied himself to the Muslims of the Caliphate movement in support of the fossilised Ottoman Empire. These Muslims wanted to launch a global jihad against the western powers, much on the same lines as Al-Qaeda and ISIS have done in recent times.
Jinnah was opposed to such movements and wanted Indian Muslims to concentrate on their own betterment. He was also against the dharna politics that Gandhi was proposing based on strikes and boycotts. For Jinnah, such tactics which affected the lives and livelihood of ordinary citizens were wrong and counterproductive. And at Nagpur, egged on by Gandhi and the Johar brothers, both the Hindu and Muslim audience heckled and hooted Jinnah.
Ruttie, who was there, saw the humiliation of her husband and for the next few years Jinnah became isolated in Indian politics, shunned by both Hindus and Muslims. It is very likely that Jinnah became angry, disappointed and bitter and it is possible, as happens to us all, some of this spilled out as anger at home, resulting in arguments with Ruttie.
It looks as though the dream was ending for Ruttie as well. She was fond of socializing, and Jinnah was not. As time went on, the age and temperamental differences between them became more and more apparent, Ruttie became unhappier and more unsettled. She became an insomniac and an anxious person.
However, the marriage was still intact. It was now much more of a normal marriage we see around us. Ruttie still accompanied Jinnah everywhere in his social and political activities inside India or abroad.
In December 1927, she accompanied him to the Calcutta session of Muslim League; but when they returned in January she moved into the Taj Hotel!
Just what caused this split no one knows. A friend who tried to reconcile them was told by Jinnah, ''It is my fault, we both need some sort of understanding we cannot give.''
Another friend who asked Ruttie to move back with Jinnah was told by her that she would do so if she could be assured of being welcome back, but when he tried to bring up this topic with Jinnah, he refused to discuss this as a personal matter.
The stalemate continued with Jinnah extremely busy with his political life and Ruttie's health deteriorating day by day. In April 1928 she travelled to Paris for treatment with her mother. There she went into a coma. Jinnah who was visiting Dublin at that time left everything and rushed to Paris where he took over her care. For one month he looked after her, spending all his time with her, and got many doctors to treat her. However, a firm diagnosis was never established and opinions ranged from nervous breakdown to colitis.
Personally I think she had Tuberculosis, for which the only treatment at that time was rest and recuperation allowing the immune system to fight the infection. It is possible that Jinnah himself acquired the infection during this time, but certainly Ruttie got better. Everyone who saw her said how much better she looked. With the return of her health her fiery spirit also returned and as their common friend Chimanlal says that he left them in Paris happy that they have reconciled to visit Canada. But when he returned he found Jinnah alone in Paris who told him dead pan, ''We had a quarrel, she left for Bombay''
On arriving back in Bombay Ruttie, who lived in Taj Hotel, fell ill again. Jinnah returned a few days later and although they did not live together, he visited her every evening while he was in Bombay. On January 28, 1929 Jinnah left for Delhi to attend the budget session of assembly. On February 18, Ruttie fell into a coma from which she never recovered. She died on February 20, which would have been her 29th birthday.
Jinnah was given the news by his father-in-law on telephone – the first time he spoke to him since his marriage. Chimanlal was with him when Jinnah put the phone down and recalls that Jinnah was very calm and said that Ruttie is very ill and he has to leave for Bombay immediately.
Jinnah arrived in Bombay on the morning of February 22 and was picked up from the station by Colonel Sokhey and his wife. He looked sad but calm and was silent during the journey to the graveyard. The burial rites took many hours to be performed and while many present wept and wailed Jinnah sat silently, his face as if cast in stone staring straight ahead. Then when Ruttie's body was lowered into the grave he was asked to be the first to throw earth into the grave. He did that and as he straightened up he started to cry – not just silent tears but with hands over his face he sobbed like a child for many minutes. He did not seek anyone's hand or anyone's shoulder; but in tune with his personality he cried alone. And having finished he wiped his tears and with his face returning to stone walked back to his car.
Next day Dawarkadas who was Ruttie's closest friend and only constant visitor during the last days visited Jinnah and found him to be shouting his heart out. He felt that Jinnah blamed himself for Ruttie's death and considered it a great personal failure, something from which he never ever recovered.
Jinnah and Ruttie's story is a classic example to demonstrate that love is often not enough to keep two people together; for there can be no doubt that neither of them stopped loving each other at anytime. Yet no matter how wealthy, intelligent or successful they are, humans are just minor actors in the grand scheme of things. They may look as all powerful but their destinies are never in their own hands.
No one describes this dilemma any better than Ruttie who in her last letter to Jinnah written during the voyage back from Paris wrote,
''Darling I love you--I love you--and had I loved you just a little less I might have remained with you--only after one has created a very beautiful blossom one does not drag it through the mire. The higher you set your ideal the lower it falls.
I have loved you my darling as it is given to few men to be loved. I only beseech you that the tragedy which commenced in love should also end with it.
Darling Goodnight and Goodbye.''
Unfortunately none of Jinnah's letters to Ruttie were allowed to be made public by the Petit family, thus denying us a glimpse into the soul of this man.