June Issue 2010

By | Books | Arts & Culture | Published 8 years ago

The least surprising thing about Khwaja Razi Haider’s book Ruttie Jinnah, a biography of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s wife, is that there are no surprises. It is brief and basic. It is by no means a tell-all biography or a detailed account of Ruttie’s life or of her married life to a man who was 22 years her senior and went on to become the founder of Pakistan. While the biography might not be detailed, Haider has paid great attention to what details he shares and his caution is quite tangible. The reticence in his writing was, perhaps, inevitable as he himself explains in the preface of the book: “Radiating such liberal conduct and demeanour as she did, I wondered if I could portray her correctly as the wife of the revered ‘Father of the Nation?’”

However, what he has managed to produce is a well-researched book. It should be noted that the Quaid kept the details of his personal life outside of the public domain, which makes it difficult to acquire intimate details about it. So, whereas the book might be lacking in detail, it does give us instances, incidents and facts – but not analysis – and the reader gets to connect the dots. As Haider says, “Some facts, which have not been mentioned, can be read between the lines because fragrance cannot be confined in the cage of words.”

Haider describes how the Quaid, who became a self-avowed bachelor after the death of his first wife, gets wooed by Ruttie and ends up marrying her despite the difference in religion and age. At the time, Jinnah was a successful lawyer and politician who became part of Bombay’s elite and moved in the Parsi social circles, which is how he met Ruttie’s father, Sir Dinshaw Petit, and hence Ruttie herself. She was known as the ‘Flower of Bombay’ owing to her inimitable beauty, grace and charm. Here they were, a budding politician and a Parsi socialite who, as mentioned in the book, was fond of saying that her community should be woken up.

And she did indeed wake them up. Upon coming of age she left her home, converted to Islam and married Jinnah despite her father’s disapproval. The instances mentioned in the book confirm that Ruttie was an outspoken nationalist. The book also mentions how most of the Quaid’s biographers agree that both his personal and political ways changed after the marriage, from April 1918 to December 1920; he was more passionate in his thinking just as his wife was.

Ruttie’s bold lifestyle and disdain for British rule were obvious. Some were enamoured by her charm and others not so much. Haider recounts an incident at the Government House where Ruttie wore a low-cut dress, which did not please her hostess Lady Willingdon. While they were seated at the dining table the hostess asked her ADC to get Ruttie a wrap in case she felt cold. Jinnah is said to have risen and said, “When Mrs Jinnah feels cold, she will say so and ask for a wrap herself.” He then led her out and refused to revisit the Government House and his relationship with Lord Willingdon became strained. Jinnah was clearly smitten.

Ruttie actively supported and advocated her husband’s politics. But later their relationship took a turn, leading to a separation. Age and difference in temperaments are recurring themes in the discussion on why it happened. Haider notes how some biographers claim that Ruttie’s extreme nationalism led to eventual resistance to Jinnah’s ways. But he refutes this claim by raising a question: why did she stand by him, at least until 1927? To him, this indicates the relationship was stable till then.

After they separated, Ruttie suffered from insomnia and acute anxiety and went to Paris for treatment. Jinnah went there and looked after her. After they both returned to Bombay, Ruttie fell ill again and even though they weren’t living together he visited her often. We may never know whether Ruttie and Jinnah would have reunited. Haider does say, “The closer Jinnah came to being reconciled with her, the closer her death came too.” She passed away soon after but Jinnah was out of town. And while burying her he wept.

Jinnah and Ruttie had a daughter, Dina, whom they both loved. Ironically, she had the same fate as her mother’s. She wanted to marry Neville Wadia, a wealthy Parsi who later converted to Christianity. Jinnah, like Ruttie’s father, disapproved and Dina, like Ruttie, went ahead with the wedding, following which Jinnah broke of all ties with her. History repeated itself in a strange way. It was Jinnah who refused to give his blessings as he wanted his daughter to marry a Muslim.

All in all, Haider provides a glimpse of the Jinnahs’ life, but it is not enough to really get to know Ruttie as an individual or them as a couple. Like other biographers before him, Haider is obviously on his guard when writing about the wife of the “Father of the Nation.”