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  • Chandini Jaswal

Wives of political leaders of British India - RUTTIE JINNAH


In the summer of 1916, Sir Dinshaw Petit, an affluent Parsi businessman, invited his close friend, the barrister and rising politician Muhammad Ali Jinnah to escape the blazing heat of Bombay and spend the summer with him and his family in Darjeeling. When they returned to Bombay, Jinnah, a frequent visitor to their palatial home, enquired about his views on inter-community marriages. “A capital idea”, the textile magnate had answered. But the question that followed next, stunned him. His friend asked for his permission to marry his only daughter, Rattanbai or ‘Ruttie’! Jinnah was, like all Indians of that time, married at the age of 15/16 to his fourteen-year-old cousin Emibai, who probably died while he was away to study in London in 1893. Jinnah turned his attention to politics and became a member of the home league, all the while, never re-marrying. But in the vacation trip with the Petits, Jinnah came across his friend’s sixteen-year-old daughter Ruttie, who was called the ‘flower of Bombay’.She was extremely beautiful, well-read, and knowledgeable. In the two months of the summer they spent together horse riding, the romance blossomed.

Sir Dinshaw Petit was furious. Ruttie was not of the age at which the progressive Parsi parents of the day expected their daughters to get married. Besides, Ruttie and her ‘beau’ belonged to different faiths and had a twenty-four-year gap between them. Petit went to court and got a restraining order. Two years later, on April 19, 1918, about two months after Ruttie turned 18, she married Jinnah amidst much furor. They wanted a court marriage but the law then didn’t allow so until religion was given up. This meant Jinnah had to resign his Muslim seat in the Imperial Legislative Council. Ruttie solved the problem by embracing Islam.

Ruttie was keen on her husband’s political career. She traveled with ‘Jay’ as she called him, to meetings including the Congress session in Nagpur and spoke vociferously in favor of Hindu-Muslim unity. Once, a voice vote was taken at the Town Hall, where an uproar broke out. Ruttie, five weeks pregnant, was at home but she found her way to the balcony above the Town Hall library. From there, she made her maiden speech, in English, telling the audience: "We are not slaves….”, confronting the then Bombay police commissioner, said: “whatever you may do, I am not going to move from here.” The all-male crowd was spellbound and remained rooted to the spot even when the commissioner ordered water hoses to be used on Jinnah, Ruttie, and the rest of the assembly. But Ruttie went on till the gathering broke up. However, according to Sheela Reddy, after her Town Hall speech, Ruttie never made herself conspicuous in the political sphere. Though careful with money, Jinnah admired and indulged Ruttie. The first few years of their marriage also coincided with challenging and changing times in politics. By the mid-1922, Jinnah was becoming busier, finding it even difficult to take time out to have his meals. It was now that differences in their demeanors and lifestyle also started to crop up. While the young and bubbly Ruttie loved dancing, music, club life, and garden parties, her husband was bound to his routine devoted to his political career in the light of significant changes in Indian politics.

Ruttie liked to wear short, sleeveless choli under a sari. In a letter by Lady Reading, wife of Viceroy of India (1921-26), she says, "Jinnah was... an object of interest because of his startlingly beautiful wife... He came to lunch with her. Very pretty, a complete minx... She had less on in the daytime than anyone I have ever seen.” Once the couple attended a dinner at the Government House, where Mrs. Jinnah wore a low-cut dress. While dining, Lady Willingdon, asked for a wrap for Mrs. Jinnah if she felt cold. Jinnah rose from the table, and declared, “When Mrs. Jinnah feels cold, she will say so, and ask for a wrap herself.” Thereafter he refused to go to the Government House again. In December 1919, the couple, since the birth of their daughter, took their first trip out of Bombay to attend annual sessions of Congress and Muslim League in Punjab. The excitement Ruttie felt at the prospect of listening to long speeches, just 3 years ago was long gone. The delight of matrimony had already faded. Disowned by her father and her community, she could only think of visiting her constant companions, Sarojini Naidu, and her daughters in Hyderabad, leaving her husband and child behind. While it was natural in Ruttie’s circle to live in a world apart from their husbands, Jinnah was born of a mother who had never once gone anywhere without her family. Thus when Ruttie left for Hyderabad while he could not because of the Nizam’s order, probably cut him to the core. Still, whatever his feelings might have been, he kept those stoically to himself, saying nothing while she made her own plans. She was, despite being sympathetic, also puzzlingly un-attached to her child. Ruttie moved out of the house in 1928 to the Taj Mahal Hotel with their nine-year-old daughter Dina. Jinnah accepted his role in the failing marriage, “It is my fault: we both need some sort of understanding we cannot give.” Ruttie set sail for Europe with her parents and Dina in 1928. There she fell seriously ill. Jinnah came to visit her in the hospital and sat by her side for hours. Ruttie recovered and left for Bombay while her husband stayed. Their marriage came to a tragic end eleven years and one child later when Ruttie died in Bombay on her 29th birthday (20 February 1929) with her daughter by her side.

Jinnah received the news of his wife’s passing from his father-in-law awfully quietly, speaking for the first time since the wedding. He arrived in Bombay on the morning of February 22. During the burial, Jinnah sat like a stone, sometimes murmuring of political worries. When Ruttie's body was lowered into the grave and he was asked to throw a handful of dirt, he broke down, crying inconsolably. According to Dina, “a curtain fell over him.” Jinnah never recuperated from her death, it is said.


Dina married the Parsi-Christian Neville Wadia and stayed in India, much to her father’s disappointment. She would not go to her father’s new home with him. Jinnah visited Ruttie’s grave a day before he left India forever. Dina did not travel to Pakistan until her father’s funeral in September 1948.



References

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/deep-focus/How-Jinnah-lost-his-love-and-political-relevance/articleshow/47845905.cms


https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/books/story/20170612-mohammed-ali-jinnah-mr-and-mrs-jinnah-book-rutti-jinnah-wife-sheela-reddy-986497-2017-06-05


https://indiacurrents.com/jinnahs-daughter/https://thepunchmagazine.com/the-byword/ interviews/jinnah-and-ruttie-when-politics-broke-up-a-marriage




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