Art & Culture

Private matter of Mr and Mrs Jinnah's love and desires

Sheela Reddy
Sheela ReddyMar 27, 2017 | 14:48

Private matter of Mr and Mrs Jinnah's love and desires

She (Ruttie Jinnah) had dreaded going to Delhi so soon after her marriage because of her recent notoriety, thanks to the newspapers. The Parsi and Urdu papers especially were at each other’s throats over the marriage — as if it was anyone’s business but hers and Jinnah’s. Vicious things were being said, especially by the Parsi newspapers.

They seemed even more incensed that she had converted to Islam than by the fact that she had dared to disobey her father. Even more offensive was their accusation that Jinnah and even the whole Muslim community had made her convert to Islam as part of a vile conspiracy against the Parsis, as if she was a puppet with no mind and will of her own.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah with wife Ruttie. 

The Muslims weren’t thanking her either for her sacrifice. They were particularly outraged by some Parsi newspapers describing her wedding day, a Friday, as "Black Friday". An Urdu daily from Lahore, Paisa Akhbar, made threatening noises against those who "dared to attack... the Muslim nation, a nation alive among the nations of the world, and the follower of a living religion".

And it more or less disowned J — she had decided to call him "J" because Jinnah somehow sounded so unfamiliar and unlike the man she loved: "Mr Jinnah is not so illustrious and distinguished in the world of Islam that this one action on his part could prove to be a blot on Islam and its blessed horizon would be covered by dark clouds."

And although what the paper said was true — J was hardly Muslim at all except for his strange name — J himself seemed to be taking what they were saying more seriously than she had expected him to. It was all turning so strange and communal and had so little to do with them as two individuals in love.

As for her, the paper suggested in an editorial two days later that she had married Jinnah for his prestige and worldly fame, and had converted to Islam as a way to get this great catch. Under the headline "A Parsi Baronet’s daughter embraces Islam", the editorial said:


Readers must have come across the news of the renowned Parsi Baronet Sir Dinshaw Petit’s only daughter Ruttenbai embracing Islam and marrying the eminent nationalist Muslim Honourable Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Was it the truth and the divineness of Islam, or her love for him (that led to her conversion)? Whatever it was, the event nevertheless created a sensation in the Parsi community. If love has the power to change faith, then it has certainly produced much more magnificent results. In any case, to those liberal-minded people who have acquired materialistic views, religion and customs hardly mean anything. However, it is hoped that Sir Dinshaw and the Parsi community would see the incident in this perspective. Jinnah is a top-ranking advocate, lawyer and a leader of the nationalists and the darling of the Bar of Bombay Presidency, besides being a member of the viceroy’s legislative council as the representative of the Muslims of Bombay Presidency. In other words, there is no doubt in his being a celebrated lawyer. In terms of respect, renown and worldly grace, he could not but be the most deserving candidate for this marriage. The conversion of a renowned Parsi’s daughter and her marriage to an eminent Muslim may not be the first incident in the present history of the Bombay Presidency but it is very interesting indeed.


In front of J she could laugh about it, but the tone, at once sneering and patronising, got under her skin. Worse, she could see by the look in people’s eyes that they had read these articles about her and J, and despite her mask of sophisticated indifference, she felt a creeping sense of shame, especially at the way her poor dear Papa’s name was being dragged into the whole controversy.

But now, with the Delhi trip out of the way, she could look forward to a month’s respite, spending the whole of May alone with J in Nainital. Mahmudabad had offered them his house in the hill station, Galloway House, for their honeymoon and they were going to drive there from Lucknow in a day or two. Mercifully, there was nothing further happening this summer on the political front to distract J’s attention.

The month passed quickly, but not in that swell of passion and excitement she had dreamt about. Her life’s only goal so far had been the pursuit of her grand passion, but having finally reached it, there had been so far only a sense, surprisingly, of disappointment which she hid even from herself.

Having imagined that he was a non-conformist like her concealed behind his staid manner, his need to put his work above everything else, including food and rest, had been a big blow to her. She had yearned to break through the veils of his many self-repressions and discover for herself the real man with all his intense, impassioned longing for love, like herself.

But the real J kept eluding her, hidden behind his cool and rational mind, never giving himself up to even a single display of deep emotion. Worse, sex with him was not thrilling, even before the initial novelty wore off. In her inexperience, it had not occurred to her to make anything of J’s long years of celibacy or even his lack of physical demonstrativeness while they were courting. If it had, she would have probably put it down to yet further evidence of his admirable will power.

Mr And Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage That Shook India; Penguin Viking; Rs 699.

It was not as if sex was something that could be discussed openly, not even in the girlish confidences she exchanged with Padmaja. The closest she ever got to raising the topic that was uppermost in her mind during her courtship was when she tentatively asked Padmaja if her current admirer was "better in..." than a previous suitor. Even that had filled her with so much embarrassment that she had dropped the question midway.

But now that they were married and J’s mask of self-assurance and worldly wisdom had begun to fall off, the man she discovered was not the fierce and passionate lover of her dreams who she thought would burn "storming passions into the very fibre of her being", but someone altogether more timid and naïve, a child almost — spoilt but brilliant, and touching in his need for her admiration. And intuitively, she scooped him — metaphorically — up into her lap, as if he was really her child.

As Kanji Dwarkadas later perceptively put it in his memoir of Ruttie, "Though she was so much younger than he, she without his realising it, looked after him." It was with this maternal indulgence she began to regard him — forgiving him his stiffness and egotism and his habit of being "idiotically sensible", able to take his scoffing at her poetry and finer sensibilities sportingly, and keeping her own feelings apart.

So what if he didn’t really understand her, she could still keep intact the dream she had always nursed of "pouring love on parched, unlighted souls and through sympathy and understanding" make them blossom, as she had once written to Leilamani. She could still build her "whole character — (her) whole life" on love, making her personality "the soul of love and sympathy", letting her "passionate desire grow into a fair and fragrant flower — so beautiful that it shall draw and command love through its own loveliness".

And so Jinnah found himself shaken suddenly out of his careful habits, teased and coaxed into abandoning his newspapers for riding and motoring in the countryside. Although he liked both horses and motor cars, the outdoors did not really interest him. He did not share her desire to feast his soul on nature, either for its "exquisite and fierce grandeur" or to see if it was "astir with song birds and little insects".

At nights, he had no wish to gaze at the stars and the fireflies; he wanted only to sit indoors with a drink, talking politics with an admirer or two, preferably male. And being a plain-spoken man, he was not afraid to tell her so, bluntly. But nonetheless, he did make an effort, even consenting to be drawn into the garden to plant a sapling as a memento of their love. But he drew the line at responding to the telegrams of congratulation pouring in from his friends on their nuptials.

It was a waste of time writing polite nothings, according to him, but she, of course, was free to do as she pleased. And it did please her to send off these little thank-you notes, just one line filling the whole page in her bold, graceful hand, so casual and un-copybook-like in the liquid ease of letters flowing informally into each other, the words coming easily.

"Dear Mr Syud Mahmud," she wrote in one, "This comes to thank you from us both for your wire of good wishes," signing her new name for the first time: "R Jinnah."

It gave her pride in her new marital status, as did her fussing over his food and appearance, ruling over him with such tender dignity that he became wholly dependent on her without knowing it, trusting in her taste and judgement, his eyes constantly seeking her approval in a way that made her feel both proud and powerful.

(Re-printed with publisher's permission.)

Last updated: March 29, 2017 | 11:45
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