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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jinnah’s better half - Khwaja Razi Haider

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, India’s 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.

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.

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.) BERT BRANDT/ACME/AFP

Ruttie’s 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 Jinnah’s side at her funeral, and he wrote: “When Ruttie’s 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.”•

book review by A G Noorani


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