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When Jinnah fell in love
mr and mrs jinnah
In her book, SHEELA REDDY talks about the blooming romance between Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the much younger Ruttie Petit, and how it was perceived by the people of Mumbai back then. An edited excerpt:
By the beginning of June, before the rains started to swell the rivers and make the roads impassable, all of Bombay’s rich and well-to-do returned home to their city in fashionable flocks; and with them returned the Petits and Jinnah, separately. Almost instantly, the strange and fascinating story of Jinnah’s and Ruttie’s romance began to do the rounds. Within a fortnight, even a stranger attending a public meeting in Bombay heard about their love story. After being introduced to Jinnah at a public meeting at the Bombay Presidency Association, Kanji Dwarkadas, then a young man of 24, found out the gossip doing the rounds of the city on why the otherwise reserved Jinnah was currently in such unusually high spirits: ‘Jinnah had spent the two months of summer vacation in Darjeeling with Sir Dinshaw and Lady Dinbai Petit and there he fell in love with their 16-year-old beautiful daughter, Ruttie. As they returned to Bombay in early June, all Bombay heard of was their impending marriage but the parents did not like the idea of their daughter marrying a Mohammedan. Ruttie was a minor but she was determined to marry Jinnah.’
Kanji, like every other young man of his circle, had worshipped Ruttie from a distance since his student days. Walking on a cold afternoon two years ago across the Bombay Oval, he had caught sight of Ruttie riding in a small carriage driven by a pony. He could not take his eyes off the 14-year-old beauty, and watched the carriage and its occupant till they disappeared from sight. He never forgot her face, and discovered who she was from a photograph that appeared in a newspaper three months later. As for Jinnah, Kanji knew of him as a popular leader, without having ever seen him before.
Jinnah had never been known before to chase a woman, especially not one as young and enchanting as Ruttie, preferring to avoid them at the few parties he attended, where he hated the dancing and music, choosing instead to retreat to a quiet corner and engage any man who was interested in what was so far his only passion: Politics. But now here he was, wherever Ruttie appeared - at the races, at parties and even the fashionable Willingdon Club where everyone went for the dancing and the live music-talking to her openly, oblivious to people’s looks and whispers. How much his persistence had to do with Ruttie was a matter of guesswork, because she now seemed to be doing all the chasing, going up to him and looking up at him with such open adoration that it would have been beyond even Jinnah’s iron will to resist her had he wanted to. They became the talking point of all Bombay - he for having the audacity to stand up to her father and she for her forwardness.
In hindsight, it was hardly surprising that fashionable Bombay was so excited about what could, after all, have fizzled out as a mere teenage crush. But Bombay wanted their love to be something more than a passing fancy. The city with its cotton market and cloth mills had become by then not just the richest in the country but also the most cosmopolitan. Here students and professionals from across the country came to make their fortune and name, confident that doors would open to them, regardless of the old barriers of caste and community.
It was a dynamic, modern city, proud of its sons like Jinnah. He had come to the city penniless from Karachi, the eldest of seven children of a failed businessman of the Khoja Muslim community, and within the span of two decades, had clawed himself upwards as one of Bombay’s best-known and wealthiest lawyers. A star politician, he was known for his luxury cars and fashionable clothes, able to hold his own with the best in the court as well as in the Imperial Legislative Council, where he was about to be re-elected for his third term.
No one, not even in Bombay’s mixed society, had dared so far to cross the matrimonial divide among the Hindus, Parsis and Muslims. There were men, of course, usually fresh out of Oxford or Cambridge, who had returned from overseas with French or English wives, but to go as far as Jinnah was intending to go was unheard of. It touched a chord in the English chattering classes, and not just in Bombay. ‘I got news today that there was much noise in Bombay about Ruttie Petit wanting to marry Jinnah,’ wrote Sarojini Naidu’s elder son, Jaisoorya, to his sister, Padmaja, from his student digs in Bangalore.
Jaisoorya had only heard of Ruttie so far. But as the eldest child of liberal, English-educated parents like Sarojini and her doctor husband, who themselves had an inter-caste marriage 18 years ago and had raised all four of their children in a cosmopolitan home, one would have expected Jaisoorya to be on Ruttie’s side. And indeed he did not dispute her right to marry a Muslim. His issue was with the age of her suitor. ‘What put it into her silly little head to suddenly fall in love with a man old enough to be her father,’ Jaisoorya wrote from his room in Bangalore’s YMCA, urging Padmaja to stay out of it.
So intimidating was the social distance between the Petits and ordinary people that Jaisoorya felt too shy to call on Ruttie even when he moved to Poona later that year to start his college even though he had heard so much about her from the rest of his family. ‘I hear Ruttie Petit is in Poona,’ he wrote to Padmaja on 30 December 1917, from Yeravada, Poona, ‘but I do not know that young lady and she most probably would not care to see such a poor person as myself. And I do not care to go and see big barons who wish to patronise me.’
Excerpted from Mr and Mrs Jinnah,written by Sheela Reddy and published by Penguin Random House
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