Posted: January 2, 2009 in politics
Tags: , , ,

IN RETROSPECT: A Fairytale Gone Wrong

Dec.21, 2008 Dawn
By Mazhar M. Chinoy

She requested a close friend in one of her last letters – “Go and see Jinnah and tell me how he is, he has a habit of overworking himself and now that I am not there to tease and bother him, he will be worse than ever.”

They would’ve been married for 90 years last April 19, the staid, steadfast man and the au courant, beautiful woman; he nearly a quarter of a century senior in age, and she smitten by his charm. It was an unlikely love story, and one that in all of its contrasts, was likely to fail.

Ruttie Jinnah died a heart-broken young woman nearly 80 years ago, and for many Pakistanis, a visit to her graveside still remains elusive primarily because very few know where she is, and that she is buried in an old cemetery in Mumbai. Even fewer have actually visited her final resting place to pay respects to one of the only two women ever publicly associated with the Father of the Nation.

I have visited Bombay many times but had always missed out on paying respects at her graveside. But on my last trip early this year, with little time at hand to brave the Bombay traffic and catch the plane back home, I nonetheless gambled on visiting the Shia Isna Ashari Cemetery located at Mazgaon, central Mumbai where she is eternally reposed.

I arrived at the serene graveyard and asked for the attendant who patiently led me to Ruttie’s grave through a labyrinth of tombstones and sepulchers, some of them truly ancient. An imposing structure made of aging marble that rose nearly four feet from the ground, but did not appear very well maintained testified to neglect of many years.

“Do very many people visit her grave?” I asked the attendant. “Not too many”, he answered, “Only people visiting from Pakistan or an occasional curious local.” As it transpired, apparently no relative, near or distant, visits Ruttie. Many of these are the present scions of the wealthy Wadia family, the notable Parsi industrialists. Ruttie and Jinnah’s only child Dina married into the Wadia family, and Ness, famously friends these days with the pretty Priety Zinta is none other than her great grandson.

None of that glamour was evident at Ruttie’s graveside. The marble grave, carved out in floral motifs and small ionic columns must have presented a riveting sight when it was built, and even now appeared somewhat majestic, if only because of the other old, dilapidated graves that surrounded Ruttie’s.

The inscription on the tombstone pronounced her as “Ratanbai Mahomed Ali-Jinnah. Born 20th February, 1900. Died 20th February, 1929”, which suggests that she died the same day she was born. A bit of a misnomer when most historians believe she actually passed away five days shy of her 30th birthday on February 15, 1929. This discrepancy has seemingly been a bit of a dogged debate with many believing that this was an inadvertent error while many others suggesting that this was done as an intriguing honorific suitable for a tragic, fallen angel which many believe she was. While she was buried in a Muslim graveyard, this was still as ‘Ruttie’ and not with her adopted name Mariam.

Very little is known of Rattanbai Dinshaw Petit, except that she was a beautiful and intelligent Parsi woman who married a brilliant lawyer, changed her religion for him and suffered as he went about his political business with apparently little time for her child-like adventurism and romantic interludes. With her family ostracised and Jinnah unable to provide attention, she withdrew into the surreal world of the supernatural and the metaphysical. She began to participate in seances, looking to contact the spirits of people long dead, perhaps hoping to gain some consolation in the hope of a better after-life.

Within 10 years of her marriage, she was virtually separated from Jinnah, and in 1927, moved into the fabled – and lately in news – Taj Mahal Hotel overlooking the India Gate in Bombay with little more than her personal attendant and beloved cats to keep her company. Here, she was to spend the last two years of her life. Her love for Jinnah was no less different than on the first day they met. She requested a close friend in one of her last letters – “go and see Jinnah and tell me how he is, he has a habit of overworking himself and now that I am not there to tease and bother him he will be worse than ever.”

When Ruttie finally passed away, Jinnah was there at the funeral. He was morose but not inclined to display his feelings publicly. Ruttie was buried according to Muslim rituals and the moment the body was interred provided for the first cracks in Jinnah’s armour. He broke down and wept openly – the only time Jinnah was ever seen weeping in public. The cold, unemotional politician credited with the creation of the largest Muslim state, of single-handedly withstanding the combined political might of the British and Congress was an emotive human being after all. And one that fell in love in a fairy tale affair that became a tragedy.


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