Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Mr and Mrs Jinnah: Read about the Love Story That Shocked All of Indian Society

There are few who do not know of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the famous barrister who would go on to become one of the most prominent voices in the freedom struggle. What most don't know is the story of his marriage to vivacious Ruttie Petit, the daughter of the baronet Sir Dinshaw Petit. Petit, who was a good friend of the 40-year-old Jinnah, forbade his then 16-year-old daughter to pursue the match, for fear of how society would react to a Muslim-Parsi marriage.

Ruttie wouldn't give up, and married Jinnah when she turned 18, a move that would shock Bombay society and leave the Jinnahs ostracised. It looked like a match that would not last, but both husband and wife were madly in love with each other, in their own ways. While Ruttie's demonstrative ways hid nothing of her feelings, Jinnah's quiet and reserved devotion to his young bride was evident to anyone who saw them. Cut off from her family and friends, and with Jinnah's increasing work with the nationalist movement, Ruttie languished and died at 29, leaving behind a daughter Dina, and her inconsolable husband, who would close off that part of himself forever.

In Mr and Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage that Shook India, Sheela Reddy uses never-before-seen personal letters of Ruttie and her close friends as well as accounts left by contemporaries and friends to tell us about the marriage that shook society, and the man and woman who braved all odds just to stay together, but who were separated by life.

Read an excerpt from this fascinating book below:

Rarely were her invitations turned down. They looked forward to meeting Jinnah in his own home but it was she who dazzled them. Jinnah was adored no doubt, but they could always meet him in his chamber where they were welcome at any time. But an invitation to South Court meant spending a few hours in the company of Mrs Jinnah. For the young men especially, who came singly, even those few who were married, Ruttie was a source of the utmost fascination. They were mesmerized, not just by her beauty and style and charming informality but because they had never before come across a young and beautiful woman from the highest society who could stay awake all night discussing politics with them in a haze of cigarette smoke and alcohol. All of them went away a little in love with her, and at least one of them—Kanji Dwarkadass—was enthralled for life.

But she had eyes for no one other than Jinnah. To see him as he sat there—at his relaxed best, stretching out his long legs as he made a telling point; to catch him in one of those rare moods when he talked in a personal way, hearing him recount anecdotes from the past with his dry, sharp wit and dramatic flair, to listen with everyone else, with the same rapt attention, as he held forth on politics, demonstrating his quick grasp of political intricacies—was to fall in love again with the J she used to know before her marriage. And they both were at their best at these small gatherings—she, because she never felt so cherished by him than when he included her in his political plans, listening to her in all seriousness and good-humouredly taking the way she teased and pulled his leg in front of their guests. It gave her a secret sense of her own power over him, able to say aloud to him all the irreverent things that no one had dared to say to him before. The young men certainly were awestruck by the liberties she took with the great man famed for his haughtiness and reserve. And Jinnah too blossomed under her adoring attention, with his conversations at the dinner table becoming a virtuoso performance. She was seldom so happy as when there were one or two friends present and she could show how happily married they were.


But in truth it had not occurred to Jinnah to be ashamed of anything Ruttie did, and certainly not where her clothes were concerned. He trusted her judgement on aesthetic matters so implicitly that he had even surrendered himself into her hands for a thorough makeover. She not only insisted on him getting a sleek new haircut, but also got rid of the woollen suits with the stiff collars and cravat that was still the trend, especially in the older generation. She picked out new jackets for him, made of light silk and worn open-necked without the constricting bow tie, which suited his slim, graceful form to perfection. It was a subtle change she worked on him, understanding his need to impress as well as escape the contempt of the British by outdoing them in sartorial elegance. It ended up lending him a new air of easy and graceful informality, much admired by British and Indians alike. ‘Nobody knew how much Jinnah owed in this matter to Ruttie,’ as Kanji was to write later.

Her own style, however, sprang from a different way of looking at the world. With her upbringing and self-assurance, she had none of his need to impress. She dressed as the new generation in England was learning to dress—‘creating ever new and fantastic styles and imagery of their own with which to astonish the world and amuse themselves’. In her own circle, it was a style much admired, making her ‘the daintiest, naughtiest, darlingest of the swish set, smarter than them all’. But it did not go down so well in the eyes of Jinnah’s conservative circle of acquaintances, both British and Indian.

She had evolved by now her own unique style, combining Indian dress with the latest fashion from England, producing an effect so striking and aesthetic that nearly everyone in her previous circle of friends and female acquaintances had tried to copy her clothes. But it was a difficult style to imitate, needing a sense of immense self assurance to carry it off. Her saris were no different from what every fashionable Indian girl of her age wore or at least coveted—gossamer thin gauze in rainbow hues. The fabric was even more transparent than what women of Lady Petit’s generation wore at the beginning of the new century—diaphanous chiffons and georgettes with intricately embroidered borders stitched on to it.

Although Ruttie would have hated to admit it, her style was, in fact, an extension of her mother’s taste, rather than a departure from it. Both were discriminating in what they wore, shunning loud colours and anything elaborate or fussy. Rutty had an even more refined horror of anything flashy, especially gold zari work. And for this reason, she refused to buy anything off the shelves, believing that it was only possible to get the right sari by ordering it from the traders who came home with their tin trunks. She was prepared to wait for months for the sari to be specially woven for her in the plain, pastel colours she preferred, ‘without vulgar tinsel marring it’.


However, the English memsahibs were not the only ones to be shocked at Ruttie’s daring dress. She created even more ripples among the conservative Muslims who considered her way of dressing as that of a ‘fast woman’. Especially provoked were the ‘bearded Moulvies and Maulanas’ who formed an important part of Jinnah’s political world. Chagla recounts an incident at Globe Theatre where a Muslim League conference was being held. When Ruttie walked in and took her seat on the platform meant for VIPs, Chagla writes: ‘The hall was full of bearded Moulvies and Maulanas and they came to me in great indignation, and asked me who that woman was. They demanded that she should be asked to leave, as the clothes she flaunted constituted an offence to Islamic eyes.’

But instead of toning down her dress, Ruttie seemed to take a mischievous pleasure in provoking people further. Barely a month into her marriage, she made a dramatic entry into the Viceregal Lodge in Simla wearing her usual short, sleeveless choli under a transparent sari. Far from being intimidated by the disapproving stares, she took further liberties by refusing to curtsey to the viceroy, according to the protocol. Instead, she folded her hands in the Indian custom after shaking hands with him. Lord Chelmsford did not let the insult go unremarked. ‘Immediately after dinner the A.D.C. asked Ruttie to come and talk to the Viceroy. Lord Chelmsford pompously told her: “Mrs Jinnah, your husband has a great political future, you must not spoil it . . . In Rome you must do as the Romans do.” Mrs Jinnah’s immediate retort was: “That is exactly what I did, Your Excellency. In India, I greeted you in the Indian way.”’ According to Aziz Beg, author of Jinnah and His Times, ‘That was the first and the last time she met Lord Chelmsford.’


It was eventually the governor’s wife, Lady Willingdon, who belled the cat, so to speak. ‘The story,’ as Jinnah’s biographer Hector Bolitho writes, ‘is that Mrs Jinnah wore a low-cut dress that did not please her hostess. While they were seated at the dining table, Lady Willingdon asked an ADC to bring a wrap for Mrs Jinnah, in case she felt cold.’

Jinnah’s response was characteristic: ‘He is said to have risen and said, “When Mrs Jinnah feels cold, she will say so, and ask for a wrap herself.” Then he led his wife from the dining room, and from that time, refused to go to Government House again.’

These selected portions have been excerpted from Mr and Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage that Shook India by Sheela Reddy, published by Penguin Random House India.

Sheela Reddy has written extensively for leading Indian newspapers and journals during her 35 years in journalism. In her last job as books editor of the news magazine Outlook, she wrote on diverse subjects, including politics, history, culture, literature, biographical sketches, and interviews with significant men and women of the subcontinent and beyond, and change makers everywhere. Her writing has also appeared in literary magazines and in several anthologies. Mr and Mrs Jinnah is her second book. Her first was a compilation of essays and profiles by Khushwant Singh, Why I Supported the Emergency. She lives in Delhi.

(Source: Vagabomb)

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