February 20 is not in the days marked for any birth or death anniversary in Pakistan. This day, 112 years back, was born a girl who at age 16 fell for, loved Muhammad Ali Jinnah, eloped with him at age 18, converted to Islam, married him, bore him a daughter, walked out on him at age 28, and died of an overdose of morphine on this very day at the age of 29. She lies buried in the Khoja Shia Isna’Ashari Cemetery, ( Mumbai ).
In the Summer of 1916, a textile magnet of Mumbai, Sir Dinshaw Monockjee Petit Bart’s took along his 16 year old daughter Ruttenbai, whom he fondly called Ruttie, and his 39 year old lawyer friend, Muhammad Ali Jinnah for a vacation at Darjeeling. Jinnah was single but a childhood widower. As a 16 year old student of law in England, his parents back in Karachi had ‘married’ him to a 14 year old bride Begum Emibai.
He never saw his bride. The ‘nikaah’ was performed in England with a male relative ‘representing’ her. The marriage was never consummated. The bride, of Paneli Village ( near Karachi ) was ill-fated to die without having a glimpse of the groom. Muhammad Ali Jinnah returned to Bombay and set up practice. Round about the same time, he plunged into politics and rose in ranks in Mahatma Gandhi’s movement.
Cupid struck at Darjeeling. Fearing Parsee Sir Dinshaw M.P. Bart’s resentment, a clever Muhammad Ali Jinnah was to ask him, one fine day, what the later thought of inter-religious marriages ? Sir Dinshaw reeled of his views: “It would be an ideal solution to inter-communal antagonism.” The suitor had elicited a response in his favour. He didn’t waste time. He asked for Ruttie’s hand. Her father now sensed the questioned cobweb.
Putting it behind, he flew into rage, dismissing the very proposal as “absurd and fantastic”. Ruttie, was not deported to Bombay. But Sir Dinshaw forbade the two to see, meet or talk. He even sought a court injunction. The true love birds held back fire. For, Ruttie was only 16. And the minimum age for wedlock under law was 18. On February 20, 1918, she came of age.
She eloped with Jinnah. Her father disinherited her. After conversion to Islam, she was renamed “Mariam” but it never stuck. Two months later, on April 19, 1918, the ‘nikaah’ was held at Jinnah’s imposing Mumbai mansion ‘South Court’, atop Malabir Hill. Jinnah committed a “mehar’ of Rs 125,000. Sir Dinshaw did not attend. The glitterati of Bombay did. Raja of Mahaudabad gifted the wedding ring.
A glowing compliment for Jinnah came from Sarojini Naidu — the “Nightingale of Bombay”; Ruttie, by then, had the enviable sobriquet “Flower of Bombay”, that “Blue Lily ( Neelofur in Urdu ) Jinnah has plucked”. The Raja of Mahmudabad compared Ruttie to “a fairy of kaus-i-kaaf.'( Caucasia ). Lead lawyer Dewan Chaman Lal said “there is not a women in the world to hold a candle to her for beauty and charm”.
Jinnah-Ruttie had a fairy tale honeymoon in Nainital, and later at Oberoi Maiden’s in Delhi. Shortly after a daughter, Dina ( later Wadia, mother of Nusli Wadia ) was born. Writes Khwaja Razi Haider’s in ‘Ruttie Jinnah’, she was “full of life, pulsating with fiery passions in her veins…radiated her charm and regaled with flashes of wit and repartee.”
Once when Lord Reading lamented, in her presence at Delhi in 1921, that he could not visit Germany due to World War I because “the Germans don’t like the British”, Ruttie retorted; “then how is that you British came to India ?” ( sourced from ‘Freedom at Midnight’ by Larry Collins and Dominique Lappierre.)
The marriage broke up. She walked out on an icy cool, autocratic Jinnah in 1928. Jinnah was to lament: “I seem to be losing her—she was slipping away and I resented this and felt miserable. Many of our little tiffs…were due to background of conflicts. In politics, I was an unhappy, lonely figure…now even my home life was ending.” Ruttie suffered insomnia, hallucinations, took to telepathy, séances and clairvoyance.
A year later, Ruttie was stricken with chronic colitis in France. Jinnah moved her to Mumbai where she breathed her last. He was by her bedside. Sir Dinshaw didn’t attend the funeral. Jinnah broke down as he strew dust on her graveyard.
In August 1947, he paid a last visit to Ruttie’s grave. And wept, a second time. He returned to Delhi, packed up and flew to Pakistan-in-making. In his baggage, was a love letter by Ruttie: “Try and remember me, beloved, as the flower you plucked and not the flower you tread upon.” It’s in a photo-frame at Jinnah’s Mausoleum.
Source: Aroon Sharma, SME World