20 February 1900|
Bombay, British India
|Died||20 February 1929
London, United Kingdom
|Muhammad Ali Jinnah
(m. 1918-1929; her death)
|Children||1 (Dina Jinnah)|
|Family||Petit-Tata family (by birth)
Jinnah family (by marriage)
Rattanbai "Ruttie" Jinnah, (born as Rattanbai Petit); also known by her married name Maryam Jinnah - was the second wife of Muhammad Ali Jinnah--an important figure in the creation of Pakistan and the country's founder. The couple's only daughter and child was Dina Wadia, who died in 2017.
Rattanbai was the only daughter of Sir Dinshaw Petit, who in turn, was the son of Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, a member of the Petit family and the founder of the first cotton mills in India. Her mother, Sylla Tata, was the daughter of Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and sister of Jehangir Tata, one of the shareholders of Tata Sons and a part of the Tata family.
Rattanbai Petit (often informally called "Ruttie") was born on 20 February 1900 in Bombay, British India, into two of the extremely affluent and well-connected business families belonging to the Parsi community. She was the only daughter of businessman Sir Dinshaw Petit, the second baronet of Petits, and his wife Sylla Tata. She was the second of three siblings; an elder brother, Fali, and two younger brothers, Manek and Jamshed. Her paternal grandfather, Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, the first baronet, had built some of the earliest cotton mills in India. Her maternal grandfather, Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, was a noted businessman--and had been a first cousin and close associate of Jamshetji Tata. Ruttie's maternal uncle, J. R. D. Tata, would later become the longest serving chairman of the Tata Group, one of India's leading business conglomerates. Her maternal grandmother, Suzanne Brière, a French Catholic woman, was the first woman in India to drive a car. Ruttie's parents spoke French to each other, and Ruttie grew up very proficient in that language.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, then 40, was only three years younger than Ruttie's father, and the two men were good friends. Jinnah was a frequent guest at Petit Hall, the sprawling seaside residence of the Petit family at the foot of Malabar Hill in Mumbai. It was in this setting that Ruttie and Jinnah became acquainted. Their romance, however, started in Darjeeling, while the two were thrown together on a vacation by her unsuspecting family. Despite an age difference of twenty-four years, and the fact that Ruttie was hardly sixteen years old at this time, the two decided to get married.
Jinnah broached the topic with his friend by first discussing the question of interfaith and inter-community marriages, always a hot potato in India. Here he was sure of drawing a favorable response from the baronet, who had himself married Sylla Tata, a half-Indian-Parsi and half-French-Catholic women. Having drawn his friend out to make a general statement in support of mixed marriages, Jinnah then made his proposal to marry his friend's daughter. The baronet was shocked beyond words; he had never imagined anything other than a benign paternalistic relationship between his friend and his daughter. He reacted with violent indignation to the idea and almost ordered Jinnah out of his house. From the Petits' point of view, it was not just the question of religion, but also that of the age difference, especially given that Jinnah was 40, that appalled them.
"She was, after all, not yet sixteen, an age when modern parents of the new century did not expect their daughters to rush into marriage, although in more conventional homes girls were either betrothed or already married by that age. Sir Dinshaw's only sister, Hamabai, after having gone to a French boarding school in Nice for her baccalaureate, was still single at twenty-nine and not an eyebrow was raised."
Since Ruttie was underage, her father was able to prevent the marriage for the time being, and the matter brewed for more than an year with no resolution. Ruttie was the only daughter (she had three brothers) of her parents, and they always celebrated her birthday in grand style. Despite the tensions within the family, they could hardly give her coming-of-age birthday a miss, and a grand banquet was held on the occasion at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, owned by Ruttie's mother's family. After the baronet had regaled his guests with a witty after-dinner speech, Ruttie stood up saying "Thank you, Papa..." and went on to drop a bombshell. She calmly informed the gathering that she had accepted a proposal of marriage from Jinnah, and that they would be married shortly; she asked the audience to wish them joy. She sat down to thundering silence, but despite the palpable outrage and opposition, a matter which had become so public could not be undone, and Ruttie could not be persuaded to change her mind. Even to the end, her parents could never reconcile themselves to the turn of events. Their objections were manifold: the difference of religion, the vast difference in age, the feeling of having been betrayed by a man they had always regarded as a friend. When the time came for Ruttie to abandon the Parsi religion and be received into the Muslim community, she was disowned and thrown off by her family and had to leave her father's house forthwith. In 1918, only weeks after her 18th birthday, Ruttie converted to Islam, took the name "Maryam Jinnah" (though she never used it), married the 42-year-old Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in an Islamic wedding, and cut all ties with her family and the Parsi community.
The Jinnah's resided mainly at South Court Mansion in Malabar Hill, a stone's throw from Petit Hall. However, there was no contact between them and the Petit family, and the estrangement continued even after the birth of Ruttie's only child, Dina Jinnah, the following year. In addition to the estrangement from her own family, Ruttie was also ex-communicated from the Parsi Community with extraordinary measures and censure, and a near complete ostracization from their social gatherings.
Ruttie and Jinnah also made frequent trips to Europe and spent considerable lengths of time there. They made for a head-turning couple, not just because they looked an unlikely mismatched pair, but also because Ruttie aspired to define the acme of fashion and money was no object. Her long hair would be decked in fresh flowers, she wore vibrant silks and chiffon's, accentuated by headbands and tiaras lavish with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Jinnah doted on his child-like bride and indulged her every wish, and she was likewise content to be pampered by her beloved sugar-daddy whom she called "J". According to most sources, the couple could not have been happier in their first few years of marriage. Their only child, Dina Jinnah, was born on 15 August 1919.
Jinnah's own sister Fatima Jinnah, who had been a ward of Jinnah from age eight, since their father's death in 1901, was not amenable to the marriage either. In an attempt to make way for the new bride, Fatima was initially bundled off to another sister's home, but later had come to spending her Sundays at the Jinnah residence at South Court. The young Ruttie, already a mother at 19, found that she was no longer the sole recipient of Jinnah's attentions. It did not help that she and Fatima were of very different temperaments. Ruttie had even yelled at Fatima (considered dour, and very close in personal characteristics in her austerity and fastidiousness, to Jinnah) once, upon seeing her reading the Quran regularly, "the Quran is a book to be talked about not to be read!" Jinnah enrolled Fatima in a Dental College in 1919. In 1923, he also helped Fatima Jinnah setup her own clinic in Bombay. Yet, this did little in bridging the gap that had developed between Jinnah and Ruttie.
By mid-1922, Jinnah was facing political isolation (almost reflecting Ruttie's own ex-communication from the Parsi Community), as he devoted every spare moment to be the voice of separatist incitement in a nation torn by Hindu-Muslim antipathy. His increasingly late hours and the ever-increasing distance between them left Ruttie feeling neglected. The marriage deteriorated rapidly within months after the birth of their child. Jinnah expected that after the birth of their child, Ruttie should stop behaving like a child herself and discharge the role of wife and mother in a more traditional mould. Her continuing irresponsibility, self-absorption and elfin childishness were no longer charming but had turned irksome to him. His own interests and pursuits - Muslim welfare, social issues, the question of home rule - were as serious and solemn as hers were floozie and feckless, connected to clothes, jewels, parties and foreign excursions. Both of them were utterly absorbed in their own interests and looked upon the other as being unbending and unmanagable. Both of them left their daughter to the care of nannies and governesses and otherwise neglected her so completely that the child was not even given a name until the age of nine. Jinnah found it convenient to play sugar daddy by keeping Ruttie supplied with money - for which her appetite was enormous - if it would keep her reasonably happy and out of his way, but Ruttie craved not only luxury but also great attention. While on the one hand neglecting her own child so much as to make that a topic of discussion across their circle in Bombay, Ruttie on the other hand demanded that her husband be in an incessant and continuous state of courtship, doting on her, pampering her and attending to her every need every moment of every day. Such a situation had indeed prevailed for a brief period when Jinnah had been a lonely childless widower and Ruttie a frothy, vivacious teenager. That infatuation had worn out, and Jinnah found the demands made on him onerous and vexatious. The change was not something which Ruttie could understand or accept. Her complex relationship with her husband can be gleaned by reading some extracts of her last letter to him:
Jinnah, on the other hand, confided to a friend, "she was a child, I shouldn't have married her. It was my mistake". Further, in an irony of sorts, his own stance on inter-faith and inter-community marriages was challenged when his daughter Dina decided to marry a Christian-Parsi industrialist from Bombay. In an almost exact way Sir Dinshaw Petit and Ruttie had clashed, Jinnah too clashed with his own daughter over her desire to marry outside the Muslim community. Mahommedali Currim Chagla, who was Jinnah's assistant at the time, writes in his autobiography Roses in December: "Jinnah asked Dina 'there are millions of Muslim boys in India, is he the only one you were waiting for?' and Dina replied 'there were millions of Muslim girls in India, why did you marry my mother then?'"
Jinnah is seen as a very private person who hardly showed his emotions, but he is known to have wept twice in public, and both occasions were connected to Ruttie. One of the occasions was Ruttie's funeral in 1929, and the other was in August 1947, when he visited her grave one last time before leaving for Pakistan. Jinnah left India in August 1947, never to return again.
After Ruttie's death, it appeared that Jinnah missed her a great deal. G. Allana wrote a biography of Jinnah entitled "Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah: The Story of a Nation," and he relates an anecdote made known to him by Jinnah's chauffeur. He quoted the chauffeur thus: