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 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 Petit, was the daughter of Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and sister of JRD Tata, one of the shareholders of Tata Sons and a part of the Tata family.
Ruttie was born on 20 February 1900 in Bombay, British India, into an extremely affluent and well-connected business family belonging to the Parsi community. She was the only daughter of Sir Dinshaw Petit, 2nd Baronet, by his wife Sylla Tata, a niece of Jamshedji Tata. Her paternal grandfather, Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, first baronet Petit, had built some of the earliest cotton mills in India. Her maternal grandfather, Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, 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 (mother of JRD Tata), 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.
Jinnah 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. 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 intercommunity marriages, always a hot potato in India. Here he was sure of drawing a favorable response from the baronet, who had himself married a woman half-Indian-Parsi and half-French-Catholic. 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.
Since Ruttie was yet 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 child 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 banquest was held for the occasion at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, owned by her mother's family. After the baronet had regaled his guests with a witty after-dinner speech, Ruttie stood up saying "Thank you papa..." and then 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, and 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. Even to the end, the baronet could never reconcile himself to the turn of events, and when the time came for Ruttie to abandon the Parsi religion and be received into the Muslim community, she was thrown off by her family. In 1918, only weeks after her 18th birthday, Ruttie converted to Islam, took the name Maryam Jinnah (though she never used it), married the Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and cut all the ties with her family.
The couple resided mainly at South Court Mansion in Malabar Hill, only a stone's throw from Petit Hall. They also made frequent trips to Europe and spent considerable lengths of time there. Ruttie and Jinnah made a head-turning couple. She used to call her husband "J". Her long hair would be decked in fresh flowers, she wore vibrant silks and chiffons, accentuated by headbands and tiaras lavish with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. According to most sources, the couple could not have been happier in those early years of their marriage. Sir Dinshaw mourned Ruttie socially even after his granddaughter Dina Jinnah, their only child, was born on 15 August 1919.
By mid-1922, Jinnah was facing political isolation 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 isolated.
Ruttie's complex relationship with her husband can also be elaborated by reading some extracts of her last letter to him "...When one has been as near to the reality of Life (which after all is Death) as I have been dearest, one only remembers the beautiful and tender moments and all the rest becomes a half veiled mist of unrealities. Try and remember me beloved as the flower you plucked and not the flower you tread upon." ... ".. Darling I love you - I love you - and had I loved you just a little less I might have remained with you - only after one has created a very beautiful blossom one does not drag it through the mire. The higher you set your ideal the lower it falls. I have loved you my darling as it is given to few men to be loved. I only beseech you that the tragedy which commenced in love should also end with it...".
Jinnah is seen as a very private person and he hardly showed emotions but he is known to have cried twice in public. One of the occasions was the funeral of his beloved wife Ruttie in 1929 and the other one 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 from cancer it appeared that Jinnah missed her a great deal. G Allana in "Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah: The Story of a Nation" based on the narrative of a chauffeur of Mr Jinnah writes:
"You know servants in household come to know everything that is going around them. Sometimes more than twelve years after Begum Jinnah's (Mrs. Jinnah) death, the boss would order at dead of night a huge ancient wooden chest to be opened, in which were stored clothes of his dead wife and his married daughter. He would intently look into those clothes, as they were taken out of box and were spread on the carpets. He would gaze at them for long with eloquent silence. Then his eyes turn moisten..."