Maryam Jinnah

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Ratanbai Petit Jinnah
Maryam Jinnah portrait.jpg
Born Ratanbai Petit
(1900-02-20)20 February 1900
Bombay, British India
Died 20 February 1929(1929-02-20) (aged 29)
London, United Kingdom
Other names Maryam Jinnah
Religion Islam
Spouse(s) Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1918-1929)
Children Dina Jinnah
Relatives See Jinnah family
See Petit family

Rattanbai "Ruttie" Petit Jinnah (Gujarati: મરિયમ ઝીણા, before marriage (Gujarati: રતનબાઇ પેતીત; "The Flower of Bombay"); February 20, 1900 – February 20, 1929), was the second wife of Muhammad Ali Jinnah—an important figure in the Indian Independence Movement and later founder of Pakistan.

She was the only daughter of Sir Dinshaw Petit, who in turn, was the son of Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, member of Petit family and the founder of the first cotton mills in India. The Petits were textile magnates and one of Bombay's wealthiest Parsi families.


See also: Petit baronets

"Ruttie" as she was affectionately called, was bright, gifted and graceful. She was 16 the year she met Mohammad Ali Jinnah. She had diverse interests ranging from romantic poetry to politics. With her maiden aunt she attended all public meetings held in Bombay and was familiar with the movement for swaraj (home-rule). She was a fierce supporter of India for Indians and many years later when asked about rumours of Jinnah's possible knighthood and whether she would like to be Lady Jinnah, she snapped that she would rather be separated from her husband than take on an English title.

First meeting with Jinnah[edit]

See also: Jinnah family

In the summer of 1916, Jinnah was invited to escape the Bombay heat at the summer home of his client and friend Sir Dinshaw. There, in Darjeeling, Jinnah was enchanted with Ruttie's precocious intelligence and beauty, and she in turn was enamoured by J, as she called him.

Jinnah's proposal[edit]

Jinnah approached Sir Dinshaw with a seemingly abstract question about his views on inter-communal marriages. Sir Dinshaw emphatically expressed his opinion that it would be an ideal solution to inter-communal antagonism. Jinnah could not have hoped for a more favourable response, and immediately asked his friend for his daughter's hand in marriage.

M. C. Chagla, who was assisting Jinnah at his chambers in those days, recalled later, "Sir Dinshaw was taken aback. He had not realized that his remarks might have serious personal repercussions. He was most indignant, and refused to countenance any such idea which appeared to him absurd and fantastic."

Jinnah pleaded his case, but to no avail. Not only was this the end of the friendship between the two men, but Sir Dinshaw forbade Ruttie to meet Jinnah as long as she lived under his roof. As she was still a minor, the law was on his side, so Ruttie and Jinnah decided to wait out the two years until she attained the age of maturity.

The wedding[edit]

She was converted to Islam upon falling in love with Jinnah, and took the name Maryam. Two years later, on April 19, 1918, they were married at his house South Court in Bombay. The wedding ring which Jinnah gave Ruttie was a present from the Raja of Mahmudabad.

The Raja and a few close friends of Jinnah were the only guests at the wedding, and later the couple spent part of their honeymoon at the Mahmudabad palace in Nainital. The rest of their honeymoon was spent at the Maidens Hotel, a magnificent property just beyond the Red Fort.

Early years of marriage[edit]

Ruttie and Jinnah made a head-turning couple. She used to call her husband “J”. Her long hair would be decked in fresh flowers, and she wore vibrant silk and headbands lavish with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. According to most sources, the couple could not have been happier in those early years of their marriage. The only blot on their joy was Ruttie's ostracism from her family. Sir Dinshaw mourned Ruttie socially even after his granddaughter Dina Jinnah, their only child, was born on August 15, 1919.[1]

Marriage problems[edit]

By mid-1922, Jinnah was facing political isolation as he devoted every spare moment to be the voice of moderation in a nation torn by Hindu-Muslim antipathy. The increasingly late hours and the ever-increasing distance between them left Ruttie isolated.[2]

In September 1922, she packed her bags and took her daughter to London. The echoes of her loneliness are apparent in a letter which she sent to her friend Kanji, thanking him for the bouquet of roses he had sent as a bon voyage gift; It will always give me pleasure to hear from you, so if you have a superfluous moment on your hands you know where to find me if I don't lose myself. And just one thing more, 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.

Upon her return to India, Ruttie tried to see more of her husband but he was too busy campaigning for elections as an independent for the general Bombay seats. Ruttie withdrew into a world of spirits, séances and mysticism. Although she tried to interest Jinnah in the metaphysical, he had little time to devote to her.

In 1925, Jinnah was appointed to a subcommittee to study the possibility of establishing a military college like Sandhurst in India. For this purpose he was to undertake a five-month tour of Europe and North America. Jinnah decided to take Ruttie with him – on what he hoped would be a second honeymoon. Instead the trip simply magnified the growing personal gulf between them.

By 1927, Ruttie and Jinnah had virtually separated, and the move of the Muslim League's office to Delhi was just the final blow to a relationship that was already disturbed.

Deteriorating health[edit]

Ruttie's health deteriorated rapidly in the years after they returned from their final trip together but she kept her interest in her pets and her close friends. Even as a frail, weakened woman, Ruttie attempted to remain in touch with those around her, going so far as to travel in bedroom slippers even though her feet were swollen and painful.

Last days[edit]

Maryam lived at the Taj Hotel in Bombay, almost a recluse as she became more and more bed-ridden. Kanji continued to be her constant companion. By February 18, 1929 she had become so weak that all she could manage to say to him was a request to look after her cats. Two days later, Maryam Jinnah died. It was her 29th birthday. She was buried on February 22 in the Khoja Shia Isna 'Ashari Cemetery, Mazgaon, Bombay, according to Muslim rites. Later, Chagla said in his book ‘Roses in December‘,

Jinnah sat like a statue throughout the funeral but when asked to throw earth on the grave, he broke down and wept. That was the only time when I found Jinnah betraying some shadow of human weakness. It's not a well publicised fact that as a young student in England it had been one of Jinnah's dreams to play Romeo at The Globe. It is a strange twist of fate that a love story that started like a fairy tale ended as a haunting tragedy to rival any of Shakespeare's dramas.

In the future it became evident 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..." [3]

Romantic life[edit]

Although not much is known about Jinnah’s personal life, when he was a law student in London he regularly participated in theatre and seriously considered acting as a profession. Ruttie's complex relationship with Jinnah 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...".[4]

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.[5]

Professor Akbar Ahmed's film Jinnah tried, to some extent, throw some light on Jinnah’s personal life.

Bibliographic references[edit]

  • Chagla, M. C. Individual and the State, Asia Publishing House, 1961
  • Wolpert, Stanley Jinnah of Pakistan, Oxford University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-614-21694-X