Mohammad Ali Jinnah with the two women who were closest to him, his sister Fatima Jinnah, and daughter Dina
Mohammad Ali Jinnah with the two women who were closest to him, his sister Fatima Jinnah, and daughter Dina

“No man succeeds without a good woman behind him,” said Harold MacMillan, a former British Prime Minister. Jinnah’s life was a practical manifestation of this quote — a modification that I would make is that Jinnah drew strength from the women who walked ‘beside’ him, not ‘behind’ him.

There were several women in Jinnah’s life, seven of whom proved to be most significant to him. Unfortunately, very little information is available about them — that too scattered in bits and pieces — beyond their names. For instance, we know next to nothing about the most influential person in Jinnah’s life, his mother Mithibai. In fact, Hector Bolitho, in his biography Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan (1954), was compelled to describe her as “never more than a vague shadow in the story.”

I have made an attempt to develop a list of the women Jinnah was closest to. Their pen-pictures presented here have been culled from various sources on Jinnah.

Mother: Mithibai

Mithibai belonged to a respectable Ismaili Khoja family that lived in the village of Dhaffa in the Kathiawar region of India’s west coast. In 1874, Mithibai was married to Jinnabhai, a struggling businessman, in a nearby town called Gondal, in a family-arranged marriage. She was loved by her husband, who showered “all his attention and care on his young wife” — in the words of their youngest daughter, Fatima Jinnah, in her 1987 book My Brother. Mithibai enjoyed considerable influence over her husband, who’s occasional “obduracy melted in the warmth of his young wife’s pleadings,” observed Fatima Jinnah.

While some of the women who walked beside Mohammad Ali Jinnah are fairly well-known, others remain obscure. Who were they and what do their personalities say about the founder of Pakistan?

This bond of love and influence between the husband and wife is evident from the fact that, within a year or so of their marriage, young Mithibai chose to accompany her husband to Karachi in pursuit of better prospects. The usual practice then was that men went alone on such ventures, and called their wives and families to join them only after successfully establishing themselves in the new place.

The beginning of life in Karachi proved to be challenging. The couple rented a modest two-room apartment, in which the “dust from the desert came down on them in hot clouds: it invaded their food, their clothes and their lungs,” Bolitho described. “On one side was the parched earth, pleading for water: to the west was sea, from which they made their living.” But Mithibai showed courage and perseverance in the face of all hardship.

In this testing environment, she gave birth to her first child, Mohammad Ali, whom she loved immensely until her death. “My mother was intensely fond of Mohammad Ali,” stated Fatima Jinnah, “and, in spite of the fact that six other children were born to her, she continued up to the end of her life to look upon Mohammad Ali as her favorite child.” The mother inculcated dreams of greatness in the mind of her young son, about whom she had a firm belief that he would attain greatness in his life. “My Mohammad Ali is going to be a big man; he will be very clever; better than the other boys,” Fatima Jinnah quoted her mother.

It was not mere hope without any practical measure. Mithibai implored young Jinnah to “be regular at school and to give serious attention to his studies, saying that way alone he will rise in life and be a big man, standing head and shoulders above the others,” Fatima Jinnah recalled.

It was very difficult for her to say goodbye to her favorite child when, at 16, he embarked on a voyage to London. But she did so in the hope that it would help him succeed in his life.

“My son, I hate to be away from you. But I am sure this visit to England will help you to be a man. This has been my dream all my life... Mohammad Ali, you are leaving now on a long journey. I have the feeling I will not live to see you come back from England. God will be your Protector. He will make my wish come true. You will be a big man. And I will be proud of you,” Fatima Jinnah quoted her mother saying to Jinnah when bidding him goodbye.

As she had predicted, Mithibai died while Jinnah was studying in London.

At the news of his mother’s death, “He wept and sobbed for hours for his departed mother, whom he loved more than anything else in the world,” stated Fatima Jinnah. “Far away from home, lonely, and having missed being with his mother in her last days, the shock laid him low, overcome by a violent fit of fainting,” she wrote.

But Jinnah transformed his grief into strength in the endeavour to achieve the greatness that his dear mother had desired for him.

This remarkable lady is buried in Karachi but, unfortunately, no one has ever located her grave so that we can at least pay homage to her for giving birth to a great son to whom we Pakistanis all are indebted.

Paternal Aunt: Manbai

The Quaid-i-Azam and Fatima Jinnah | Taleem-e-Pakistan
The Quaid-i-Azam and Fatima Jinnah | Taleem-e-Pakistan

The youngest and only sister of Jinnabhai, Manbai loved Jinnah like her own son. She was married to a successful businessman, Peerbhai, and lived in Bombay.

“She was a great story-teller,” Fatima Jinnah recalled of her aunt. “She was the centre of our eyes and ears, and we listened to her, enraptured by the bewitching way in which she would narrate her stories, night after night … tales of fairies, and the flying carpet; of jinns and dragons; and they seemed to our childish minds to be wonderful tales, stories out of this world,” Fatima Jinnah recalled her childhood memories.

Jinnah was so attached to Manbai that, in 1887, at the age of about 11 years, he left his home and school in Karachi to live with her in Bombay. Renowned historian and Indologist Stanley Wolpert writes in his famed biography Jinnah of Pakistan: “Jinnah followed his aunt Manbai, who must have symbolised for him the beauty, glamour, and endless fascination of that presidency capital.”

Manbai got him admitted in a local school and introduced him to life in Bombay. This left a lasting impression on Jinnah, and he subsequently selected this city to live in and practise law. This bond between the paternal auntie and her nephew endured throughout their entire lives.

First wife: Emibai

Jinnah was about 15 when he married Emibai, in February of 1892. On the wedding day, Jinnah, covered “from head to foot in long rows of flowers, strung in invisible white threads” marched to Emibai’s house, where 14-year-old “Emibai, dressed in expensive new clothes, heavily bejewelled, her hands spotted with henna, her face and clothes heavily sprinkled with ittar” awaited the baraat, wrote Fatima Jinnah. This union lasted for about a year, till Jinnah left for England.

Being a village girl, Emibai was shy and observed purdah even from close male relatives. “According to the custom prevalent in our family,” explained Fatima Jinnah in her book, “Emibai would conceal her face with her covering or orni, whenever she came in presence of her father-in-law. But Mohammad Ali had his own views on such matters,” highlights Fatima Jinnah.

“His wife was like a daughter of his parents, a full member of the family, and it was unnecessary for her to cover one’s face, just because one’s great-grandmother had been doing it... and from that day, Emibai discarded the age-old custom, which had been running in the family for generations.”

There is not much information available about Jinnah’s first wife, except that she died shortly after he left for England. The news of her death shocked Jinnah. He did not enter into a relationship with a woman, either in England or in India, for the next 25 years, until he met Rattanbai.

Second wife: Rattanbai

Rattanbai ‘Ruttie’ Jinnah passed away in February 1929 | National Archives Islamabad | Photo courtesy the writer
Rattanbai ‘Ruttie’ Jinnah passed away in February 1929 | National Archives Islamabad | Photo courtesy the writer

Highly refined and intellectually advanced, 18-year-old Rattanbai married Jinnah, 42, in April 1918, transcending the differences of age and religion.

“Miss Rattanbai, [the] only daughter of Sir Dinshaw Petit, yesterday underwent conversion to Islam and is today to be married to the Hon. M.A. Jinnah,” read the announcement in Daily Statesman of Calcutta on April 19, 1918. The following year, she gave birth to their only child, Dina.

Jinnah loved Rattanbai, ‘Ruttie’, like no other woman in his life. She had a highly developed taste in literature and the fine arts. She “opened up a new world of taste for him,” opines author Sharif al-Mujahid in his essay, Jinnah: A Portrait, published in The Jinnah Anthology.

Although, in the following years, some issues confronted the couple’s married life, the flame of love between them never went out. It was their respective attitude towards life where they differed. While Jinnah was purpose-oriented and wanted to accord adequate attention and time to his causes in life, Rattanbai wanted to continue living a fairytale romance.

“For Jinnah, married life was a solemn duty: for his young wife, it was also an opportunity for pleasure,” Bolitho summed up their differences. This resulted in alienation, though not divorce.

Rattanbai’s letter to Jinnah, written in October 1928, a few months before her death, is a piece of romantic literature. “Darling, thank you for all you have done,” she wrote. “Try and remember me, beloved, as the flower you plucked and not the flower you treaded upon…. 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 with love should also end with it. Darling, good night and goodbye.” She died in the following February, on her 29th birthday.

How much Jinnah loved Rattanbai could be gauged from the fact, that after her death, when her body was being lowered in the grave, “Jinnah was not able to control his emotions. He broke down and wept like a child,” writes Al-Mujahid, quoting an eyewitness. Another manifestation of his love for her was that he did not take another woman as his wife for the rest of his life.

Sister: Fatima Jinnah

Jinnah was more like a father figure than a brother to Fatima Jinnah. Born in July 1893, Fatima Jinnah was about 17 years younger to him. At the time of her birth, Jinnah was pursuing his studies in London. On his return, he helped the family to shift to Bombay.

When their father died in 1901, while Fatima was just eight, Jinnah assumed her guardianship. He was very concerned about her education and got her enrolled in Bombay’s prestigious Bandra Convent in 1902, and then to St. Patrick’s School, from where she did her senior Cambridge in 1913.

Fatima Jinnah moved out of the family home to Jinnah’s house and lived with him for eight years, until he married Rattanbai. At that point, Jinnah got her enrolled at Calcutta’s Dr. Ahmed Dental College. On the completion of her studies, Jinnah helped his sister open a dental practice in Mumbai.

On Ruttie’s demise in 1929, Fatima Jinnah closed her clinic and shifted again to her brother’s house, to take care of him and his daughter, Dina. Fatima Jinnah took care of her brother for the next 19 years, until his death in 1948.

In her political role too, Jinnah ensured that Fatima Jinnah attended meetings and sessions beside him, not behind him. He desired to present her as a model for Muslim women of the subcontinent. “Jinnah’s belief that women should be extended all the opportunities available to men at various stages in their lives was amply reflected in his careful handling of the schooling and career orientation of Fatima Jinnah (1893-1967), his youngest sister and ward,” wrote Al-Mujahid.

Jinnah remained grateful to his sister all his life. “Miss Fatima Jinnah is a constant source of help and encouragement to me,” he expressed in his August 1947 speech at the Karachi Club. “In the days when I was expecting to be taken as a prisoner by the British Government, it was my sister who encouraged me and said hopeful things... Her constant care is about my health.”

Daughter: Dina Jinnah

With daughter, Dina, in London
With daughter, Dina, in London

Dina was born on August 15, 1919. She was nine when she lost her mother. Her father called upon his sister to help him in raising his daughter.

Soon afterwards, Jinnah took both his daughter and his sister to London, where he started practising law. The family lived in a three-storied villa, with “many rooms and gables, and a tall tower which gave a splendid view over the surrounding country,” described Bolitho. “There was a lodge, a drive, and eight acres of garden and pasture.”

This stress-free environment, away from the grilling politics of India, brought Jinnah very close to Dina, who’s “companionship had become a delight to both of them,” stated Bolitho. Once Jinnah insisted that Dina read a book he loved, Grey Wolf: An Intimate Study of a Dictator by H.C. Armstrong, on the life of Kamal Ataturk. “For many days afterwards, he talked of Kemal Ataturk so much that his daughter chaffed him and nicknamed him ‘Grey Wolf’,” wrote Bolitho.

Dina was so close to her father that she could take the liberties that nobody else could with the otherwise reserved Jinnah. “She alone could tease her father — a fond treatment he had lacked all his life: she alone could extend her hand — slim and expressive as his — and cajole him into putting a brief aside, with the plea, “‘Come on, Grey Wolf, take me to a pantomime; after all, I am on my holidays,’” Bolitho noted.

Their relationship suffered a setback when Dina decided to marry a non-Muslim, Neville Wadia. It “meant for Jinnah the end of family life,” remarks Al-Mujahid.

Dina’s argument was that Jinnah had also married her mother, who had a non-Muslim background, ignoring the fact that Rattanbai had embraced Islam before marriage with Jinnah. Perhaps, her father wanted to save her from the pain and agony that he and Rattanbai had gone through in their lives due to their union.

Her decision to go ahead with her marriage with Wadia sapped the warmth from their relationship. They exchanged letters sometimes, but those from Jinnah were very formal, addressing his daughter as “Mrs. Wadia.”

Al-Mujahid observes: “When domestic happiness was lost and family felicity disappeared, it left a scar on Jinnah’s mind and the sadness was reflected in his character.”

Friend: Sarojini Naidu

The poetess and politician Sarojini Naidu | Photo courtesy the writer
The poetess and politician Sarojini Naidu | Photo courtesy the writer

Reserved by nature, Jinnah had very few friends. Sarojini Naidu was perhaps his only female friend, for whom Jinnah had profound regard.

Naidu was an acclaimed poetess, nicknamed ‘The Nightingale of India.’ In Indian politics, during the first half of the 20th century, she was one of the most prominent female leaders in the Congress party. After Independence, Naidu was appointed the first woman governor of Uttar Pradesh (UP) province in India by the Nehru government.

She was highly impressed with Jinnah — both his physical appearance as well as intellectual capabilities — and openly praised him in her writings. She also wholeheartedly supported him and his ideas in political and social circles.

She compiled Jinnah’s speeches and writings in the form of a book Mohammad Ali Jinnah: An Ambassador of Unity. In her pen-portrait of Jinnah, published in the book in November 1917, she described him in these words:

“Tall and stately, but thin to the point of emaciation, languid and luxurious of habit, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s attenuated form is a deceptive sheath of a spirit of exceptional vitality and endurance… an intuition quick and tender as a woman’s, a humour gay and winning as a child’s … the obvious sanity and serenity of his worldly wisdom effectually disguise a shy and splendid idealism which is of the very essence of man.”

Naidu died of cardiac arrest in March 1949, a few months after Jinnah’s death.

All these women hailed from different social backgrounds and belonged to different eras. But one commonality among them was that they all were strong women in their own right. This speaks of Jinnah’s affinity for strong women, which only a strong man can possess.

The writer is former Vice-Chancellor of Sindh Madressatul Islam University and a former faculty-fellow/ Fulbright Scholar at American University, Washington DC. He can be reached at

Published in Dawn, EOS, December 26th, 2021



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