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The other side of Quaid

December 25, 2012

—File Photo

Jinnah carried his leadership with grace until the end of his days. He knew he had to lead by example.

As governor-general, he cancelled the orders for a car and an aircraft because the Pakistan exchequer could not afford them. He would not instal a lift despite his old age. He would ensure that the lights were put out before he retired to his bedroom.

Like his name, the life of the great leader also had three distinct chapters. Each one is richer, more remarkable and more inspiring that the one before. Several books have tried to describe his life and chose to speak about his legal and political life instead. Not much is known about his personal life probably because he was a very private person. But once in a while you chance upon a gemstone and cant help but marvel at the fact that from Ali to Muhammad to Jinnah, he always had the makings of a statesman, a leader, and a gentleman. And under the frail exterior was a strong heart that knew how to love, how to lose, and how to find reasons again to go on.

While he was young and living in Karachi, Ali avoided playing in the street with other boys of his age. Whatever games they played were physical, and would cause a bruise, a fight, or stain clothes in the least. He being to meticulous and mature for his age liked to keep his clothes unspoiled and his hands clean. In ‘Jinnah, Creator of Pakistan’ published in 1954, writer Hector Bolitho interviewed several people that knew Ali as a boy. He recounts an anecdote that Nanji Jafar, one of Ali’s neighbours from childhood, narrated to him. “I was playing in the street when he, aged about fourteen, came up to me and said, ‘Don’t play marbles in the dust; it soils your clothes and dirties your hands. We must play cricket.’” The fact that the boys dropped the marbles and followed him shows that Ali could be persuasive.

As destiny was about to send him to London to further his studies, his mother asked him to wed Emi Bai. While in London, his mother would die and he would miss the funeral. Ali would not be able to see her face one last time before she was buried and he would regret this for the rest of his life. But for now, he complied with the wishes of his mother and let this be one of the very few decisions he allowed others to make for him. His stay in England instilled in him an English style and behaviour that would continue to his death. His imitation of the upper class Englishmen in India was so accurate that it made them uncomfortable.

In London in 1892, Ali didn’t indulge in pastimes or hobbies. He closed the doors on temptations of art and history. He listened to lectures at Lincoln’s Inn and debates in the House of Commons, ignoring the National Gallery on the way. He didn’t know he was creating a void in himself. Meanwhile, in London in 1892 in the evenings, Ali would invest his time and emotions into understanding Shakespeare. This investment would pay off years later when he would enter Indian politics and would have to deal with people who behaved as if they’d just walked off the pages of the Bard’s plays.

Ruttie Bai was 16 and Muhammad was 39 when they first met in 1916. With an active interest in politics and absolute love for poetry she was intellectually far more mature than other girls of her age. She would often recite from Oscar Wilde, her favourite writer. An aggressive supporter of India for Indians, Ruttie was an excellent horse rider, attended all public meetings, and was passionate for all forms of arts. Cerebral and mercurial, she was the kind of companion Muhammad had always sought. As Muhammad became successful in politics, he also became religious. He studied the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This added even more depth and wisdom to his arguments and vision. He spoke of the Prophet as “as a great statesman, and a great leader.” Over time, he started quoting philosophies of the Prophet and adding religious angled to his speeches where appropriate.

Muhammad also became simpler in his taste of clothing and eating. His favourite food was curry and rice. He always smoked his favourite Craven A cigarettes, one of the finest and the most expensive at the time. His wealth gave him independence and freedom to speak his mind. Which brings us to another story about Mohammad from Bolitho’s book: even at the beginning of his legal practice, he neither put up with improper behaviour nor would he tolerate a slight. During a hearing, an English magistrate found him to be overbearing and reminded him that he was addressing a first class magistrate. He was swiftly served a simmering reply by Muhammad that the advocate in him was of no lesser class.

The rapidly changing political scenario of the 1930’s slowly transformed Muhammad into Mr. Jinnah. With resolve, conviction, and integrity he earned the respect of even the most intense opponents. Despite the differences and bitterness of political life was he was considered to be a man without malice. And he never minced words. Especially when addressing those in power.

By late 1930’s, Jinnah had adopted the local dress but did not entirely give up his Western clothes. For a headdress he opted for a Karakul hat. He instinctively chose the right clothes to make a cultural and a political statement and created a modern Muslim identity.

After Ruttie Bai’s death in 1929, Jinnah’s personal life narrowed down to his daughter Dina. He loved her dearly and brought her up with the help of his sister Fatima Jinnah. Concurrently, he became more involved in politics and did not rest until he fulfilled his promise of an independent homeland to millions of Muslims and died of devotion to his cause in 1948.

Jinnah was a visionary who did not allow personal problems to blur his vision. Still, there were occasions when even he could not hold himself back. And they both involved his wife.

The first time he was at her burial where Jinnah remained silent and motionless throughout the ceremony. When he was asked to bid his final goodbye to Ruttie Bai by throwing earth on her grave, the human weakness probably took over for the first time for he broke down and wept.

Turning his back to Ruttie Bai’s grave, Jinnah left behind three of the most important things that would give any ordinary loving heart a reason to go on: his beloved wife Rutti who remains buried in Bombay, his daughter Dina who couldn’t see how much her father had suffered already and the Jinnah House on Malabar Hill.