Jinnah and Ruttie - A Darjeeling Love Story

Ruttenbai "Ruttie" Petit ("The Flower of Bombay") after marriage Maryam Jinnah (February 20, 1900 - February 15, 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, founder of the first cotton mills in India. The Petits were textile magnates and one of Bombay's wealthiest Parsi families.

"Ruttie" as she was affectionately called, was bright, gifted and graceful. Although she was 16 the year she met Mohammad Ali Jinnah, she was intellectually much more mature than other girls her age. 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.
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 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 but Ruttie and Jinnah met in secret anyway, and decided to wait out the two years until she attained the age of maturity.

Shortly after her eighteenth birthday, Rattanbai converted to Islam and adopted the name Mariam. Two months 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.

Ruttie and Jinnah made a head-turning couple. Her long hair would be decked in fresh flowers, and she wore vibrant silk and headbands lavish with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. And Jinnah in those days was the epitome of elegance in suits custom-made for him in London. 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 was born.

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.

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 the whims of a wife half his age.

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, in essence, over.


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. Later she decided to live alone. [Inset: Ruttie's unattended Tomb in Mumbai]

Ruttie 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, Ruttie Petit Jinnah died. It was her 29th birthday. She was buried on February 22 in Khoja Isna Ashari Cemetery, Mazgaon, Bombay according to Muslim rites. Jinnah sat like a statue throughout the funeral but when asked to throw earth on the grave, he broke down and wept.

Later, Chagla said, "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."

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