Ruttenbai “Ruttie” Petit (1900-1929) was called ‘the flower of Bombay;’ after her marriage and conversion to Islam she was known as Maryam Jinnah. She was the second wife of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876 – 1948) – a major figure in the Indian Independence Movement and even more famous as the founder of Pakistan.
Ruttenbai came from a prominent and wealthy Mumbai Parsi family. The Parsi community of Mumbai were (and still are) highly economically, socially and culturally important. Ruttenbai was the only daughter of Sir Dinshaw Petit; he was the son of Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, founder of the first cotton mills in India and a very major philanthropist. The Petits were textile magnates and one of Mumbai’s richest Parsi families.
Ruttie was beautiful, intelligent and lively. She was politically aware and a supporter Indian nationalism; many years later when asked about rumours of a knighthood for Jinnah and if she would like to be Lady Jinnah, she said that she would leave her husband than accept an English title.
She first met Mohammad Ali Jinnah when she was only 16. In the summer of 1916, Jinnah was invited to the Darjeeling summer home of Sir Dinshaw, his client and friend. Jinnah was greatly taken by Ruttie’s precocious intelligence and beauty; the attraction was mutual and she was very enamoured by ‘J’ ( her pet name for him).
So, Jinnah approached Sir Dinshaw with an apparently theoretical question about his views on inter-communal marriages. Completely unaware of the reason for this question, Sir Dinshaw emphatically expressed his opinion that it would be of great value in solving the conflicts between the various communities. Encouraged by this reply, Jinnah asked his friend for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
M. C. Chagla, who was Jinnah’s assistant in his legal practice and later Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, recalled that Sir Dinshaw was astonished, for he had not realized his remarks might have serious personal repercussions. He was very annoyed, refusing to countenance any such idea which appeared to him totally unrealistic.
Jinnah pleaded his case, but to no avail. The friendship between the two men was destroyed and Sir Dinshaw insisted that his daughter should never meet Jinnah while she lived under his roof. Since she was still a minor the law was on his side but Ruttie and Jinnah continued to meet secretly, deciding to wait for two years until she reached the age of maturity.
Soon after her eighteenth birthday, Ruttie converted to Islam taking the name Mariam. Jinnah was more than twice Ruttie’s age, he had been married as a very young man in 1892 and widowed. Two months later, on April 19, 1918, she married Jina at his house South Court in Bombay. Her wedding ring was a gift from the Raja of Mahmudabad; the Raja and a few close friends of Jinnah were the only guests at the wedding since the Parsi community was outraged by the marriage. 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, an impressive property just beyond the Red Fort.
Ruttie and Jinnah were a fabulously glamorous and fashionable couple. She wore her long hair decorated with fresh flowers, and silk headbands covered in jewels. Jinnah was handsome and wore expensive suits custom-made in London’s Saville Row. In the early years of their marriage the couple seem to have been very happy. Ruttie’s exclusion from her family and their community cast a shadow over the relationship. Her father continued to mourn the emotional loss of his daughter even after his granddaughter Dina was born.
By mid-1922, Jinnah was politically isolated by his moderate stance in a country divided by religious and ethnic conflicts. Ruttie was increasingly left alone and isolated by the long hours long hours her husband spent at work and travel. A lively, sensitive, extrovert woman she clearly found her marriage to the political and driven Jinnah difficult.
In September 1922, she took her daughter to London. Her loneliness was evident in a letter 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’.
On her return to India, Ruttie tried to spend more time with her husband but he was busy campaigning in elections as an Independent candidate for the general Mumbai seats. Ruttie increasingly withdrew into a world of spiritualism, séances and mysticism. Although she tried to interest Jinnah in her metaphysical and spiritual pursuits, he had little time to devote to the whims of a much younger wife.
In 1925, Jinnah was appointed to a sub-committee to study the possibility of establishing a military college on the model of Sandhurst in India. As part of this study he went on a five-month tour of Europe and North America. Jinnah decided to take Ruttie with him, hoping it would be a second honeymoon but the trip simply highlighted the increasing gulf between them. By 1927, Ruttie and Jinnah had virtually separated, and the move of the Muslim League’s office to Delhi was just a final blow to a relationship that was effectively over.
Ruttie’s health had 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. As a frail, sick woman, Ruttie tried to remain in touch with those around her. Later she decided to live alone.
Increasingly bed-ridden, Ruttie lived as a recluse at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. Kanji continued to be her constant and loyal companion. By February 18, 1929 she had become so physically weak that the only words she could speak to him was a request to look after her cats. Two days later, Ruttie Petit Jinnah died of cancer on her 29th birthday. She was buried on February 22 in Khoja Isna Ashari Cemetery, Mazgaon, Mumbai, according to Muslim rites. Her father did not attend her funeral. Jinnah sat unmoving 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.
Ruttie had written to Jina
Marseilles 5 Oct 1928
Darling thank you for all you have done. If ever in my bearing your once tuned senses found any irritability or unkindness, be assured that in my heart there was place only for a great tenderness and a greater pain -a pain my love without hurt. 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.
I have suffered much sweetheart because I have loved much. The measure of my agony has been in accord to the measure of my love.
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.
Darling Goodnight and Goodbye
Ruttie and Jinnah had one child, their daughter Dinnah, born in London in 1919. After her mother’s death she was raised by her father. As her mother had done, she married against her father’s wishes and their relationship broke down when she married a Parsi, Neville Wadia. Neville came from a wealthy ship building dynasty who had started their business in the 18th century by building vessels for the East India Company in Mumbai and later for the British navy. In many ways the Wadia family were like Ruttie’s own family. Neville was born in Liverpool and educated at Cambridge; his father had converted to Christianity but Neville eventually returned to his Zoastrain roots. The children and grandchildren of Dinnah and Neville are notable in the India business community.
Until he married Ruttie, Jinnah had lived with Fatima Jinnah, his sister. She was an educated and determined woman who ran a dental clinic in Mumbai; on the death of Ruttie she closed her clinic and spent her life until his death in 1948 with him. This seems to have been a calming relationship, Jinnah praised her saying
My sister was like a bright ray of light and hope whenever I came back home and met her. Anxieties would have been much greater and my health much worse, but for the restraint imposed by her.
Ruttenbai is connected to my tree through my brother-in-law. Linked names are Bartlett, Rhynn and Tournier