Of Dina and her papa

M A Siddiqi tells the story of the Quaid and his only child

Of Dina and her papa
Dina was her father’s daughter. Even her hair tilted the way her father’s hair did. She was the last string of the trio that finally disappeared on the 2nd of November 2017. It was 98 years after she was born, 89 years after her mother’s death and 69 years after her father passed away.

Without a doubt, the trio was iconoclastic. Dina was born out of a wedlock that was enigmatic and unusual through and through. She was legatee of a hybrid social and cultural milieu that died with the departure of its veritable continental spirit. The passing of Dina invoked feelings of nostalgia amongst Pakistanis long fed on tailored narratives. It brought to fore the reality that the Founder of Pakistan and his immediate family were, after all, humans – imbued with the frailties and strengths inherent to human existence. That their lives were more dramatically nuanced was due to the high pedestal that they were catapulted on to. The anguish – of which there was much – and happiness that they experienced was part of the various courses in life which they willingly chose.

Young Dina with her father

On the 14th of August 1919, Dina was born to Rattanbai, commonly known as Ruttie (though her name officially changed to Maryam upon marriage), wife of Barrister M. A. Jinnah. They were watching a movie in a London theatre and she entered their lives at midnight. Dina’s birth was the aftermath of an earlier drama played out in Bombay between her father, a Muslim lawyer, and her mother’s father, Baronet Dinshaw Petit, an immensely wealthy Parsi entrepreneur who was arguably as vain as he was amiable. Almost a confirmed bachelor at 42, Jinnah, a Gujarati hailing from a small trading background in Karachi, had risen to the status of a ‘Rolls-Royce’ lawyer in Bombay after a disciplined and dedicated struggle of 20 years. Reticent and self-absorbed, he was a member of the British Viceroy’s Imperial Legislative Council and a political leader who was almost daily in the news. Petit had indirectly provided a break to a struggling Jinnah in a defamation case that he had filed in the Bombay High Court in October 1898. It brought Jinnah into the limelight but the barrister’s upwardly mobile status made Petit admire him. His view of young Jinnah was equally shared by Lady Petit: blinded in one eye by glaucoma but socially very active – though more of a Francophile.
Dina would later admit that there was a lack of a good rapport with her aunt Fatima

It was in 1914 when the Jinnah-Ruttie romance blossomed at the residence of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta in Poona – dubbed a ‘monsoon retreat’ by Ruttie – where the Petits spent their Christmas holidays along with their host and Jinnah. Already a precocious 15-year-old, Ruttie was taken in by Jinnah’s magnetism and adored his avuncular attitude. He had been engaging with her on an equal footing despite a difference of age and status. Jinnah, for his part, liked independent youngsters who stood up to him and was attracted to the spirited Ruttie. In his typical, highly rational way, Jinnah allowed the affair to mature. He let Ruttie chase him to the historic 1916 Lucknow political congregation where he was acclaimed as ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’ by none other than poetess Sarojni Naidu.

Along with uniting both communities, he also moved to unite his life with Ruttie’s, by accepting her proposal of marriage. Ever a stickler for propriety, he took the matter up with her father. He was vehemently turned down. The lovers waited till Ruttie turned 18, as she was under court injunction not to marry until then, obtained by her father.

Dina and Neville Wadia - Photo credits - Dr. Ghulam Nabi Kazi

The wedding took place on Thursday, the 18th of April 1918 and was witnessed by the Raja of Mahmudabad, with Mehr fixed at Rs. 1,001 and Jinnah presenting Ruttie a gift of Rs. 125,000 – a princely sum equaling the contribution to the ongoing First World War Fund from the Raja of Rajpipla (a 13-gun state in Gujarat)!

Jinnah and Ruttie were an eye-turning couple: even though, unfortunately, we have blotted them out entirely from our national narrative and collective memory. They were quite absorbed in each other and frequently toured Europe – where Dina was born 16 months into their marriage.

Dina rarely mattered in the socially hectic lives of her parents – simply because children did not figure in adults’ lives back then. They were raised in separate surroundings by domestic help. Jinnah, typically, was a very busy father and Ruttie a casual parent, with the result that even after twenty months Dina was not given a name!

Later there was a halfhearted attempt to send her, in August 1925, to a Theosophical Society-run school in Adyar, Madras – and that did not materialise.

Dina with her aunt Fatima Jinnah at the Quaid's funeral

After the estrangement between her parents, Dina was looked after by Fatima Jinnah who moved in with her brother M. A. Jinnah. Dina would later admit that there was a lack of a good rapport with her aunt and that she even caused some degree of distancing between father and daughter. During their association, she was taught the Quran and Islamic prayers by Fatima Jinnah.

The dysfunctional marriage of Jinnah and Ruttie ended when she passed away in 1929. For two successive years – 1928-29 – Jinnah’s life was at its lowest ebb both professionally and domestically. He was subject to irreversible terminations of relationships. He wept while burying Ruttie and was broken at the parting of ways with the majority political party. A man in the wilderness, he left bag and baggage for London, taking Dina along.

Dina was brusque like her father but very quickly learnt to handle her ‘Pop’, who proved to be an indulgent father: seldom denying her anything. He was ‘affectionate but undemonstrative’. He sent Dina to a small private school in Sussex run by Mrs. Frances Browne, where she spent five happy years but failed her school certificate examination. She was forced out of school as it closed down and came to live with her father at Hampstead, where they bonded in their limited ways.

In old age she retained a great sense of warmth towards Pakistan

When Jinnah returned to India in 1934, Dina lived with him for some time but then moved in with her grandmother who indulged her. Jinnah, now the Quaid-e-Azam, was on the cusp of his decisive struggle for Muslim self-determination. It lasted for an unremitting 13 years, during which he turned all analyses upside down and secured a separate homeland for his compatriots.

While Quaid-e-Azam was wrestling with uniting Muslims and confronting the rising communal backlash, he was ‘caught on the wrong foot’ when in 1938 Dina decided to marry Neville Wadia, a Parsi recently converted to Christianity. Wadia took up his father’s business and became the chairman of Bombay Dyeing, one of India’s largest producers of textiles.
Mr. Jinnah’s disapproval came from personal experience, as well as the political and sociological pressures due to Dina’s marriage. Such cultural norms were quite widespread: Nehru and Gandhi both resented close members of their family marrying outside their religious sphere

The Quaid could not stop her from going ahead, although he almost severed his relationship with her. The marriage did hurt him, as he was now championing the cause of Muslims as a ‘separate nation’. Although he was of a liberal disposition, his disapproval was in line with his own experience as well as the political and sociological pressures that he had to face due to Dina’s unconventional marriage. Such cultural norms were quite widespread, as Nehru and Gandhi both resented close members of their family marrying outside their religious sphere. Nehru actually loathed Indira’s Parsi husband Feroze Gandhi, who replied in kind by vehemently criticizing his prime ministership!

Dina could not remain detached for long and broke the ice upon hearing that her father planned on selling his South Court mansion and wrote to him on the 28th of April 1941: “First of all I must congratulate you on having got Pakistan, that is to say, the principle has been accepted. I am so proud and happy for you – how hard you have worked for it. I hear you have sold ‘South Court’ to Dalmia for 20 lakhs. It’s a very good price and you must be very pleased. If you have sold (it), I wanted to make one suggestion of you – if you are not moving your books, could I please have a few of Ruttie’s old poetry books – Byron, Shelley and a few others and the Oscar Wilde series? This request is only made if you are selling the books and furniture and if you don’t intend to keep them, perhaps you could give me just a few for sentimental reasons. I always wanted to read them and as you know I am very fond of reading and it is difficult to get nice editions in Bombay.” The Quaid-e-Azam assured her that the purported house sale was a ‘wild rumour’.

Dina in New York with her friend Bachoobai Dinshaw

The relationship thawed after Dina separated from Neville in 1943, although they were never formally parted even until he passed away in 1996, at the age of 84. When she heard about Ahrar’s attack on her father, the Quaid, she rushed to meet him at his house. There is a good deal of correspondence between father and daughter in which she endearingly addresses him as ‘my darling papa’ and ‘papa darling’, ending with ‘lots of care’, ‘lots of kisses’ and ‘big hugs’. She always called him a ‘sweet man’ and fondly recollected going to plays and pantomimes with him in London. When told that Mountbatten called him a psychopath, she angrily retorted that ‘Mountbatten was a psychopath’.

She chartered a plane and flew to the funeral of Quaid-e-Azam in newly-created Pakistan – where the image of a deeply grieving daughter speaks volumes about her affection for him.

At Partition, in 1947, Dina faced the same dilemma as millions – that of leaving their family and migrating. And like millions, she chose not to. Her decision was quite possibly helped by her dysfunctional childhood and relative parental neglect. Nevertheless, her son Nusli and her grandchildren cherished their legacy and often visited Pakistan. One of her grandsons, on flying to Pakistan, surprised everyone by pointing to the Quaid-e-Azam’s image on a currency note and announcing that this is his great-grandfather!

Jinnah House

At the age of 88 in 2007, after visiting Pakistan in 2004, she knocked at the doors of Bombay High Court to claim the title of the contentious Jinnah House, which her father built in 1936 at a cost of Rs. 2 lakhs (200,000) and which was valued at Rs. 400 million. But in August 2010, the High Court ordered for the status quo to be maintained. In all probability, her motive was to obtain possession of the house and convert it into a historical site – as otherwise Dina comfortably lived in an exclusive New York apartment since a long time.

Interestingly, Bollywood actress Preity Zinta is all praise for Dina, with whom she closely interacted during her long-term relationship with Ness Wadia, grandson of Dina.

Dina’s death evoked considerable reaction in Pakistan: perhaps indicative of a more rational reappraisal of history. The narrative-builders of yesteryear were nonplussed by the marital relationship of the Quaid as well as Dina’s unconventional behaviour. The incongruity made many Pakistanis myopic: even an experienced historian like Shariful Mujahid entirely blocked Ruttie and Dina from his 806-page biography of the Quaid.

One hopes that the outpouring of genuine grief from Pakistanis at her demise is a healthy sign of maturing perceptions of the past.