BOOK EXCERPT

Dina Wadia (1919-2017): Only child of the ‘affectionate but undemonstrative’ Muhammad Ali Jinnah

An excerpt from ‘Mr and Mrs Jinnah’ detailing the relationship of Pakistan’s founder with his only child.

The baby arrived around the midnight of 14 August. It was a girl, with Ruttie’s exquisite mouth and her large, dark eyes. There were no visitors, neither family nor friends, to admire the baby or fuss over the mother. Lady Petit was back in Bombay after their holiday in the hills, taking lessons in spinning under Gandhi’s tutelage (causing Sarojini to write home in amusement: “think of Lady Petit in her chiffons and Lady Tata with her pearls, solemnly spinning thread like the Fates!”).

Sarojini might have still been in London – her letter to her son, Ranadheera, is datelined “London, August 13th”, just the day before Ruttie’s delivery. But having given her evidence before the select committee a little before Jinnah, she might have been about to take off for a well-deserved vacation in Ireland, after having spent the last few weeks giving lectures all across England to spread the Congress’s point of view on the reforms bill. In fact, her next letter home is not until the following fortnight, 27 August 1919, datelined Dublin, and makes no mention of Ruttie or her baby.

But even if she had indeed been in London around then, it is doubtful if Jinnah, with his stubborn pride and independence, would have thought it necessary to ask her to be there to at least provide some moral support to his young wife, so far away from home. Sarojini makes no mention of it in any of her many letters home from London. Left to himself, Jinnah, no doubt, rose to his duty, as ever – appointing the best professional caretakers that his money could buy, and then, after consigning both mother and newborn daughter into their hands, returning calmly to his own concerns.

Nor did Ruttie seem to consider the baby her particular concern. She, who had always lavished her tenderness on weak and helpless creatures, was curiously detached from her own infant girl. Jinnah would have spared no expense in hiring nannies and nursery maids and whatever staff he might have been told a well-born baby required, and with a bevy of so many professionals at the baby’s beck and call, Ruttie could have easily persuaded herself that the baby was in better hands than her own. She was ready, at any rate, to accompany Jinnah wherever he was invited, whether it was public meetings or receptions in his honour, leaving the newborn to her nannies and nursemaids.

Within weeks of the baby’s arrival, she had apparently bounced back. But there was something indefinably tragic about her, as Sarojini was quick to notice when she finally returned to London and called on the Jinnahs. “Ruttie is looking for all the world like a fragile moth with black gold-spotted wings,” she wrote to Padmaja on 8 October 1919. “She does not look excessively happy but beautiful with a courageous pathetic beauty.”

Less than two weeks after Sarojini’s visit to meet the mother and her newborn, the Jinnahs boarded a steamer back to India. The baby had just turned two months old, and Jinnah could wait no more. It was more than four months since he had left India and he needed to get back. Confident though he continued to be of his unassailable position in Indian politics, recent events had made him nervous of being cast into political obscurity. It was a question of his political survival.


After Ruttie’s death

Curiously enough, the child is not mentioned anywhere in either Sarojini’s correspondence or that of her daughters for almost another year. This may have had something to do with Lady Petit stepping in and taking charge of the child, now nine, and suggesting to Jinnah that since he was mostly away in Delhi or Simla, she would be better off in a boarding school than at home alone. She even recommended the right convent school for her in the nearby hill station of Panchgani, where all Bombay’s fashionable families sent their children.

Jinnah not only submitted docilely to her suggestions, but was relieved to have the decision taken out of his hands, trusting Lady Petit henceforth with all major decisions regarding the raising of his only daughter. Although Lady Petit had not met her granddaughter till Ruttie’s separation from Jinnah, the bond between grandmother and granddaughter was close and lasting. Still nameless, the child decided on her own to take her grandmother’s name, Dina. And to this day, Dina tells her friends of how much she loved her grandmother and her deep gratitude for the way “she took over completely and brought me up” after her mother’s death.

By the following year, when Leilamani visited Panchgani and went to see her at her boarding school, Dina appears to have happily settled into her new life. On her first visit to the school, Leilamani could not meet Dina. “Dina Jinnah is away for a couple of days but I will surely see her before I go or else have her here to spend the day,” Leilamani wrote to Padmaja on 9 September 1930 from Rasheed Manzil, Panchgani, the summer home of a family friend, Lady Abbas Ali Baig. The following week, on 15 September, in a postscript to another letter to Padmaja, she adds: “Dina Jinnah spent the day here yesterday. She makes me nervous to look at her cos she’s so much like Ruttie.”

Dina Wadia during a visit to Lahore in 2004 | Image credit: Yousuf Salahuddin via Lahore – The City of Gardens
Dina Wadia during a visit to Lahore in 2004 | Image credit: Yousuf Salahuddin via Lahore – The City of Gardens

But in temperament, Dina was nothing like her mother. Instead of killing herself trying to break through the icy walls of her father’s reserve, Dina very soon learnt how to handle her “Pop” without looking for anything more than he could give her. He was an indulgent father, denying her nothing except his time and of himself, but she did not seem to mind, describing him later in her life as “affectionate but undemonstrative”.

Two years later, when he moved to England with Fatima and set up home in Hampstead, Dina, too, moved with him but not to live at home with them. He had found a small private school for her in Sussex, run by a Mrs Frances Browne, where she quickly settled down, spending five happy but academically unsuccessful years – she failed the school certificate examination but learnt “some self-reliance and poise” – until she had to leave suddenly, much to her distress, because the school abruptly closed down on account of Mrs Browne’s health and financial problems.

But while Dina was at Mrs Browne’s, she did spend her holidays with her father, who if he did not give her time, did give her the freedom to tease him. Dina took to calling him “Grey Wolf” because of a book he was much taken with around this time – Grey Wolf: An Intimate Study of a Dictator on the life of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The story of Ataturk, born around the same time as Jinnah and rising from similar circumstances to create an independent Turkey, resonated so deeply with Jinnah that he could talk of nothing else but Ataturk for days and he even thrust the book on Dina, who at thirteen knew her own mind. She began chafing him about his passion for Kemal and nicknamed him “Grey Wolf”, and then “cajole[d] 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.’”

Relegated again

But that was about the only time in their life that he had the leisure to bond with her in whatever limited way. When they returned to India, Jinnah having sold his house in Hampstead and wound up his practice in London, he was again full of his great mission, and she was relegated once more to the margins of his life, allowed to do as she pleased, so long as she did not distract him at his work. At fifteen, alone at home with an aunt she did not get along with and no one to talk to except the servants, she spent her time visiting her grandmother, often staying overnight.

Sir Dinshaw had died while they were in England, removing the last of any restrictions that Lady Petit might have had in receiving her granddaughter in her home. And when Dina was not at her grandmother’s, she was out shopping – “roamed from one shop to the other for hours”. When she returned, Fatima used to take the driver aside to find out where she’d been and what she had bought. But Jinnah let her do as she pleased and spend as much money as she liked, his only restriction being to try and stop her from driving the car, which she did on the sly.

The only time father and daughter had a falling out was when she announced her decision to marry Neville Wadia, born into a Parsi family and heir to a fortune in textile mills, who had converted to Christianity. To have his only child marry a Parsi Christian would be a serious political embarrassment for Jinnah, and he tried to dissuade her. But finding her adamant, he then threatened to disown her.

Instead of relenting, it only made her more stubborn and she moved into her grandmother’s home, determined to go ahead with the marriage even at that cost. He collapsed under the emotional strain, succumbing to one of his rare bouts of sickness. “For two weeks,” one of his drivers later recounted to Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, ‘he would not receive visitors. He would just keep smoking his cigars and pacing up and down in his room. He must have walked hundreds of miles in those two weeks.”

Excerpted with permission from Mr and Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage that Shook India, Sheela Reddy, Viking, Penguin Random House India.

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