History revisited

Jinnah succeeded in creating Pakistan but failed at another onerous task – selling his Bombay house

The lawyer-politician’s magnificent South Court is a monument to the frailty of human beings.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah may have settled for what he referred to as a “moth-eaten” Pakistan in 1947, but despite his towering personality and famous negotiating skills, he was unable to get the asking price for South Court, his magnificent sea-facing bungalow at Malabar Hill in South Mumbai. Jinnah declined an offer of Rs 18 lakh for South Court as late as May 1947 as it fell short of his minimum expectation of Rs 20 lakh. The bungalow was never sold, and is now in the midst of a complex court battle regarding ownership, with calls even being made for its demolition.

Jinnah, an established lawyer, lived in Malabar Hill from the early years of the 20th century. He had stayed in smaller bungalows, and owned a few other properties in the area, but right from the construction of South Court between 1937 and 1939, it was clear that he had cornered one of the most desirable addresses in the city. Spread over a sprawling 15,467 square yards, the plot offered an unmatched view of the Arabian Sea.

The bungalow cost Rs 2 lakh to build, an exorbitant price at that time. An Italian-made Stigler lift was installed in the bungalow by the company’s sole agent in Bombay. At the request of Fatima Jinnah, Jinnah’s sister, extra landing push buttons were given “free of charge” so that the “lift car may be both called or sent from any landing to any landing”.

Jinnah moved into the bungalow in December 1939. Four months later, in March 1940, the Lahore Resolution was passed, which demanded provincial autonomy and which became the basis for the demand for a separate nation of Pakistan.

South Court. Photo credit: Reuters
South Court. Photo credit: Reuters

Hunt for buyers

Jinnah dealt with negotiations for Pakistan and South Court at the same time. But the outcomes of both exercises were very different.

Even as historians and scholars continue to debate endlessly whether Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan was a bargaining tool to extract better terms for the Muslim League, records unambiguously suggest that Jinnah started to seek buyers for South Court within five years of occupying it.

The stylish bungalow, with wooden floors and open verandas, became the site for the historic Gandhi-Jinnah talks in September 1944.

It could have become one of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s several properties. However, Jinnah turned down the Nizam’s offer of Rs 8.50 lakh, after the Nizam’s chief architect Zain Yar Jung valued the property at a measly pre-war rate of Rs 8.30 lakh in May 1944.

On June 3, 1944, Jinnah wrote to the Nizam from Kashmir where he was holidaying: “I am really astonished that the report of the valuation submitted to you is so flagrantly wrong.”

He told the Hyderabad ruler that the land alone was worth Rs 15.50 lakh at current rates. While informing the Nizam that he was “not very anxious to sell it”, Jinnah firmly, but courteously, closed the negotiation. “I am sorry that your present offer is impossible,” he wrote.

In the letter, Jinnah also revealed that as he had given himself “entirely to the cause of Muslim League and Muslim India”, he was “hardly now able to stay in Bombay” and hence the property was of little use to him.

Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah and others with Louis Mountbatten (centre).
Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah and others with Louis Mountbatten (centre).

Search continues

Jinnah may have taken care to not sound anxious to sell to the Nizam, but his close associate in Bombay, MA Chaiwala, was busy looking for suitable clients. Either Chaiwala or another associate of Jinnah’s was in touch with Parsi merchant Jehangir Dinshaw Petit to clinch a deal. Particulars of the property were given to Jessavala, Petit’s secretary, and May 23, 1944, was fixed for an inspection. It is safe to assume that this negotiation too did not go very far.

The bungalow did not escape the wrath of the Bombay Docks Explosion of 1944. Chaiwala reported to Jinnah that few glass panes in the bungalow had cracked. The house also suffered from seepage problems, and the services of several people, including a “water-proof specialist”, Khan Bahadur Mohammad Bin, were used to locate the source of the leakages before the onset of the monsoon in 1944.

In May 1947, the price of the property, according to Jinnah’s architectural engineer, was Rs 25 lakh. He rejected an offer of Rs 17 lakh made by AM Thariani, an associate, on behalf of another party. The lawyer and politician sought instead the minimum price of Rs 20 lakh. Just a few days later, on May 15, Jinnah wrote to architect and property consultant Yahya Merchant, who later designed his mausoleum in Pakistan, enquiring about the negotiations with the Iraq consul.

Jinnah wrote: “I have got an offer of Rs 18 lakh, which I am not inclined to accept. You know, I would rather sell the house to the Iraq Consul than anybody else. But I am not prepared to accept less than twenty lakh nett to me.”

Photo credit: AFP
Photo credit: AFP

While Jinnah managed to sell his bungalow on Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road (now Abdul Kalam Road) to Seth Dalmia, his refusal to accept Rs 2 lakh less than what he expected for his favourite South Court, which he built himself, left him the kind of scar that millions of ordinary refugees also experienced. After Partition, India announced that the vacant South Court would be at the disposal of the government of Bombay, which was hard-pressed to accommodate the refugees streaming into the city.

However, during Jinnah’s lifetime, thanks to the good offices of Sri Prakasa, India’s first High Commissioner to Pakistan, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the house was never really taken over. Jinnah is known to have told Sri Prakasa that he looked forward to going back to Bombay and living in South Court, and had requested the Indian government to lease it to a foreign consulate.

However, 70 years later, a complex court battle (which includes a claim on the palatial bungalow by his only child Dina Wadia) and worse still, talk of demolishing it define the existence of South Court. Whatever the final outcome, this historic bungalow will forever remind us of the frailty of human beings. For a man who managed to carve out a nation, Jinnah was helpless to protect his most favoured abode.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.