Book – The Woman Who Stood Defiant – Ruttie Jinnah
Author – Saad S. Khan with Sara S. Khan
Release date – January 2021
Genre – Biography
Reading this book has reinforced a particular feeling in me. The feeling is that history is all about what the powers that be or people with vested interests want us to know and remember. Most of the times, it is not true in several respects, but we believe it as we don’t know any better.
Ruttie Jinnah’s life, ‘The Flower of Bombay’ as she was called, has always been shrouded in mystery. Other than a few details about her birth, her marriage to Jinnah and her having died at a young age, precious little is known about her. It seems as though no one has really bothered much about her, as though her life was totally inconsequential. But I feel that nobody’s life and in particular no woman’s life can be insignificant. Every woman has a story that can be inspirational and motivational. Knowing that story can be of great help to others. And therefore, these stories need to be told.
Ruttie, a woman who, in a sense, belonged to both sides of the border, has been forgotten by both sides for their own reasons. India, I presume, has forgotten her because though a Parsi by birth, she converted to Islam and married the founder of modern-day Pakistan. And as far as Pakistan is concerned, certain vested interests, primarily in her husband’s family, made sure that she was buried in the pages of history. Therefore people have just accepted whatever has been told to them. What stands out is the difference in versions depending on which side of the border people are on.
The author has tried to pull her out for the world to know and understand her. The book, the result of a twelve-year research process, has uncovered a lot about her and her persona. It has succeeded to a considerable extent. Besides her personality, the book also tries to determine her role in the political developments during her lifetime and thereafter. The part she played in the nationalist movement has been brought out very well. The book has also tried to explore her role in the history of the sub-continent after her death, though the reader is not wholly convinced about that. I agree that when a husband and wife share everything, spend time with each other, their thinking does rub off on each other. They could be in tandem about many things, so she could have definitely influenced her husband’s thinking, but how much of it could have translated into a two-nation theory is not clear, at least to me. Ultimately a decision as crucial as this one is based upon several factors.
But what stands out clearly are her feelings towards the colonial powers. She loved her country, and whenever she got the opportunity, she stood up against the British.
Ruttie comes across as a spunky, courageous and spirited woman with a mind of her own. Various instances prove that; marrying a much older man, converting to Islam to do that were some bold decisions that she took in life. She was not the kind to be intimidated by anyone or anything. She never let any situation get to her. So whether it was the Vicereine who objected to her dressing sense or her father who disinherited her, or later her husband who did not have time for her, she never shied away from taking a stand and making her point. She had the courage of conviction.
Ruttie also was a nationalist and stood up against the British on several occasions. She dared to demonstrate against the governor of Bombay, boycotted war victory celebrations to protest the Rowlatt Acts and even donated money for building a memorial in honour of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre victims. Both the husband and wife were one in their opposition to the British.
As the author says, ‘For Mrs Jinnah, freedom was a right and thus sedition against colonial or hereditary rule a duty.’
Being well-educated, she played an active role in her husband’s life, particularly in influencing his political views. When women were primarily relegated to the background, she walked beside her husband at every step, which speaks a lot about the couple’s modern and progressive thinking.
An emancipated woman, she cared for women’s rights, their freedom and education.
Ruttie, as the book reveals, came from a privileged background, was incredibly beautiful, and a classy person with classy tastes. She was well-read and mature beyond her years. She was passionate about plants and animals. But then she was also whimsical and spoilt by first her father and then her husband. She was pretty blunt and outspoken and could rub people the wrong way. Born into a wealthy family, she was used to spending a lot of money and couldn’t cut down on her expenses. All this made her stubborn and used to getting her way. In fact, she did exactly as she pleased, even if it caused her harm. This was pretty obvious towards the later years of her life when she fell sick.
Another woman whom the book sheds light on is Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Mohd. Ali Jinnah. The book reveals how Fatima made sure that she removed all traces of Ruttie from history simply because she never got along with her sister-in-law. Not only did she destroy papers and photographs of Ruttie, but she also invented a previous marriage of Jinnah to undermine Ruttie’s role and position in her brother’s life. This just shows how much personal enmity and rivalry can affect a person’s way of thinking and functioning.
Dina Jinnah, the only child of the couple, is another character that comes out. The story of her life is quite tragic and makes one’s heart go out to her. She had a long but not a happy life. When she was barely ten, she lost her mother and then had to shuttle between India and England as per her father’s wishes. Taking a leaf out of her mother’s book, she married against her father’s wishes and then lived to regret her decision. She was rejected by her father, husband and later on by her son as well. A woman born in the lap of luxury had to count her pennies in her later years.
I found the book to be an easy and interesting read. Apart from talking about these three women, the author has also given his perspective on various historical events. Getting a different viewpoint, I feel, broadens one’s horizons. One may not agree with every point of view, but it is beneficial to be open to different perspectives.
I would describe this as a very well researched piece of work that has tried to do justice to a bold, spirited woman, far ahead of her times.