Posts Tagged ‘Jinnah’s relationship with his wife’

The cover of the two books The Secret Diary of Kasturba Gandhi and Ms and Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage that shook India

I read two books recently that give a striking insight into the marriages of two stalwarts of India’s independence movement, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. It’s been a few days I have finished the books, but I have still not been able to decide who was worse off – Kasturba Gandhi or Ruttie Jinnah.

Mr and Mrs Jinnah by Sheela Reddy and The Secret Diary of Kasturba Gandhi by Neelima Dalmia Adhar are books that are painstakingly researched and well-written and take you deep into the lives of two women who married men, who were the harbingers of freedom for the nation.

But did these ladies experience freedom in their personal lives?

Although they came from ostensibly dissimilar backgrounds culturally, religiously and financially, both had one thing in common; that they had to put up with frightfully selfish men, who put their own priorities above all else. They had to keep grappling with the ambitions of their husbands, their mood swings and their workaholic temperaments.

Kastur Kapadia, who was the third wife of Gandhi at the age of 13 (his earlier two wives did not see life beyond six months of age) realized very early in her marriage that her husband, as old as her, wanted complete control over her every move. She had to seek permission from him even if she went to the temple with her mother-in-law, something other women in the household didn’t have to do. Gandhi was obsessed with Kastur, stiflingly controlling and suspicious as well. Determined to make her literate he would teach her late in the night, which the young wife found loathsome and heaved a sigh of relief when his attention shifted to the bedroom.

From the age of 13 to her last days as a prisoner at the Aga Khan Palace, Kasturba Gandhi remained a guinea pig for all her husband’s social experiments.

Gandhi with wife Kasturba. Pix: From the internet.

Starting from the time in South Africa, the first to bear the brunt of Gandhi’s austerity drive – when he thought he was living a far too luxurious life as a successful lawyer – was his wife Kasturba. Suddenly she found herself with no house help when pregnant with her third son and was cooking for a house full of people and doing the chores, although Gandhi helped her when he was at home. But life wasn’t easy doing things for a house full of guests and boarders and things turned really bad when Gandhi decided that they had to clean their own chamber pots placed under the bed in each room. That was Gandhi’s way of fighting untouchability because in pre-independent India the job of cleaning the latrines at upper cast homes was the job of the untouchables.

Hence Kasturba was expected to clean up her own pot and even their guests’ pots if they forgot it. She found it revolting and nauseating. But when Gandhi found her muttering to herself in anger, he threatened to drag her out of the house. Humiliated and angry, Kastur went back inside in tears.

Gandhi came down hard on Kasturba whenever he thought he needed to teach her a lesson. Sometimes he apologized, sometimes he didn’t. But Kastur stayed like a pillar by his side often travelling the length and the breadth of the country and got involved in community service ardently.

In stark contrast, Ruttie Petit also travelled everywhere with her husband Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but always in first class compartments unlike the Gandhis, who travelled in the second class or even third class compartments.

Ruttie’s (Rattanbai) life was diametrically opposite to Kasturba’s. It began and ended with luxury of a kind that many can’t imagine. Being the daughter of Parsi Baronet Sir Dinshaw Petit, she grew up studying in English medium schools, was looked after by an English Governess, lived in a palatial sea-facing mansion, holidayed at their estate at the French Riviera and she was the centre of attention at most parties in the Mumbai high-society circuit slaying all by her charm, exquisite beauty and sense of style. Ruttie could have married anyone she wanted, but she fell for her father’s friend Jinnah, who was 24 years older to her. During her time, a Parsi-Muslim marriage was just unthinkable, the price of which she paid all her life.

Ruttie Jinnah and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Pix: From the book Mr and Mrs Jinnah.

She was madly in love with Jinnah, being able to hold his attention talking about the only topic he cared about–politics. He asked Sir Dinshaw for her hand but he refused and a few months later even brought a restraining order against Jinnah so that he could not meet his daughter.

This probably made Jinnah more steadfast in his resolve because the highly successful lawyer was the last one to cower down to such pressure tactics. It was only through the morning papers that Sir Dinshaw came to know that Ruttie had converted to Islam and married Jinnah. He didn’t even know that Ruttie had left home, so meticulous was Jinnah’s planning.

The marriage created an uproar in the Parsi community. Ruttie’s parents had to disinherit her and vow to never see her again in order to save their faces in their community. At 18, this didn’t matter to Ruttie as long as she got the man of her dreams and set off for her month-long honeymoon in Nainital, but it hit her only when she came back and realised her social life was completely gone and she only had Jinnah to turn to for company. This led to a festering sadness that lingered all through her marriage and took the shape of deadly depression, although in those days no one could come up with a correct diagnosis of her bouts of illness in the latter stages of her life.

Kasturba, along with the Gandhi family also faced excommunication from the Modh-Baniya community when Gandhi went to England to study law. Her parents could not even see her. But the large and united Gandhi family came to her rescue, especially her mother-in-law Putli Ba, who realised how difficult it was for her to bring up two sons on her own when Gandhi was away in London for three years and then again for three years in South Africa.

Unlike Ruttie, who did not find any support from Jinnah’s brothers and sisters to fight her loneliness, Gandhi’s tight knit, conservative family was Kasturba’s solace.

But each time Gandhi came back, a passionate re-union was always followed by Gandhi taking over her life which she detested. But there was little she could do against his diktat. That could be practising walking in constricting shoes from morning till night on the deck of the ship when she travelled to South Africa for the first time or not being able to send her four sons to school because Gandhi did not believe in formal education. Neither could she do anything to ensure a better future for her eldest son Harilal, who, like her, always bore the brunt of Gandhi’s belief that his family members should not get any special treatment. Harilal festered all his life in anger and remorse for he believed his father treated him wrong and ended up being an alcoholic and lived a life in debt unable to look after his wife and children. Torn between the two, she chose to stay with the husband like the adarsh bharatiya nari and weep for the son.

Ruttie, on the other hand, despite her free-thinking spirit, her education, her grasp over politics and her ability to hold conversations with the most learned people, felt trapped in her marriage. She wanted to be an equal partner to Jinnah in the freedom struggle but that did not happen. Neither did he ever appreciate her love for literature and poetry and her ability to write beautiful verses. He didn’t even know that Ruttie nursed dreams of being a published poet like Sarojini Naidu, her idol and the only friend she turned to in her loneliness.

In their marriage, she felt she did not exist as it was always Jinnah, his work, his politics, his schedule, his ambition, his travels and the need for his space when he would be holed up in his study and read newspapers. He wanted Ruttie to be with him and he depended on her too, but on his own terms.

Jinnah was protesting against the building of a memorial of the ex-Governor Lord Willingdon at the Town Hall in Bombay and for the first time a 20,000 strong crowd had turned up to support him. Doused in the fervor, Ruttie, who always wanted to play a proactive role next to her husband, had given a speech that added to the enthusiasm of the crowd. That was the first and the last time she gave a public speech. Jinnah rather preferred to see her sitting in the first row listening to him whenever he spoke and wherever he travelled.

Now, it might seem that unlike Jinnah, Gandhi was more encouraging towards Kasturba. But a deeper look would show that Kasturba was always the instrument that he used to teach the lessons he wanted to propagate. When Gandhi declared that everyone living in the Phoenix Ashram in South Africa, his first ashram, would have to have food without salt and sugar, Kasturba surreptitiously gave sugar to her youngest son to make him eat because he was refusing the bland food. Gandhi rebuked her in front of all making her an example so that others won’t vacillate.

And when it came to his vow of celibacy, he just sprung it as a surprise on her after the birth of their fourth son saying they would be like brother and sister henceforth sleeping in separate rooms. Her views, feelings did not matter at all. No explanation was given to her either.

Neither did Jinnah bother about Ruttie’s feelings. He never had any inkling that Ruttie was suffering because of her exclusion from the community and that she might need his shoulders to lean on. He thought Ruttie was just happy picking him up from work at 5pm, having dinner after that, just the two of them, and he thought that as long as he did not ask where Ruttie was spending all his money all would be fine between them. When she teased him or coaxed him to go on a holiday or have an extra serving of the food she had cooked he never noticed Ruttie’s depression, loneliness and her deep disappointment with him.

In the initial years of their marriage the very few people, who visited their home (Jinnah was opposed to both attending and throwing extravagant parties) were hosted by them together, but later on they had separate sitting rooms to receive their guests and author Sheela Reddy even hints that they might have slept separately.

Ruttie became a mother at 19, but she had a far greater bond with her menagerie of dogs and cats than with her daughter. Neither did Jinnah care about his child as long it had its own posse of nannies and servants and they both did not manage to name her till she was almost 6-years-old. In her frequent correspondences with Sarojini Naidu and her two daughters Padmaja and Leilamani, mention of which is there in the book, Ruttie did not for once mention her child.

After her child was born her first act of defiance was to travel to Hyderabad alone to meet her friends Padmaja and Leilamani without Jinnah. He did not approve of it but he wasn’t the kind either to get into altercations over it. He let Ruttie be. But this attitude ended up creating such a chasm between them that Ruttie went on to travel to Europe alone and even did drugs in Paris and later on the very thought of staying in the same hotel room with Jinnah made her uncomfortable.

Ruttie moved away from Jinnah both mentally and physically and she took up every opportunity to rebel. She felt stifled in Jinnah’s regimented life and also felt hurt in his absolute lack of interest in her.

Unlike Ruttie, Kasturba did not squander away her life looking for freedom in her own way. She instead concentrated on her four boys and became a Satyagrahi and worked for women’s empowerment proving herself to be the befitting wife of a man, who was hailed as God by his countrymen.

Kasturba and Mahatma Gandhi literally grew up together spending 62 years of their life with each other and she often guided him in the early years giving a direction to his life that perhaps Gandhi acknowledged in his heart. Ruttie on the other hand came to Jinnah’s life when he was 40. He was already a hardened lawyer, who had his firm beliefs be it in politics or personal routine and his wife often stuck out like a sore thumb in his life.

Despite Ruttie’s rebellion and frequent illnesses, Jinnah didn’t see it coming. Jinnah hadn’t imagined she would leave him. But she did, one fine day, saying it was over. She moved into a new place and started living on her own. Jinnah in his characteristic way did not try to woo her back but was there for her every single day when she fell seriously ill.

But the call of politics was more important to Jinnah than his personal crisis. Just when the ice was breaking between the two of them and Jinnah’s visits cheered her up, he left for Delhi for the legislative session leaving her forlorn. Ruttie died on her 29th birthday on February 20, 1929 after remaining married to Jinnah for 10 years. The cause of her death was probably an overdose of sleeping pills.

Kasturba died on February 22, 1944 suffering from pneumonia and Gandhi denied her penicillin because he did not believe in conventional medicines.

The last decisions about their life were taken by their husbands.

 

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