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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Story of the Heart

Following is the original text of the feature I wrote and the edited version of which was published in DAWN Supplement under the title 'The Other Side of the Quaid' on December 25, 2012. An online link to the published version appears here.

            The kind of person Muhammad Ali Jinnah was
under the tough exterior

Jawad Daud

Muhammad. Ali. Jinnah.

Like his name, the life of The Great Leader also had three distinct chapters. Each one is richer, more remarkable, more inspiring than the one before. Several books have tried to describe a dazzling life through mortal words, stopped, and chosen to speak his legal and political life instead. Not much is known about his personal life probably because he was a very private person. But once in a while you chance upon a gemstone, pick it up, examine it, and can’t help but marvel at the fact that from Ali to Muhammad to Jinnah, he always had the makings of a statesman, a leader, and a gentleman. And below the frail exterior was a strong heart that knew how to love, how to lose, and how to find reasons again to go on.

          While he was young and living in Karachi, Ali avoided playing in the street with other boys of his age. Whatever games they played were physical and would cause a bruise, a fight, or stain clothes in the least. Ali being too meticulous and mature for his age liked to keep his clothes unspoiled and his hands clean. In 'Jinnah, Creator of Pakistan' published in 1954, writer Hector Bolitho interviewed several people that knew Ali as a boy. He recounts an anecdote that Nanji Jafar, one of Ali's neighbors from childhood, narrated to him. ' I was playing in the street when he, then aged about fourteen, came up to me and said, “Don’t play marbles in the dust; it soils your clothes and dirties your hands. We must play cricket.”' The fact that the boys dropped the marbles and followed him shows that Ali could be persuasive and he tried to make things better for people around him from an early age.

As destiny was about to tug him to London to further his studies, his mother asked him to wed Emi bai. While he would be in London, his mother would die and he would miss the funeral. Ali would not be able to see her face one last time before she would be buried and it would sting for the rest of his life. But for now, he complied with the wishes of his mother and let this be one of the very few decisions he allowed others to make for him.

          His stay in England would instill in him an Englishness of manner and behavior that would continue to his death. His imitation of the upper class Englishmen in India would be so accurate that it would make the English uncomfortable. But that would come later. For now in London in 1892, Ali didn’t indulge in pastimes or hobbies. He closed the doors on temptations of art and history. He voyaged between lectures at Lincoln’s Inn and debates in the House of Commons, ignoring the National Gallery on the way. He didn’t know he was creating a void in himself. He couldn’t know why he was creating a void in himself. 

He would know only when he’d turn 39.

Meanwhile, in London in 1892 in the evenings, Ali would invest his time and emotions into understanding – as opposed to reading – Shakespeare. This investment would pay off years later when he would enter the Indian politics and would have to deal with people who behaved as if they’d just walked off the pages of the Bard’s plays. But thankfully by then, with all its blessings, his first name will have become his second nature.

Ruttie Bai was 16 and Muhammad was 39 when they first met in 1916. With an active interest in politics and absolute love for poetry she was intellectually far more mature than other girls of her age. She would often recite from Oscar Wilde, her favorite. An aggressive supporter of India for Indians, Ruttie was an excellent horse-rider, attended all public meetings, and was passionate for all forms of arts. Cerebral, mercurial, ethereal: she was the kind of companion Muhammad had always sought. But it couldn’t have been love at first sight for love is blind to appearances, deaf to logic, mute to reason. It must’ve been something much more logical, much more rational. 

Like fate.

          As Muhammad became successful in politics, he also became increasingly religious. He offered his prayers regularly and studied The Quran and life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This added even more depth and wisdom to his arguments and vision. He spoke of the Prophet as “a great statesman, and a great leader.” Over time, he started quoting philosophies of the Prophet and adding religious angles to his speeches where appropriate.

Muhammad also became simpler in his taste of clothing and eating; only taking what he needed not wanted. His favorite food was curry and rice. He always smoked his favorite Craven A cigarettes, one of the finest and the most expensive at the time. His wealth gave him independence and freedom to speak his mind. Which brings us to another story about Mohammad from Bolitho's book: even at the beginning of his legal practice, he neither put up with improper behavior nor would tolerate a slight. During a hearing, an English magistrate found him to be overbearing and reminded him that he was addressing a first class magistrate. He was swiftly served a simmering reply by Muhammad that the advocate in him was of no lesser class.

The rapidly changing political scenario of 1930s slowly transformed Muhammad into Mr. Jinnah. With resolve, conviction, and integrity he earned the respect of even the most intense of opponents. Despite the differences and bitterness of political life he was considered to be a man without malice: unyielding but without malice. And he never minced words. Especially while addressing those in power.

Historians opine Jinnah was both strict and methodical whether it concerned small matters such as his monocle or large matters such as his belief in constitutional procedure. 

By late 1930’s, Jinnah had adopted the local dress but did not entirely give up his Western clothes. For a headdress he opted for a Karakul hat. He instinctively chose right clothes to make a cultural and a political statement and created a modern Muslim identity.

After Ruttiebai’s death in 1929, Jinnah’s personal life narrowed down to his daughter Dina. He loved her dearly and brought her up with the help of his sister, The Mother of Nation, Fatima Jinnah. Concurrently, he became more involved in politics and did not rest until he fulfilled his promise of an independent homeland to millions of Muslims and ‘died of devotion to his cause’ in 1948.

          Jinnah carried the lumber of leadership with grace until the end of his days. He knew he had to lead by example and he didn’t let even the slightest opportunity pass him by. As governor-general, he cancelled the orders for a Lincoln and an aircraft because Pakistan exchequer could not afford them. He would not install a lift in the Governor-General House despite his old age. He would also ensure that the lights were put out before he had retired to his bedroom.

          Jinnah was a visionary who did not allow personal problems to blur his vision. Still, there were two occasions when even he could not hold himself back. And they both involved his wife.

          The first time was at her burial where Jinnah remained silent and motionless throughout the ceremony, probably recalling their first meeting, the troubles he had to go through to marry her, the beautiful memories that both of them so freely gave each other, the time they had together, the time they could’ve had together.. When he was asked to bid his final goodbye to Ruttiebai by throwing earth on her grave, the human weakness probably took him over for the first time for he broke down and wept. 

The second time was in August 1947 when he visited Ruttiebai’s grave one last time before leaving for Pakistan . He had filled hearts of the Muslims with joy and lighted their faces with hope. But he had emptied his own personal life of any meaning.  

By turning his back to Ruttiebai’s grave, Jinnah left behind three of the most important things that would give any ordinary loving heart a reason to go on: his beloved wife Ruttie who remains buried in Bombay, his dearest daughter Dina who couldn't see how much her father had suffered already, and the Jinnah House on Malabar Hill where he had met life, shaken hands with it, and had embraced it with passion.

Even Shakespeare couldn't have envisioned a tragedy so intense.

Jinnah was indeed a rare man with an inspiring legacy as he ‘significantly altered the course of history, modified the map of the world, and created a nation-state’ but still found time to add life to moments.

Happy birthday Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

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