NEW DELHI: He was 42 and she was 18. The union of the reclusive and enigmatic Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the free spirited Ruttie Petit, was not a match made in heaven.
The unlikely relationship that took 1918 Bombay by storm, is the subject of senior journalist Sheela Reddy’s new book, “Mr and Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage that Shook India”.
According to the author, while Jinnah’s contemporaries like Mahatma Gandhi have been written about extensively, the Qaid-e-Azam’s personal life remained largely under wraps.
“Gandhi and Jinnah were two towering figures of the sub- continent’s history. Now where there is no aspect of Gandhi’s life that has not received the attention of historians and biographers, the same cannot be said of the latter,” Reddy said at the recent launch of the book here.
What tempted her to write the book was the dearth of information regarding Jinnah’s personal life and marriage, despite him being “so different from the cold and reserved personality that he habitually put out”.
The work draws from several letters written by Ruttie and Sarojini Naidu that Reddy discovered during her research in Delhi, Mumbai and Karachi.
“I would have forgotten about writing this book had I not come across a whole cache of Ruttie’s letters while idling in the Nehru Library archives (in New Delhi). There was a whole sheaf of letters from Ruttie, around a hundred pages in all.
The letters date back to when she was 15 and end abruptly a year before her death in 1929,” she said.
For the author, Ruttie was someone “trapped by a series of circumstances in a situation I don’t think anyone could have survived”.
Isolated and alone, she was not just ostracized by her own family, but also left dispirited by Jinnah’s increasing pre-occupation with politics and law.
Her angst comes across in her last letter to her husband where she writes, “Try and remember me beloved as the flower you plucked and not the flower you tread on.”
“Being cut off from her family, friends and community was in itself an enormous trauma which she could not acknowledge to herself or Jinnah because she knew he would not understand what that meant,” Reddy said.
The book published by Penguin Random House was launched at India International centre here.–PTI