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Published in the 1-15 Sep 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

The House Jinnah built

By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

The life of Muhammad Alibhai Jinnahbhai Khojani, as referred to by his contemporary Dr. Sachidanand Sinha in London Bar in 1890’s, in a small booklet Jinnah As I Know Him remained a bounded mystery until between 1970 and 1982 twelve- volumes of British documents relating to transfer of power were published and 80,000 pages of Qaid-e-Azam papers which were the property of National Archives of Pakistan and the archives of All India Muslim League were slowly taken out of the closets.

Entrance to the Jinnah House, Mumbai

Entrance to the Jinnah House, Mumbai

‘He seemed on the way to leading India; he founded Pakistan instead,’ are the opening lines of an essay Muhammad Ali Jinnah by Raj Mohan Gandhi, grandson of MK Gandhi, in his book Understanding The Muslim Mind . The essay which covers sixty-three odd pages, enumerates, with no holds barred, the life span covering all the shades of the life of founder of Pakistan. MA Jinnah was born in Karachi on Christmas Day 1876 and breathed his last on Sep 11, 1948 at government House, Karachi.

Francis Robinson, a living giant historian on sub-continental politics and writer of his magnum opus Separatism Among Indian Muslims, writes a very engrossing chapter — The Jinnah Story in his other book, Islam and Muslim History in South Asia. He too in the very opening lines acknowledges; ‘The life of no man, not of Mahatma Gandhi, not that of Jawaharlal Nehru, is so entangled with the nationalist politics of British India as that of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.’ The chapter is a gist of conclusions drawn from Stanley Wolpert’s Jinnah of Pakistan and Ayesha Jalal’s Jinnah-The Sole Spokesman. Robinson has offered snapshots on Wolpert for using all kinds of salt and pepper in scripting Jinnah’s life while hailing Jalal for her unbiased and concrete analysis of the life and times of MA Jinnah.

"Gentlemen, you are the citizens of Bombay. You have today scored a great victory for democracy. Today, December 11, is a red-letter day in the history of Bombay. Go and Rejoice," said Jinnah, writes Bolitho in his book Jinnah. The occasion was when Lord Wellingdon was relinquishing the Governorship and a meeting of the citizens of Bombay was convened to appreciate his services which, Jinnah did not approve and therefore, had decided to oppose the appreciation. He along with his wife, Ratanbai or Ruttie Petit, and a large number of protestors were later to be removed by police resorting to force.
The episode understandably made Jinnah the hero and, within no time his admirers contributed thirty-thousand Indian rupees in his honour, a hefty amount those days (1918) and Jinnah Hall came into existence. A wall-plaque with ‘the historic triumph’ emblazoned on it refers to the victory of Bombay citizens ‘under the brave and brilliant leadership of MA Jinnah,’ writes Bolitho.
Bombay owes a lot to Jinnah and vice-versa and Jinnah too, in a perfect ode to his city got built his house, ‘Jinnah House’ built in Bombay which he never felt like renouncing in spite of India getting partitioned and Pakistan being born out of it.

Jinnah House is located on Malabar Hills-which is the most highly priced area in Bombay today- and precisely stationed on Mount Pleasant Road (now Bhausaheb Hirey Marg). It is of palatial proportion by all accounts. Built in 1936 at an exorbitant price of two-lakh Indian rupees is a composition of the most exquisite Italian marble and walnut woodwork conceived and designed by Claude Batley. This house now has its immediate-opposite neighbour as Maharshtra Chief Minister. 

RM Gandhi has doled some more details about how for sometime this Malabar Hill abode could finally fill in with some glowing colours in Jinnah’s otherwise fastidious bachelorhood. ‘For the first time in his life, a girl had absorbed Jinnah’s emotions. Living for sometime now in a large but sombre Malabar Hill house, bowing to ladies (on occasional parties) and praising their sarees but otherwise keeping a distance from them, (he) fell in love with Ruttenbai, the daughter of one of Bombay’s eminent Parsis, Sir Dinshaw Petit and married her when she attained eighteen while he was 41. She converted to Islam and took to the name Mariam ‘which is what Jinnah’s more orthodox Muslim colleagues called her (as),’ writes Patrik French in his book Liberty or Death.

Jinnah’s marriage could not last so easily and without pin-pricks. Sarojni Naidu, the nightingale of India who branded Jinnah an ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’ could not control herself and let her feelings show. She would write to Syed Mahmud, son of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. "So Jinnah has at last plucked the Blue Flower of his desire," before adding, "The child has made far bigger sacrifices than she yet realises."

RM Gandhi continues to write more, ‘Joy and laughter entered Jinnah’s life. The Malabar Hill house became brighter.’ She presented him with a daughter, Dina. But, ‘Alas the happiness was not destined to last; Sarojni’s veiled prediction of trouble came true. Ruttie grew tired of Jinnah’s unending talks with politicians; (as) at (that) his age he could not summon a sudden fondness for art or music or dancing.’

This Malabar Hill mansion, after a brief lull, however again shot to prominence during the September 1944 Jinnah-Gandhi crucial talks about India’s independence and partition. So were Jinnah’s talks with Subhash Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru- ironically on August 15, 1946 This was exactly an year before India gained independence and Pakistan was formed. ‘The host became Governor-General of Pakistan and the visitor, Prime Minister of India,’ wrote AG Noorani in the Nov 7, 2003 issue of the Frontline.

Jinnah House, although left vacated by its owner did not lie in abandon as only a few years after Partition, the British Deputy High Commissioner started to reside there with his senior information officials occupying the first floor. He vacated the place in 1983.

It would be also worthwhile to know that Jinnah had one more house at 10 Aurengzeb Road, New Delhi which he had bought and later sold to Ram Krishna Dalmia for Rs. three lakh shortly before Partition but never did he think of doing the same with his Bombay place of abode. Netherlands ambassador now lives in his former New Delhi’s residence.

Fortunately, after the publication of Jinnah Papers: Pakistan Struggling for Survival by OUP Pakistan, many unknown facts, with particular reference, to Malabar Hill house have been brought to light. "Sri Prakasa, don’t break my heart. Tell Jawaharlal not to break my heart, I have built it brick by brick. Who can live in a house like that? What fine verandas? It is a small house only for a small European family or a refined Indian prince. You do not know how I love Bombay. I still look forward to going back there," Jinnah had said.
Sri Prakasa, India’s first high commissioner to Pakistan replied, ‘"Really, Mr. Jinnah! I said. ‘You desire to go back to Bombay. I know how much Bombay owes to you and your great services to the city. May I tell Prime Minister that you want to go back there?’ He replied: ‘Yes, you may"’ writes Sri Prakasa in his memories Pakistan: Birth and Last Days. This conversation took place on July 30, 1948.

Jinnah’s sentiments were immediately telegrammed to Nehru and in accordance with his wish, to allot his house to any foreign consulate, permission, was sought from Jinnah who replied that not due to any racial feeling but because his house was built in European style he wanted it to go to a European family. He was formally offered Rs. 3000 for a month but he left the ball in India’s court to decide on fixing the rent as Indians prerogative. Jinnah while replying to a letter to Sri Prakasa had professed to look forward to meeting him on his return to Karachi, but, unfortunately, he could not do so as he died before that.

Nehru, on his part decided not to declare Jinnah House as an evacuee property and in a note to the Cabinet on March 7,1955 had said. "I think we should further be prepared to make a gift of it to the Pakistan government," as documented in Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru. But, Nehru could not get approval from his cabinet.

Thereafter, once Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan CC Desai had also suggested to Nehru on Jan 13, 1956 that Jinnah House be preserved "as a relic of Jinnah." S. Dutt, foreign secretary, on one occasion, minuted on Jan. 20, 1956, that Jinnah memorial by India would be inappropriate; but if Pakistan wanted to buy the house and preserve it as a memorial to Jinnah, "we certainly should raise no objection" (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru).

The plan went awry but Islamabad did not give up pursuing it and perhaps, from the longest time, has requested New Delhi to at least lease it, if not sell it outright to them. New Delhi nevertheless has not as yet made a complimentary gesture despite PV Narsimha Rao, Foreign Minister in 1980, under Indira Gandhi, making a statement in the Parliament that India has in principle agreed to lease Jinnah House as the residence of local Consulate-General of Pakistan. Even the recent foreign- secretaries level talks between Shashank and Raiz Khokhar could not find anything worthwhile to break the ice. The talks were held in the last week of June 2004.

Islamabad’s simmering and emotive desire hasn’t as yet been realised but what is a bit surprising is Islamabad’s near silence on the subject of the grave of Mariam Jinnah who died at an early age of 28 years and lies buried in a Muslim cemetery in Bombay. Jinnah at 51 had lost her and then would, after her death, always hide his feelings for her throughout his life. His friend Kanji Dwarkadas has given an eye-witness account. "When the body was lowered into the grave, Jinnah bowed his head and sobbed."

The high price of Partition, as the very least to say, also lies in an irony that the architect of Pakistan had to leave both of his most beloved possessions on ‘the other’ side of the border. The twilight of his departure from Malabar Hills is perhaps the same but surely, now a different moon shines over it.

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