Remembering the Father of the Nation

Poonja Jinnahbhai was congratulated by an accoucheuse on the birth of his second child on December 25, 1876. It was a boy whose birth was being celebrated in a rented apartment on the second floor of Wazir Mansion, Karachi. Mithibai, his mother, was enthralled to see the future breadwinner of the house, as he was expected to follow the norm and tradition of his Gujrati family of weavers and merchants. Little did his parents know about his unique contributions to be made in the Pakistan Movement in which he was to play a central and pivotal part and was to be later revered as Quaid-e-Azam.

Named as Mahomedali Jinnahbhai, the boy was from a family of Ismaili Khoja Muslims of Shi’a branch. Owing to his parents being native Gujrati speakers, belonging to the princely state of Gondal, he and his siblings were much fluent in speaking Kutchi, Sindhi and English languages. He was sent to Bombay to live with his aunt where he attended Gokal Das Tej Primary School and Cathedral and John Connon School. He then attended the Sindh-Madrassa tul-Islam and the Christian Missionary Society High School in Karachi. He finally gained his matriculation certificate from Bombay University.

His childhood and educational life is not to be erroneously compared or equated with that of a normal child. He had inherent leadership qualities, which he occasionally evinced during his formative years. His surviving boyhood fellows told his official biographer, Hector Bolitho, in 1954 that the young Jinnah deterred his playmates from making their hands and clothes dirty by playing marbles in the dirt and insisted them on playing cricket instead.

During his boyhood, he was often seen at police courts, listening to the proceedings. It is also bruited about him that he used to study his books by the glow of street lights when no other source of illumination was available. It was due to this determination, passion and mania of books and law that he volitionally accepted a London apprenticeship offered by a business associate of Poonja Jinnahbhai, Sir Frederick Leigh Croft, with his firm, Graham’s Shipping and Trading Company, in 1892.

His mother greatly opposed his decision and, therefore, had him enter an arranged marriage before his departure, when he was only sixteen. His spouse was Emibai Jinnah, a girl two year younger than him, who belonged to his ancestral village of Paneli. This was done in order to keep him well-connected to his roots. But Jinnah’s mother and first wife passed away during his absence.

His father was of different opinion, though. The apprenticeship in London was welcomed by Jinnahbhai as an outstanding opportunity because one reason for sending his son overseas was a legal proceeding against him which had put the family’s property at the stake of being confiscated by the court. However, Jinnah gave up the apprenticeship in order to study law. This infuriated his father but Jinnah was determined to achieve his goal. He joined Lincoln’s Inn to gain legal education which followed the apprenticeship system. It was at this stage when he shortened his name to Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

While in England, he was influenced by British liberalism of the 19th century. He also grasped the concepts and importance of progressive politics and democratic nation. It would not be wrong to say that this inspiration marked the beginning of his political grooming. The Western ideologies not only shaped his political life, but also invigorated his personal preferences including his lifestyle and dressing sense, in particular. It was his commitment to the profession of law that he did not pursue a stage career with a Shakespearean company, and in 1895, became the youngest Indian to be called to the bar in England, as he was only nineteen years of age.

“Character, courage, industry and perseverance are the four pillars on which the whole edifice of human life can be built and failure is a word unknown to me.”

It was this confidence of Mr Jinnah which made Rattanbai Petit defy her family and get married to him in 1918, despite a considerable age difference of twenty-four years. After nominally embracing Islam, she was known as Maryam Jinnah, though she never used this name for herself. The couple was blessed with a daughter, Dina Jinnah, on August 15, 1919. Regrettably, the pair separated before Rattanbai’s death in 1929. Jinnah and his daughter were taken care of by his youngest and dearest sister, Fatima.

The story of how Pakistan was achieved, starting from the Lahore Resolution in 1940 till its advent in 1947, is well-told and well-written by historians. One fact is established – Jinnah was an essential and pivotal part of that process. He tried to work in cooperation with the Congress during the 1920s and 1930s, but when it became clear that the Congress was only acting in Hindu interests, he became a strong supporter of the demand of a separate country for the Muslims. He aptly said in a speech in Bombay in 1947:

“I am fighting for Pakistan because it is the only practical solution for solving the problem.”

Unfortunately, Jinnah lived for just one year after Pakistan’s advent, yet he played a vital role in establishing the new country in the world community. Few people expected Pakistan to survive as an independent state and many confronted Indian politicians actually worked to make its survival even more difficult. It was certainly due to Jinnah’s unflagging efforts that Pakistan not only survived, but prospered. He clarified his motive in his speech at a rally at the University Stadium, Lahore in October 1947 by saying:

“There is no power on earth that can undo Pakistan.”

Jinnah suffered from tuberculosis from the 1930s. Only his sister, Fatima, and few close friends knew about his ailment. By June 1948, he flew to Quetta, and later Ziarat, along with Fatima. On the eve of Independence Day, he refused to go to Karachi as he did not want to be seen by the populace on a stretcher. He had developed pneumonia by September 9, 1948.

For a better treatment he flew to Karachi on recommendation of his doctors. After landing, Jinnah was being to the hospital when his ambulance broke down mysteriously. The nurse is reported to have been removing house flies from Quaid’s face while they waited for another ambulance to arrive. It did arrive, though an hour later, and Jinnah was taken to the Government House in Karachi. He died at night at home on September 11, 1948. Jinnah was buried on September 12, 1948 with the observance of official mourning in India and Pakistan. The gathering was of millions. He now rests in Mazar-e-Quaid, a marble mausoleum in Karachi.

Despite his failing health, Jinnah worked tirelessly to establish the new homeland, consuming over 50 cigars a day in order to keep him dynamic and active. Till his death he had established a new government and administration and had taken measures to unite the diverse population into a single ‘Pakistani’ nation.

The Times, a renowned English newspaper, wrote shortly after his death:

Mr. Jinnah was something more than Quaid-e-Azam, he was more than the architect of the Islamic nation he personally called into being. Few statesmen have shaped events to their policy more surely than Mr. Jinnah. He was a legend even in his lifetime.”

Even a staunch opponent of his, Jawaharlal Nehru, acclaimed him as “one of the most extraordinary men in history.” Lord Pethick-Lawrence competently added himself to the long list of admirers by saying:

“Gandhi died by the hands of an assassin; Jinnah died by his devotion to Pakistan.”

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  1. Hammad says

    kamaal (y)

  2. Salim says

    very informative, excellent article.

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