Dina Wadia, the only child of Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, passed away at her home in New York Thursday. She was 98.
She was the mother of leading Parsi businessman Nusli Wadia who heads the Wadia Group which owns Bombay Dyeing, Britannia Industries and Go Air and is often described as India’s corporate samurai for his propensity to get involved in high power corporate disputes.
Jinnah’s marriage to 16-year-old Ruttie Petit at the age of 42 scandalised Bombay society in the early 20th century. Ruttie was the only daughter of Sir Dinshaw Petit, the aristocratic Parsi Baronet, whose family was one of the first to open textile mills in Bombay and was renowned for charities. The Parsi community was up in arms at the impulsive and romantic Ruttie’s elopement and conversion. She was excommunicated from the community for all practical purposes.
Author Sheela Reddy, in her recent book Mr and Mrs Jinnah, writes: “A strange flaw in Ruttie’s warm and affectionate personality was that she paid little attention to her only daughter, leaving her at home with nannies and maids.’’ In fact, Ruttie’s daughter was so ignored that she was not given a proper name till she was 10. Her mother passed away in tragic circumstances at the age of 29.
Dina was the product of a doomed marriage of complete opposites. Jinnah, who was almost as old as Ruttie’s father, was dour, proud, withdrawn, cautious and from a conservative Khoja Muslim family. Ruttie was pampered, impulsive, emotional, extravagant and reckless.
After his wife’s death, Jinnah became increasingly orthodox and preoccupied with his mission to carve out from India a separate Muslim majority country, Pakistan. He permitted Dina’s grandmother, Dinbai Petit, to have a major say in the upbringing of his daughter and even permitted the child to take her grandmother’s name. Despite the early tragedy in her life, Dina had, according to friends, a happy childhood and a friendly, warm and kindly disposition. She was brought up in a largely Parsi milieu.
Jinnah was shocked when she informed him at the age of 17 that she intended to marry Neville Wadia, the scion of an equally illustrious Parsi family in the textile business. According to Jinnah’s one-time junior, the late Justice Mahommed Currim Chagla, Jinnah scolded his daughter and told her that there were millions of Muslim boys in India and she could have anyone she chose. Dina, who was more than a match for her father, replied, “Father, there were millions of Muslim girls in India. Why did you not marry one of them?’’
For Jinnah, the marriage was a major political embarrassment. He became permanently estranged from his daughter and her family. Before leaving for the soon-to-be-formed Pakistan, he met his daughter for the last time along with her son Nusli and her daughter Diana. Dina made a trip to Pakistan in 2003, the first time since his funeral, to visit her father’s grave along with her son and two grandsons, Ness and Jeh. It came as a shock to most Pakistanis to discover that the descendants of the Quaid-e-Azam were in fact Parsis living in India, since it was kept a closely guarded secret by the Pakistani authorities for many years.
In her later years, Dina lived mostly in New York though she made an annual trip to Mumbai to meet her family and friends. She was extremely close to son Nusli who visited her often.
Incidentally, Dina was fighting a suit in court to claim legal possession of South Court on Malabar Hill, now usually referred to as Jinnah House. Valued at over $400 million, the stately bungalow, badly in need of repairs, has historical significance for the sub-continent since Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi met there before the formation of Pakistan.
After Jinnah’s death, the Pakistan government wanted the property handed over to it. The Indian government pointed out that in his will Jinnah left the property to his sister Fatima who had also passed away. Dina Wadia’s counsel’s contention is that since Jinnah was a Khoja Muslim, a community, which follows Hindu law and not Shariat, Dina, as his daughter and an Indian citizen, was the rightful heir to the property.