She wanted to spend the last days of her life surrounded by the memories of her darling Papa in Mumbai but her last wish was not fulfilled. She died in New York on November 2, 2017 at the age of 98. Dina Wadia, the only child of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, has since become a victim of disinformation on social media and some newspaper columns. Some ignorant people have claimed that her father severed relations with his daughter and was not willing to see her even on his death-bed. Unfortunately for these so-called historians the facts are completely different from their fiction.
The National Assembly of Pakistan and Sindh Assembly observed a minute of silence on November 3 to pay homage to Dina Wadia. She was highly respected in a country created by her father. The question remains, why she never moved to Pakistan? Why did she die in New York as a US citizen and why has she been buried there?
Nobody can deny the fact that Dina Wadia was engaged in a legal battle with the Government of India over the ownership of her father’s house in Mumbai. She filed a petition in the Mumbai High Court through lawyer Shrikanth Doijode, claiming that she was the only legal heir of her late father and owner of South Court, also called Jinnah House, in Mumbai. Jinnah had given that property to her sister Fatima Jinnah in 1939, although his will was not registered in any court. Fatima Jinnah never made any claim over the property, nor did she marry or have any children who could have claimed it. That is why Dina considered herself the sole owner of South Court.
So, she wrote a letter to former Indian prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in 2007, in which she said, “It is now almost 60 years since my father’s death and I have been deprived of my house where I grew up and lived until I married. I request you return it to me”. She promised in that letter to use the house purely for her residential purpose and not to exploit it commercially. There was no response from Dr Manmohan Singh.
The Indian government wanted to establish the South Asian Centre for Art and Culture at this property. The Pakistani government jumped into the controversy and claimed ownership. It wanted to transfer its Mumbai Consulate office to South Court. It was easy for Dina Wadia to ask the Pakistani government to stay away, but she never contacted anyone.
I clearly remember my conversations about Jinnah’s daughter with Dr Zawar Hussain Zaidi, a well-known historian and an admirer of Jinnah. The two had met for the first time in Aligarh University before the partition of India. He taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London and moved to Pakistan in 1992 to look after the Quaid-e-Azam Papers Project. He collected and published more than 150,000 documents related to the founder of Pakistan, under the title, “Jinnah Papers”.
Dr Zaidi once showed me the correspondence between Dina Wadia and her father in 1947. He was a friend of my late father Prof Waris Mir and often guided me about aspects of Jinnah’s life and politics ignored by elements in the Pakistani state. Many people have said that Jinnah never met his daughter after she married a non-Muslim in 1938. This is patently wrong.
It is a fact that Jinnah was not happy about the marriage of his only child with Neville Wadia in 1938.He never participated in the wedding ceremony but he did send a bouquet through his driver Abdul Hai. In his book on his Jinnah’s wife, “Ruttie Jinnah,” published by Oxford in 2010, the historian Khawaja Razi Haider included some of Dina’s letters to her father.
In her first letter to him from Peddar House in Cumballa Hill, Bomby, dated April 28,1947, Dina addresses Jinnah as “My Darling Papa”. She starts with her congratulations on the acceptance of the Principles of Pakistan and says, “I am so proud and happy for you”. In another letter written to her father on June 2, 1947, she thanks “Papa darling” for his letter. She concludes her letter with “lots of love and kisses and a big hug. Dina”.
Jinnah wrote his last will in 1939, in which he said : “I direct my executors to set apart Rs 200,000 (two lacs) which will, at 6%, bring an income of Rs 1000 to my daughter every month for her life or during her lifetime and after her death be divided equally between her children, males or females.”
Dina Wadia separated from her husband in 1943. She had one daughter and one son. Jinnah met his daughter and grand-children many times in Mumbai before 1947. Nusli Wadia still has the cap his grandfather gifted to him in 1946 in Mumbai. He was only two years old at the time.
Nusli’s mother never married again. She sacrificed her life for her children and settled in the US when her son became a big business tycoon. She wanted to come back but wished to live in the house made by her father. But her last wish never came true.
Dr Zaidi asked Dina several times to visit Pakistan but she didn’t want to come as a State guest. She first visited in September 1948 when her father died, in a special plane sent by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Between 1948 and 1967 she came again twice, quietly, to see her aunt, Fatima Jinnah. But she never visited when her aunt passed away in 1967.
Dr Zaidi asked Benazir Bhutto to invite her several times but Dina declined. Then in March 2004, Sheharyar Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board and an heir to the former Nawab of Bhopal, approached her through Nusli Wadia and invited them to come watch the India-Pakistan cricket match in Lahore. The present Pakistani High Commissioner to Canada Tariq Azeem was a senator and minister in the government at that time. He was sitting next to Dina Wadia in Chairman’s Box in Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore and remembers his conversations with her.
Azeem asked Dina why she hadn’t visited Pakistan all these decades. She replied, “I don’t have anyone to visit here in Pakistan, my family is in India”. He told her that all of Pakistan was her family. But she didn’t want to exploit her father’s name. She was more interested in the match, but left the stadium early without watching India defeat Pakistan that evening.
During that visit, she visited Muhammad Iqbal’s mausoleum in Lahore-he had been a close friend of his father-as well as his haveli in the old city. She admonished Iqbal’s grandson Yousuf Salahuddin for smoking and refused to join in the criticism of Pakistan around the dinner table. She didn’t meet President Pervez Musharraf either but quietly supported the efforts of both governments towards peace-building. At her father’s mausoleum in Karachi, she wrote in the Visitor’s Book, “May his dream for Pakistan come true”.
With her death, one more strand in India-Pakistan’s common past has been lost. Perhaps this is a moment for both nations to reflect upon their trajectories and their dreams for the future. Will we allow the bitterness of the present to colour the past? Shall we condemn all our people for the misdeeds of a few? After all, Dina’s “Darling Papa” and India’s Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, also wanted both countries to live together like considerate neighbours. Will we be able to live up to the creative anguish of our ancestors?
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