Thursday, September 29, 2016


            Ruttenbai Ruttie Petit was sweet sixteen in 1916, when Prince Charming rode into her life. He may not have arrived on a white charger. But this dapper young man in his Saville Row suit and suede shoes cast a magical spell on this beautiful, bright, vivacious teenager who was ready for romance.
            Mohammad Ali Jinnah a prominent lawyer from Bombay had come to Darjeeling for a summer break, at the home of his famous client Sir Dinshaw Petit, a Textile magnate. Jinnah was enchanted not only by Ruttie’s beauty but also her intelligence. Her interests ranged from poetry to politics. In spite of her tender age she could harangue on a wide range of subjects including the Swaraj Movement which was involved in fighting for Indian independence.
            At the end of his stay in Darjeeling, Jinnah asked Sir Dinshaw for Ruttie’s hand in marriage, but was refused. Ruttie was only sixteen and belonged to the Parsi community. Jinnah was 41 years old and was a Muslim. Ruttie was prohibited from seeing or speaking to this man. But when she got back to Bombay, they continued their secret rendezvous for two years until she attained majority.
            In 1918, Ruttie converted to Islam and took the name of Maryam. She was married to Jinnah on April 19, 1918, at his home ‘South Court’ on Malabar Hill, Bombay. Jinnah presented her with a ring which he had received from the Raja of Muhamudabad, and a tidy sum of Rupees 125,000. Only very close friends were invited to the wedding. Sir Dinshaw disowned his daughter and never made contact with her again.
            The first few years of married life were blissful. Jinnah was smitten by her beauty and proud to show her off at various social functions. Ruttie was equally at ease in western attire as well as her flowing colourful saris. Her long tresses were decked with flowers and her head- bands dazzling with precious stones were the envy of other society ladies. They made a very handsome couple, as he too was always attired in custom made suits, a pipe perpetually dangling from his lips. Sarojini Naidu called Ruttie ‘Flower of Bombay.’ Dewan Chaman Lal who was smitten by her beauty said, “There is not a woman in the whole world to hold a candle to her.”
            Once when the couple went for dinner to Governor Wellington’s house, Ruttie had worn a gown with a low neckline. The prudish Governor’s wife asked the ADC to bring her a wrap. Jinnah was quick to take umbrage. He retorted that if Ruttie needed one she would have asked for it. The couple made a dignified exit from the Governor’s house without waiting for dinner.
            Apart from beauty, Ruttie was witty and could hold her own in any conversation. In May 1919, she made a very eloquent speech at the All India Trade Conference. She was also active in different social spheres such as welfare of children and animal rights. Her passion was for books, clothes and pets.
            The first six years of their married life were happy ones. A daughter Dina was born to them. But successful men do not always make loving husbands. They grew apart because Jinnah was so socially, politically and economically powerful. He was a leading barrister in Bombay and was also the President of the Bombay branch of Home Rule League. Ruttie felt his dour, humorless nature to be stifling. His preoccupation with politics left very little time for his wife. She felt isolated. But being of a strong nature she felt that if he could not give her personal time, she wanted liberation. Jinnah was so engrossed in his political aspirations that he had no time to bother about his wife who felt emotionally bereft.
            In September 1922, Ruttie and her daughter went to London for a few months. If she hoped that ‘absence would make the heart grow fonder,’ she was in for disappointment. Jinnah was totally preoccupied in campaigning for the Bombay seat in the general elections. Ruttie withdrew into herself. She suffered from insomnia, hallucinations and abdominal ailments. Her loneliness drove her to the world of spirituality, mysticism, séances and clairvoyance. Jinnah was totally oblivious of her failing health. In 1925, when he made a five-month tour of Europe and North America, he took his family along. The trip sadly widened the gulf between them.
            In 1927, when the Muslim League shifted its head quarters to Delhi, Ruttie stayed behind. She moved into a room at the Taj Hotel. Her deteriorating health added to her sense of isolation. She had just one friend and confidante Kanji Dwarakadas, to whom she poured out the story of her aching heart.
            In 1928, Ruttie went to the Champs Elysee Clinic for treatment of chronic colitis. While there, she poured out her heart in a love letter to Jinnah. “I have loved you my darling as it is given to few men to be loved……Remember me as the flower you plucked and not as the flower you trampled on.”
            Ruttie Maryam Jinnah died on 15th September 1929, at the age of 29 years. She was buried according to Muslim rites at the Khoja Cemetery in Mazagaon, Bombay. Jinnah sat like a statue at the funeral, but broke down when asked to throw a handful of mud on her grave. His friends said that this was the only time they had seen this dour, cold politician show some humanness. He visited her grave one last time in 1947, before leaving for Pakistan.
As Byron said, “Man’s love is of Man’s life a thing apart. ‘Tis woman’s whole existence.”
One wonders if Jinnah ever regretted the fact that he had never given his beloved wife the Gift of Time.


Thursday, June 9, 2016


When Johann Wolfgang Goethe the ‘Giant of World Literature,’ took as his mistress the uneducated maid Christiane Vulpius, it created a social scandal in Weimar’s high society. It was a love story that weathered the storm of criticism and lasted for all of 28 years. It began one fine day in 1788 when Goethe was taking a leisurely stroll in a park and Christiane approached him with a petition in favour of her brother. Her family was in straightened circumstances as her father had been put in prison for some minor bureaucratic error. Her brother a writer of adventure novels needed a job to boost the family income.
            Goethe was smitten by the girl’s good looks, her rosy cheeks, her sparkling eyes and her buxom figure. He took her home for a live-in relationship that lasted 18 years, before he made an honest woman out of her, through marriage on 19th October 1806 at the Jacobskirke in Weimar. Weimar’s high society both the womenfolk and the Literati like Schiller and Thomas Mann were highly critical of his choice. Mann called her ‘a beautiful piece of meal.’ The women resented Christiane because she had robbed them of Goethe’s attention. Charlotte von Stein his lover was livid. Charlotte the wife of Schiller called her a ‘round nothing’ and Bettina von Arnim named her ‘a black pudding.’ Even Goethe’s mother thought she was a sensual ‘bed treasure’ with no claims to intellectual ability.
            But though Christiane had little education and was of no social standing, she was a good wife and a loving companion. For her, Goethe’s welfare was supreme. When their first child Julius August Walther was born on 25th December 1789, Goethe greeted him with the words “Love formed you. You will receive just love.” He even prevailed upon Karl Augustus the Duke of Weimar to be the child’s godfather. But the child’s crying disturbed his work and he took himself off to Italy for long periods, returning only when the desire to be with Christiane took hold of him. Goethe’s mother came to know of Christiane and her grandson only in 1792.
            Three more children were born to Christiane. But none of them survived due to complications of Rhesus incompatibility. Goethe was away for most of the time during her pregnancies and was never present during her labours. As his literary productivity increased, he spent more time away from home.
            A strong friendship developed between Goethe and Schiller. When Goethe’s family moved into a large house in Frauenplan, Christiane proved a warm and friendly hostess in spite of Schiller’s animosity towards her. She was always kind and caring and never offensive. Schiller however, considered her only as Goethe’s housekeeper, and lacked the civility to thank her for her hospitality.
            On their silver anniversary, Goethe dedicated a poem ‘Gefunden’ (Discovery) to Christiane. Years later, her nephew Wolfgang Volpius wrote in her biography, “No wife who has reached her silver wedding anniversary year has ever got a more meaningful and more tender greeting from her husband.”
            Christiane died of uraemia on 6th June 1816. She had previously suffered two strokes and had painful convulsions during her death. She died alone. Goethe was never beside her when she needed him most. She was buried at Jakobsfriedhof in Weimar. After her death, Schiller’s wife wrote of Goethe, “The poor man wept bitterly. It grieves me that he should shed tears for such objects.”
            Christiane provided emotional sustenance to Goethe. She did not feel any sense of inferiority or inadequacy in spite of the barbs and insults thrown at her by Weimar’s society. She had a great capacity to love. Goethe’s mother had to agree that ‘she was a wonderful unspoiled creature.’ As Gary Oliver says, “Real love is choosing to make an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person.”
            After her death Goethe became fat and ugly and began drinking wine excessively. He died on March 22nd 1832.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Germaine de Stael was one of the early feminists who championed women’s right to self expression. Hailed as an important intellectual of her time, she was also ridiculed as ‘man woman,’ because she was strong willed, decisive and took a definite stand on issues close to her heart. She was dominating and bossy and knew how to influence people to further her own ends. There were three different facets to her character – political, intellectual and sexual- distinct and running side by side.
            Germaine’s one disappointment was that she failed to inspire Napoleon to envision her goals. At the outset, she was willing to proclaim Napoleon as great, provided he considered some of her ideas to turn France into an outstanding nation. A confirmed misogynist, Napoleon not only spurned her ideas but laughed at her attempts to influence him. He hated loud mouthed, self opinionated women and was immune to her charms. He preferred docile, submissive creatures like his wife Josephine or his mistress Mario Walewski.
“Who is the greatest woman in history?” she asked him.
“It is the woman who has borne the most children,” he replied, making her seethe with frustration.
            Germaine had a striking personality but was by no means beautiful. She was on the pudgy side with an enormous bosom, and her deep necked attire revealed much of her bulging breasts. On one occasion, he peeped into her cleavage and had the impertinence to ask how many children she had suckled.
            As Napoleon’s power grew turning him into a ruthless dictator, Germaine’s opposition to him escalated. She turned her father’s chateau at Coppet into an intellectual power house and a refuge for those who opposed Napoleon. She forcefully incited opposition against him. Her salon in Paris became a prominent political centre. She was constantly at loggerheads with the regime in France and encouraged her friends Talleyrand, Narbonne and Benjamin Constant to speak against government proposals.
            Napoleon considered her an enemy of the State. She was exiled three times from France, for short periods between 1803 – 1812. He persecuted Germaine at every possible opportunity, as he was aware of her great influence on anti-Bonapartists. Her book on Germany which introduced German Romanticism and Philosophy to France was seized by Napoleon’s police in 1810, as being UnFrench and subversive, and burned. It was subsequently published in London in 1813.
            Germaine put together a coalition that brought down Napoleon. Treaty negotiations between Russia and Sweden were mediated through her.
She came back to Paris only after Napoleon abdicated. Attempts to usher in Constitutional Monarchy were framed in her salon in Paris.
            Germaine was also an accomplished writer, though she never became as popular as her contemporaries Fanny Burney and Jane Austen. She did her finest writing in exile. Her books Delphine and Corrine or Italy were well known. Corrine published in 1807 made a great impact on women outside France. Corrine became an international symbol of Romanticism. Many famous women modeled their lives on the protagonist of this book.  Germaine also had good friends among the Intelligentsia of Europe like Byron, Schiller, Goethe, Chateaubriand and others.
            Germaine was born Anne Louise Germaine Necker in Paris on April 26, 1766. Her father Jacques Neckar a Swedish protestant, was Director of Finance under Louis XVI, but was dismissed in 1788. Germaine was his only child and he loved her very much, calling her his little ‘Minette.’ Her mother Suzanne Curchod a French intellectual was very dominating and showed no affection for her daughter. Germaine disliked her mother intensely.
            Germaine was married to Eric Magnus Stael von Holstein a Swiss nobleman who was eighteen years her senior. Through her father’s influence, he was made Permanent Ambassador to France. Germaine was now Baroness de Stael, the richest heiress in France. But they separated a few years later, giving her the freedom to dally with a succession of men. She was a sensual woman and of the five children she bore only one was sired by her husband. Viscount Louis Narbonne was the father of her two children Auguste and Albert. She had many brief flings.
            But the love of her life was Benjamin Constant, French author and political leader and their affair lasted on and off for seventeen years. Theirs was an intellectual and romantic bonding, exciting but also exhausting. Constant was the father of her daughter Albertine.
He described Germaine as a demanding lover and an attention seeker. “Everybody’s entire existence, every hour, every minute, for years on end, must be at her disposal or there was an explosion like all thunderstorm and earthquake together.”
            Her last lover was Lt. John Rocca, twenty years her junior. When her husband died in 1802, she married Rocca secretly. This was not known until after her death. She bore him a son.
            During her last years, this witty, voluble, bold woman began to abuse opium and was laid low with severe stomach pains. She suffered a stroke, and passed away on July 14, 1817, Bastille Day. She was just 51 years old. Her husband died six months later from TB.

            During her lifetime Germaine weathered many political upheavals - the last years of the Monarchy, the French Revolution, Napoleon’s rule and post Napoleon years. Napoleon said of her, “How does it happen that all who speak to her come to like me less and less.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2016



The fascinating life of Caroline Herschel proves beyond doubt that ingenuity, inquisitiveness and a keen sense of observation can override any physical disability or handicap. She was born in Hanover Germany, on March 6th 1750, to Isaac Herschel a musician in the Hanover Military Band and Anna Ilse Mortisen a housewife. Small pox disfigured her face at the age of three, leaving her with a drooping left eyelid. At the age of ten, an attack of Typhus dwarfed her stature, leaving her with a permanent height of 4’3”. While her father saw to it that she had an elementary education, her mother was convinced that she was fit only to be a scullery maid.
            Caroline’s brother Frederick William Herschel who was twelve years her senior, rescued her from such a plight and took her away to England to keep house for him. He was a musician who had settled in Bath. He taught Caroline music and helped develop her voice. She became a well known soprano and even began to sing professionally.
            But her brother had a passion for Astronomy since childhood. Though he was an outstanding instrumentalist, he gave it all up to pursue his passion. He trained his sister to be his assistant. She gradually began to share his interest in astronomy and worked closely with him.
            However, the telescopes they could afford were small and the images projected were often blurred. So the two worked together to build their own telescope, until they were satisfied with the clarity of the images it projected. William impressed on his sister that important discoveries could be made only through systematically observing the heavenly bodies, their interesting features and their relative positions in space.
            When William discovered the planet Uranus in 1781, Caroline was by his side. He was knighted and appointed court astronomer by King George III. Meanwhile Caroline who had developed a keen interest in the subject, made her own discoveries and observations.  William had also trained her in mathematics. In 1783, she discovered three new nebulae. On August
1st, 1786, she discovered her first comet and was the first woman astronomer to do so. It was called ‘first lady comet.’ Between 1786 and 1787, Caroline discovered eight comets and several nebulae.
             William began to develop many more powerful telescopes. Caroline assisted him by grinding and polishing the lenses. In 1787, King George III officially employed her as William’s assistant. It brought in a modest salary of 50 pounds per annum. She became the first woman to be paid for scientific services.
            Caroline also helped her brother to develop a modern mathematical approach to astronomy. Between them, they discovered 2500 nebulae and compiled their findings in a new General Catalogue.
            When William died in 1822, Caroline returned to Hanover, but continued her work in fields of astronomy and math and also in cataloguing nebulae. An asteroid was given her second name Lucretia and a lunar crater was named after her.
            In 1828 at the age of 75, she received a gold medal from the Royal Astronomic Society. She became the first woman to receive honorary membership of Britain’s Royal Society. On her 96th birthday, the King of Prussia presented her with the Gold Medal of Science.
            Caroline died at the ripe old age of 98 on January1st, 1848, and was buried at the cemetery Gartengemeinde, on 35, Marienstrasse, Hanover. She wrote her own epitaph which is engraved on her tomb stone. “The eyes of her who is glorified here below turned to the starry heavens.”
Though Caroline Herschel was a dwarf in stature, God gave her the enviable gift of surveying the heavens and reading the poetry of the stars.