Jinnah often came to our housePosted: June 26, 2016
You can only enjoy Kiran Doshi’s Jinnah often came to our house (JOCTOH) as a work of fiction and not as book of history. Although to be fair this is the exact purpose of the book. In fact the author at the very end of his magnum opus makes his purpose clear by citing Francis Bacon: “Truth is hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.” When you create a plausible work of fiction peppered with historical facts and figures, it sells and it soon becomes the popular narrative. Hollywood and Bollywood two greatest propaganda machineries that the world has ever seen do it all the time. The pulp fiction that they churn out mutate into myths that become so ingrained in public memory that it becomes very difficult to separate fact from fiction. The plethora of clichés and stereotypes soon replaces the truth.
In his book Doshi has painstakingly caricatured and demonized Muhammad Ali Jinnah, his sister Fatima, the first prime minister of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan and the state of Pakistan. The narrative is so powerfully and convincingly built that a gullible person will fall hook, line and sinker for it. In a period spanning 1903 to 1948, Jinnah is convincingly cast as a person, whom you would end up hating. Endeared by the Bombay high class, for his handsome demeanor, exquisite dress sense and elegant manner, Jinnah is also depicted to be popular with the Muslim masses brilliantly arguing and winning their cases in the court from British judges, who hate Jinnah from the core of their hearts but can do little to decide against him. His facility to treat them with disdain and derision is a facility that is completely alien to the natives. Slowly and gradually the complexities in Jinnah’s character are highlighted. A person with no interest in religion, Jinnah is brought across as a person, who converts from Ismaili Khoja sect to Ithna Ashari Shia – none of these two religious schools of thought represent mainstream Islam in the Indian subcontinent. This is made out as the first contradiction in Jinnah’s complex make up. A metamorphosis in Jinnah’s persona is gradual. From his very secular outlook and nationalist identity and friendship with nationalist like Tilak, a change in personality is visible as Gandhi arrives on the scene and replaces him from his pedestal as the uncrowned king of Bombay. Gandhi demolishes his credentials as a politician and dims his chances to shine bright on the firmament of Indian political scene as a nationalist leader. Jinnah after having failed to win any support in the ranks of the Indian National Congress initially goes into denial but subsequently picks up the cause of the Muslims with a vengeance. He uses religion as a platform, instigates the Muslims to opt for partition of India that causes unimaginable mayhem and bloodshed. Jinnah vengeance is because he has been jilted in matters of love and denied what he considers his rightful place in the Indian politics (sic). For this he exacts a terrible price for which everybody has to pay for. In the bargain he creates a nation that is barbaric and bloodthirsty. Fatima Jinnah is depicted as a dominating shrew, hovering over his brother and quarrelling with his young wife. Liaquat Ali Khan is shown as weak and vulnerable person, who can have his potential rival eliminated through dirty means.
Set in Bombay before partition, JOCTOH is a story set against the travails of the trials and vicissitudes of the Kowaishi family. This Muslim family is rich and powerful and the elder Kowaishi is a property tycoon, who has multiplied his wealth manifold. His son the England returned Sultan has made a name as lawyer of repute. He is married to Rehana, the main protagonist of the story. Rehana is not only well read and educated, she is extremely talented. Wedded to the cause of female education, Rehana establishes a school for Muslim girls in Bombay with the money she receives as endowment from Sultan’s aunt, the Bari Phupho. On Jinnah’s advice she opens up her school or girls of other faith. Jinnah is smitten by the talented Rehana and would like to go back to her after his fragile marriage with Ruttie collapses. Rehana despite being attracted towards spurns his advance because she has come to believe in the Gandhian cause and would not compromise on her principles. It is a long tale of love and deception. It has been told effectively and emotively but at the end of the day is meant to create hateful images that become jarring on the nerves. One would advise the reader not to draw any hasty conclusions.