COVER STORY: All the world’s a stage
By Mamun M. Adil, Daw, March 23, 2008
Exactly 68 years ago today, the Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah declared the need for two separate countries at the All India Muslim League’s annual session in Lahore, thereby dispelling any thoughts for a United India.
According to Stanley Wolpert, author of Jinnah of Pakistan, this was the moment when Jinnah, ‘the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity had totally transformed himself into Pakistan’s great leader.’
Sadly, while there is a plethora of books on Jinnah and the creation of Pakistan, there aren’t too many that focus on Jinnah’s personality. In fact, when it came to reading books about Jinnah and Pakistan’s history, my initial reaction was an inward groan. At least initially.
After all, I thought, what could be interesting about a man whose main mantra that we have all heard is ‘kaam kaam aur sirf kaam…’? I mean, talk about all work and no play…
Having had to read at least half a dozen books on the history of Pakistan, and Mr Jinnah’s life, and flipping through another dozen of late, I realised the problem was that most of them were, — dare I say it? — rather boring. Mainly because most of them portray Mr Jinnah as a rather grim old man, working tirelessly, with no interest other than the creation of Pakistan.
And, for the most part, while most of the books that are available are comprehensive in their accounts of Jinnah’s adult life, not many delve too deep into Jinnah as a young boy and a young man. The accounts about his foray into politics, are detailed, and sometimes, rather exhausting (not just exhaustive) to read.
Even some of the books that I went through that detailed his childhood went as far as to state that as a young boy, Jinnah worked under the street lamp’s light, toiling away until he fell ill, saying things like, ‘I cannot achieve anything until I work hard.’ (I mean, really! Talk about martyrising the dead — a practise we have followed to the hilt with Benazir Bhutto’s tragic recent assassination, although that is an entirely different story.)
Only a couple of books that I came across actually brought Mr Jinnah the man to life — as opposed to the solemn Quaid — delving into his reasons for working tirelessly towards the creation of Pakistan, (rather than doing it), his idealism, shedding some light on his enigmatic personality, his drive, his brashness, his arrogance, his determination and even his romantic side.
Some of the books that have managed to delve into Jinnah’s earlier years, with an emphasis on his personality rather than his accomplishments include Jinnah of Pakistan by Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah Creator of Pakistan by Hector Bolitho and Jinnah and his times by Aziz Beg. The Green Titan by Ahmad Saeed and The Great Leader by S. Abdul Lateef are also noteworthy in this aspect.
In some of these books, an anecdote about a 14-year-old Jinnah convincing his school friends to stop playing marbles and play cricket instead is told. (This anecdote has been used by the Dawn Media Group in the first episode of what promises to be an inspiring comic series showcasing landmark events from Mr Jinnah’s life, making his life and ideals more accessible to younger audiences in the process.)
In Beg’s biography of Jinnah, this anecdote is further elaborated upon: ‘When later, he (Jinnah) was tied up in knots with the Congress he used to say, ‘The Congress plays marbles, I want them to play cricket.’
Beg further elaborates that while in Bombay, ‘on many an occasion, when a cricket test match was on in Bombay, as he (Jinnah) entered his senior’s room after lunch, one of his first questions used to be: “what’s the score?”’
Another interesting aspect of the young Jinnah’s life that is often overlooked is the fact that throughout his life, Jinnah was enthralled with Shakespeare. So much so, that he was even hired by a theatrical company (after he was called to the bar) to read out passages by Shakespeare on stage. However, his life as an orator was not to be, since his father wrote to him telling him to rid his mind of such ideas, and not ‘be a traitor to the family.’
In Jinnah my brother, Fatima Jinnah admitted that Jinnah ‘even in the days of his most political life, when he returned home tired and late, he would read Shakespeare, his voice resonant…’
Other accounts also state that Jinnah nursed the ambition to play Romeo, while some state that he actually did play Romeo, although these aren’t substantiated too well.
Bolitho’s anecdotes mention many of Jinnah’s contemporaries stating that he was a natural born actor when he was in court, thoroughly convincing, and having the power to capture his audience’s attention.
‘Jinnah’s arrogance would have destroyed a man of lesser will and talent. Some of us used to resent his insolent manner — his overbearing ways and what seemed a lack of kindness. But no one could deny his power of argument. When he stood up in court, slowly looking towards the judge, placing his monocle in his eye — with the sense of timing you would expect from an actor — he became omnipotent. Yes, that is the word — omnipotent.’
Interestingly enough, Jinnah, despite his love for Shakespeare, didn’t have patience for fanciful passages. He is said to have told many of his speech writers, ‘I don’t care for beautiful language; I only wish to see my idea come through.’
In fact, the only time that Mr Jinnah is said to have quoted Shakespeare in the course of his adult life was during a conversation with none other than Mahatma Gandhi.
Bolitho states: ‘When Gandhi asked Jinnah how he wished to be addressed, Jinnah answered: ‘I thank you for your anxiety to respect my wishes in the matter of the prefix you should use with my name. What is a prefix after all? ‘A rose by another name would smell as sweet.’
But while there is ample proof of Jinnah’s love for the Bard, perhaps the most interesting anecdote that I have read so far took place when Gandhi and Nehru were in jail in India. A friend said to Jinnah: ‘All the leaders have been arrested at some time or other except you.’
Jinnah responded, betraying a hint of a sense of humour: ‘Oh I have also had my friction with the police. It was on Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race Night when I was a student in London. I was with two friends and we were caught up with a crowd of undergraduates. We found a hand cart in a side street, so we pushed each other up and down the roadway, until we were arrested and taken off to the police station. But I am afraid we were not imprisoned. We were left off with a caution.’
It is these anecdotes perhaps that I will remember more than facts about the Lucknow Pact, his disenchantment of Congress, the details of his many inspiring speeches. Not because they are not important — far from it — but because these anecdotes bring to life Mr Jinnah — the man, who like us, had flaws, made mistakes, gave way to his temptations (in terms of his eating and drinking habits) and yet, despite it all, he managed to change the map of the world.
In Wolpert’s words, ‘Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all the three.’