It is the envy address—the most famous residence in India’s priciest neighbourhood but no one lives there. Mumbai’s Malabar Hill is home to some of the country’s wealthiest families. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra lives there and so do billionaires like the Godrej family. But the home that continues to intrigue and fascinate in equal measure is South Court – the house built by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
The founder of Pakistan is a reviled figure for his role in the partition of India. Irrespective of his politics, few lawyers have displayed acumen that comes remotely close to Jinnah’s brilliance and single-minded focus. These traits bred arrogance. In Hector Bolitho’s book Jinnah, Creator of Pakistan, there is the anecdote of Sir Charles Olivant offering Jinnah a job at Rs 1,500 a month early in his career. Jinnah refused, saying he expected to earn Rs 1,500 a day, and he did soon after.
Not a happy home
The wealth he accumulated allowed him to buy his bungalow in Malabar Hill over 100 years ago–not the bungalow that stands today. By then, Malabar Hill had become the go-to zone for Mumbai’s (then Bombay) elite.
Jinnah’s home was close to that of his Parsi friend, Sir Dinshaw Petit, arguably the city’s wealthiest resident at that time. Petit had a daughter called Ruttie.
In a fast-moving sequence of events, 42-year-old Jinnah married Ruttie, who was 18, in 1918, much to the annoyance of the Petit family.
The couple moved to Jinnah’s home. The marriage was an unhappy—Ruttie was young and pampered and Jinnah was fierce and mission-driven. In 1928, Ruttie left home to live in the luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel. She died a year later. Jinnah would rise to become a prominent legal name in London but in India, he was politically irrelevant.
Legacy of partition
That, however, would change when the force of events bring Jinnah back to India, where his second innings would make him the political star he so wanted to be.
He became the champion of Muslims in India. His rising stature meant Jinnah needed a newer and bigger home. There was no shortage of money after he had sold his expensive home in London.
In 1936 he demolished the old house to make a larger home for his political meetings and interactions. The home cost an eye-popping Rs 2 lakh. It was a grand residence that also hosted key meetings between Mahatma Gandhi and Jinnah in the 1940s.
As independence drew near, it also became clear that a separate state would be carved out of India. Reports suggest that Jinnah tried to sell his house but did not get the price he wanted. Other reports suggest he was exploring the purchase of an 18-acre home elsewhere in the city.
Both these events give a conflicting view of Jinnah’s expectations from the chain of events he had set rolling. If the partition of the country was the aim, why was he looking to buy a large estate? Jinnah got Pakistan and lost South Court. He died a year later in 1948.
For a few decades after India’s independence on August 15, 1947, the property was rented out to the British High Commission. Since then, it has been largely left idle under government control.
The property may have aged but is built on a mouth-watering 2.5-acre land parcel, conservatively valued in excess of Rs 1,000 crore.
Setting history right
In 2021, BJP leader Mangal Prabhat Lodha pushed for converting the Jinnah House into an art and cultural centre. It’s a wise idea which I think can be further narrowed to a partition museum. The sequence of events leading to the partition is a story with several missing parts and extreme personalities. Jinnah House should be the place where it can be put in order. India got the house. It should now get its rightful history.