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When Jinnah was a teen

It was a bright sunny day at the gardens of Lincoln’s inn where birds were chirping and flying over centuries old trees occasionally stopping at water springs sprouting from statues of prominent English lawmakers, folks of all ages were walking or jogging, some with earplugs, some without, a group of school students dressed in orange and yellow were playing volley ball under their coach’s supervision, their joyful play attracting nearby vagabonds to stop by and watch the game. Most of the students from nearby colleges were sitting on benches, pavements or on grass, reading their books while listening to music with their headphones. Laid out in 1630’s, it is the largest public square in London. Just opposite the Royal College of Radiologists where I was taking my examination, across the fields of Lincoln’s inn, stood the old red bricked building of Lincoln’s inn bar. As I walked through the fields, history turned its pages in my head and I felt myself travelling in the waves of emotions and gratitude.

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Frederick Leigh Croft was a business colleague of Jinnah’s father who offered him apprenticeship at his London based firm, Graham’s Shipping and Trading Company when Jinnah was 15. It was an easy decision for Jinnah to go, but difficult one for his mother to accept. Being fearful of  separation from her son, she thought his marriage as a way of ensuring his eventual return. She arranged his marriage with 14 years old Emibai from the same village, Paneli, in the princely state of Gondal, Kathiawar, where Jinnah’s parents belonged to a family of Gujarati weavers. Jinnah continued attending the Christian Missionary Society High School after his marriage until his departure to London in 1893, never to see his mother or wife again.

Little is known about early days of Jinnah in London. After landing in Southampton in January 1893 at the age of 17, Jinnah traveled to Victoria station by a boat train. In his own words “During the first few months I found a strange country and unfamiliar surroundings. I did not know a soul and the fogs and winter in London upset me a great deal”.

In the beginning, he moved to a single room apartment at 40 Glazbury Road, West Kensington. He opened an account in Royal Bank of Scotland, 123 Bishop Gate Street London in February 1893. Dissatisfied with his internship at Graham’s that required copying and balancing a pile of account books, he decided to take the path of law by taking admission to one of the inns, for which he took entrance examination called “little go”. In order to get exemption from Latin portion of the preliminary examination, he petitioned the Masters of the Bench of the Honorable Society of the Lincoln’s Inn on April 25, 1893. On May 25, he passed the preliminary examination and joined Lincoln’s Inn on June 5, one of the oldest and well reputed legal societies that prepared students for the Bar. His father was enraged on his decision, as he took debts to provide Jinnah with sufficient money to live in London for three years.

It is a common belief in Pakistan that Jinnah opted Lincoln’s inn because of the fact that it’s entrance depicted a name of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H ) as one of the greatest law givers to humankind. Like many other trembling facts that were inserted into our ideological textbook heritage, the evidence for this is lacking. According to Jinnah’s biographer Stanley Wolpert there is no such inscription, as he himself visited the place from all aspects. Instead there is a gigantic fresco executed by the Pre-Raphaelite painter, G.F. Watts, covering entire North wall in the main dining hall of Lincoln’s Inn, showing the world’s lawgivers from Moses to Edward I, the holy Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) is shown in a green turban and green robes. Certainly telling about the pictorial depiction of the holy Prophet would have sparked protests in India against this “blasphemous” act and demands for the removal of the painting would take a serious turn in the UK from the British Muslim community. By not telling them about the prophet’s portrait, he edited the story as a genuine lawyer so effectively that it retained a link of genuine appreciation of Islam on one hand and maintained the calm status of Muslims on the other.

Jinnah finally moved to 35 Russell road at Kensington, a modest three-story house owned by Mrs. F.E. Page-Drake, in April 1894. First-floor bedsitter has been named the “Jinnah Room” that overlooks Russell Road. A chair, large walnut wardrobe and a couple of mirrors from his time have been preserved. In a letter from this address on Feb 10, 1895, he asked the British Museum for permission to use its reading room and signed as “ M.A. Jinnah” on its reading card.

According to Maddy Wall, a spokesperson for the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, Jinnah stated that he wanted his surname, Jinnah bhai, shortened to ‘Jinnah’ in another letter to Lincoln’s Inn. Jinnah appeared in Easter Examination from April 02-04, 1895 and passed all the papers. Finally on April 23, 1895 he was declared successful in the examination.

Over the period of next few years, British Museum Library and barristers’ chamber helped Jinnah to lay the foundation of his legal and political education. The most important component in Jinnah’s legal education was to spend two years of “reading” apprenticeship in barrister’s chambers. Apart from studying law books, he followed an established barrister and learned from what he did to gain knowledge of the law. To observe the powerful British government legislature in action, he frequently visited the House of Commons. During his student years in England, Jinnah was influenced by 19th-century British liberal system like many other future Indian independence leaders including Gandhi. The liberalism of William E. Gladstone, who had become prime minister for the fourth time in 1892 greatly, influenced him. He imbibed parliamentary style of debate from leaders like Gladsone, Lord Morly, Chamberlain and Balfour at House of Commons. His extracurricular activities included listening to speeches at Hyde Park Corner and visiting friends at Oxford. His brief romance with Shakespearian theatrical company ended with a stern letter from his father but its everlasting effect was not only depicted in his legal advocacy but also in his political speeches delivered in histrionic gestures at public performances later on. At age of 19, he became the youngest Indian to be called to the bar in England in 1895.

British politicians of Indian origin Dadabhai Naoroji and Sir Pherozeshah Mehta became the focus of admiration for Jinnah, as the British Parliament was devoid of any Indian voices in its House of Commons. Dadabhai Naoroji’s contest for the British Parliament created a wave of enthusiasm among Indian students in London. Jinnah listened to his maiden speech in the House of Commons from the visitor’s gallery. Naoroji’s victory acted as a stimulus for Jinnah to lay the foundation of the “political career” that he was weaving in his mind. This political education included exposure to the idea of the democratic nation, and progressive politics.

By walking in the lush green gardens of Lincoln’s inn, I thought perhaps I would have placed my steps on footsteps of Jinnah. What was he thinking about himself or for his countrymen back in India at that time? Was he weaving any plans for a future separate state in his brain or was he just thinking as any ordinary expatriate student going in West for higher studies? No one knows for sure, but one thing is clear, he was laying the foundation of justice, equality, tolerance and discipline for his part of the world.

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