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Cross Border Tales

Aruna Chakravarti

History of the Family By Niaz Zaman writers.ink, pp. 100 Based on the genre of South Asian family histories this book combines actual historical events with personal accounts drawn from oral sources and family legends together with authorial comment, to trace the life of a Muslim convert and successive generations of his family during Mughal, British and post-independence India. Niaz Batul Sheikh, known to us as Niaz Zaman, examines the moth-eaten records of her family to present a lively account of the conversion of her ancestor, Ghumman Mal of Bhera, to Islam and his subsequent transformation into the redoubtable Sheikh Gul Mohammad, followed by some interesting chronicles of his descendants. One is the gift of the sword of Hussain to his son, Sheikh Fateh Mohammad by the Mughal courtier Mirza Rasul Beg—a sword handed down to the youngest son of the family from generation to generation—the last being Niaz Zaman’s father Sheikh Mohammad Hasan.   ‘I was ten years old,’ Niaz Zaman writes, ‘when Father brought the sword home, the sword and a bundle of hand written papers that he said were about our family. Both were disappointing: the papers because, like all old papers, they were brittle with age and crumbled at a touch; the sword because, instead of coming in a bejewelled scabbard dazzling with rubies and emeralds, it came to us wrapped, mummy-like, in a long, winding bandage.’   Her initial disappointment notwithstanding, the sword and family records were valuable for they inspired the author to write this family history. A tenth generation descendant of the founder of her family, Sheikh Gul Mohammad, Niaz Zaman traces the changes of fortune the other nine saw. From clerks to civil servants; soldiers to courtiers; from fakirs to K.B., A.C., S.P.P.C.C.L., F.S.P.U., and many other titles too long to mention, the men in her family seemed to have seen many reversals—physical as well as spiritual. Actual geographical movements are recorded—from Bhera to Mohammadpura, then Agra, Delhi, Lahore and finally to Dhaka. Through it all they took care to preserve the sword of Hussain till it was surrendered by Mohammad Hasan to the Bangladesh government, which had called for a surrender of arms in 1971. Besides, for the first time, there was no younger son to take charge of the legacy.   An interesting book taking the reader to a ...

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