From India to Turkey
Title: Footprints in Time: Reminisces of a Sindhi Matriarch
Edited & Translated by: Rasheeda Hussain
Publisher: Oxford University Press, Pakistan (December, 2010)
Pages: 144, Hardback
Price: PKR. 525 ISBN: 9780195478907
Footprints in Time” are the memoirs of Ghulam Fatima Sheikh, a Sindhi matriarch who lived to tell the tale of the subcontinent’s history during some of its most politically active
times. The book, originally written in Sindhi, has been translated in English by Rasheeda Hussain. It is an attempt to record oral history and an effort to recognize the struggles of Sindhi Muslims during Partition.
Ghulam Fatima Sheikh was born to an affluent yet traditional Hindu household but along with her parents she converted to Islam. She recalls how mass conversions to Islam aroused fear in the Hindu community, which attempted to feed pork to the Muslims. Her mother was forced to reside with her Hindu family on allegations that the conversion was forced upon her by her husband. Her plans to run away at night to join her husband were stopped midway. The drama continued till she blatantly professed in front of several members of the community that she had accepted Islam of her own accord.
Fatima talks about the role of Sufis in spreading Islam in Sindh and holds them in high regard. At the age of fourteen she married Sheikh Shamsuddin, who was also her father’s student. Fatima was deeply impressed by Turkey, which was the centre of Khilafat at that time. Mesmerized by the only Empire which had managed to remain independent of the colonial powers, she joined her husband on his journey to Turkey.
She traved extensively throughout her life. In the book the author states, “man is like a migratory bird. He wanders in search of livelihood, and leaves behind his loved ones to settle in distant countries.” From Turkey she traveled to Madina, which was under the Ottomon Empire at the time. She describes her ecstasy at being at the holy place, where she witnessed the outcome of the Khilafat movement. Fatima is all praise for the Turks, who she says “behaved more like the servants of the people than as their rulers.” She firmly believed that had the Turks focused more on consolidating the centre than spending on the Arabs, the Empire would not have met the fate it did.
Once conditions in Madina went from bad to worse, she and her family moved to Adana, Turkey. The book vividly describes her journey as she witnessed “trains of Turkish forces to the front savagely attacked by Bedouins” and “corpses that lay everywhere.”
Adana was a place where the Armenians and Muslims lived in complete peace. The repatriation of Indians began on government expense during their stay at Adana and they were placed in
She traveled extensively throughout her life. In the book the author states, “man is like a migratory bird. He wanders in search of livelihood, and leaves behind his loved ones to settle in distant countries.”
tents for six months.
By the end of the First World War, Fatima states, the same Arabs who called the Turks tyrants and wished for the British to take over “were longing for the return of the Turks.” She describes her journey to Jerusalem with sacred enthusiasm. On the way there, she stayed in Egypt for six months which was “yearning for independence” from the British.
The book, however, depicts Fatima as a conflicting character. While on the one hand she is a female emancipation supporter, on the other, she states “Women are known to be the weaker sex and as I read the news of deaths and sickness, I could not stop the tears flowing down my eyes.” During family disputes over land she would always side with the male heirs, yet she was a strong proponent of female education. She later set up a school for girls called “Madrasatul Binat.”
As an idealist, she puts emotions and morals in high regard. “History bears witness to the fact that great world revolutions were brought of great passions - a consequence of aspirations and not rationalization,” she says.
“Footprints in Time” is essentially a memoir and like many memoirs, facts are often shaded by personal anecdotes. Fatima alleviates the Turks and the Caliphate to perfection and ignores the pitfalls in the system itself. On the other hand she describes the Arabs as a bunch of scoundrels whom the British bought through gold. The language used is mediocre and the book drags at times. The reviewer is a freelance journalist and an active blogger.