I am back from my serial vacations and must now dig down to writing all the reviews I have accumulated over the last few weeks.
The first I heard of Ibn Battuta was from a popular Bollywood song – who says our movies aren’t educational. When I looked him up, I was amazed at the extent of his travels at a time when travelling even short distances must have been a nightmare. Try and imagine a man so driven by the need to explore that no ties, either family or money or women, were able to bind him down; although it is said that he was nudged along this destiny by the words of an Imam in Alexandria who prophesied his journey to Hindustan, Sindh and China. Whether this was the impetus that a wanderer’s soul needed to justify leaving behind all that was familiar will forever more remain a mystery, but it makes for a great story nonetheless.
Here, we meet Ibn Battuta in the Turkish city of Konya, where he is treated to anecdotes about Maulana Rumi, the great Sufi saint and scholar, and is then entrusted with a book on his exploits to read from to the people he meets on his travels. Rumi was a scholar and teacher, until he met the mystical dervishes who changed his life completely and transformed him into a preacher. This book is a series of qissas or anecdotes about the Maulana Rumi and about the philosophy of life narrated by the various people that Ibn Battuta meets in Konya as well as those chronicled in the kitab he carries. Sufism presents a view of Islam that seems contrary to all that we believe and see of it today. Sufi saints preached love and were revered by all religions.
The qissas are lovely and beautiful and have great points to ponder, however, much of the beauty of the prose seems to be lost in translation. Do I mean its a bad translation? Not by a long shot! Let me give you an example – Remember the song ‘Ajeeb dastan hey ye….’? Its beautiful, soulful and incredibly sad. Now translate it into English and it changes into something as mundane as ‘Its a strange tale…….’. Urdu and Persian were the languages of the poets. As I read this book, I could almost glimpse the poetry that the author has tried to bring into the prose again and again as he tries to remain true to the style of the protagonist and his times. It is hardly his fault that he is hindered by a language that contains no hidden depths.
So, would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Although, I would suggest you brush up on your knowledge about the Maulana Rumi and Ibn Battuta from Wikipedia to better understand the beliefs and the times of which these tales bear testimony.