Ibn Battutah was a 14th century globe trotter. He left his native Morocco to travel Eastwards for about 18 years (much like how I am doing now). Along the way, he gleamed many observations of the various nations of his time. As a work of art, this book would be difficult to adore. Battutah writes from a strongly Islamic perspective which obscures the true nature of the people he is meeting. He sees them not necessarily as people, but to what degree they deviate from Islam. I did not learn much about humans in a universal light, as I normally do while reading classics of literature. What I found were certain observations that, while not being made in an objective light, reconfirmed a lot of my thoughts of the ancient world.

My thoughts, from an Indian perspective:
1) Battutah visits India and writes about sati. Sati is when the widow of a recently deceased man chooses to voluntarily commit suicide by jumping into his funeral pyre. He claims that while sati gave the family of the deceased a bit more prestige, it was not a universally done custom, and was not forced on the woman. Something changed along the way.
2) While visiting Delhi, Battutah makes mensage of a woman called a kaftar, who eats the hearts of little boys (apparently she brought a dead little boy as proof). Can any one tell me what the purpose of doing such things was? What is this type of person called in Indian history?
3) Bengal is called a foreign country and given a different section compared to India, Delhi, and South India. The sheikh of the land implores Battutah to infiltrate India, because the riches of the land annoy him. This confirmed two different things for me. One is the degree to which ancient South Asia was fragmented, and the likelihood of the kingdoms coming together had colonialism never happened. The other is confirmation that the Indian subcontinent was truly rich in ways that people of the 21st century often forget.
4) Battutah, upon visiting China, particularly Guangzhou, calls it the richest country he has seen on his trip. He also considers China the safest country he has traveled to. It makes me wonder to what degree it was inevitable that China would return to being one of the bastions of world strength.
5) Battutah complains about the lack of hospitality when he is on his way back to his home and stops at Mali. I would be curious to see how much of this holds up to the modern country, as I have not been there yet.

Overall, worth a read, but probably of limited interest to people who aren’t travelers, and of people who read literature, because nothing much is said that isn’t marred in the perspective of the writer. I would recommend it only to those who want to live in another world, and the mindset of someone born and brought up in that time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *