Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Silicon Valley Book Launch of A.H. Cemendtaur's "The Green Ibn Battuta"

Pakistani-American community gathered for the unveiling of Ali Hasan Cemendtaur's travelogue "The Green Ibn Battuta" at Pakistan American Cultural Center in Silicon Valley on Saturday, December 5, 2015.

Dr. Waheed Siddiqui

The event featured Urdu poetry, reading of excerpts from the book written in English and a highly entertaining monologue in Urdu by the author. It was organized by senior community leader Dr. Waheed Siddiqui of the PACC and emceed by Faraz Darvesh, the host of the popular Viewpoint From Overseas weekly Pakistani-American show based in Silicon Valley. The main presenters included Mrs. Talat Qadeer Khan, Dr. Aifra Ahmad, Misbah Azam, Ijaz Syed, Riaz Haq and Ali Hasan Cemendtaur.

Mrs. Talat Khan

In his presentation, Riaz Haq said "the history is often referred to as "His Story", a description acknowledging the fact that the history writer's worldview influences his or her work. This reality applies to travelogues as well".

Green Ibn Battuta Book Cover
We are used to reading world travel accounts written by western travelers; Ali Hasan Cemendtaur's Ibn Battuta is a rare exception as it sees the world through the eyes of a Pakistani. The title is a tribute to Ibn Battuta, the 14th century Muslim traveler from North Africa who wrote extensively about his travels of much of the known world at the time. Ali's Ibn Battuta covers his travels starting in 1990s.

Ali's Pakistani-ness drove his curiosity to visit Multan Karavansarai in Baku, Azerbaijan., where he discovered old trade ties between the Pakistani city of Multan and the Central Asia region dating back to the 15th century. His Pakistani origin compelled his interest in The Caucasus (Koh Qaaf), the mountainous region 1,000 by 600 kms in size that lies between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, where Azerbaijan is located. Koh Qaaf  (Caucasus mountain) is associated with many fairytales that Pakistani children have grown up with. Dastaan e Amir Hamza is an Urdu collection of fairytales from Koh Qaf that continues to fascinate Pakistanis to this day.  The Caucasian label, the US official race classification for American whites, traces the origin of all white Europeans to the Caucasus region.   Harvard genetic studies have confirmed that the ancestors of many Ancestral North Indians and Pakistanis came from this region.

Ali's Muslim identity took him to the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, Islam's 3rd holiest place, in Jerusalem now controlled by Israel. It was a Friday when Ali went to the AlAqsa, a day when only Muslims are permitted to enter it.  He was stopped at the entrance to the mosque by armed soldiers who tested him to ensure that he is Muslim. It's an experience I can relate to. I, too, was subjected to similar tests at two different mosques prior to entering for the Friday prayers: At Al-Aqsa in Old Jerusalem and Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron on the Israeli-occupied West Bank in Palestine.

Faraz Darvesh

Riaz Haq told the audience, "I have known my footloose friend Ali, fellow Silicon Valley NEDian,  disappear for weeks, sometimes months at a time, only to reappear via email or social media posts from some remote exotic locations in different parts of the world. And he doesn't travel alone; he has his wife Hina and twin babies in tow. In fact, he's been doing it since the days when his daughter and son were still infants in diapers".

Dr. Aifra Ahmed

The list of the locations he's written about is long with countries located on every continent and every corner of the world. And he has done most of it using his green passport issued by the government of his native Pakistan.

Along the way, Ali  ended up in brief Interpol detention in Colombia, robbed in Swaziland and stranded at Romania-Hungary border.

When Ali's Avianca flight to Caracas, Venezuela, was delayed till the following day, his loud protests at Bogota Airport in Columbia helped him get out of the Interpol jail and he was put in the VIP lounge at the airport. Riaz Haq read the following excerpt from The Green Ibn Battuta:

"The Interpol man started talking to people on the phone. He finally put down the phone. "No, we can not let you go to the hotel, but we will put you in the VIP lounge. I'm sure you'd like it there,"we were told. Shortly, a security man came and took us to the VIP lounge. The VIP salon at Bogota airport had drinks and munchies, and reclining seats. We were still in the Interpol surveillance but the VIP lounge was a better jail than the one left behind just minutes ago. "

Misbah Azam

Ali has travelled through varied terrains ranging from dry deserts to thick rain forests. He has visited the hermit kingdom of North Korea, the conflict-ridden Israel, and the hitherto pariah state of Cuba, at least for the Americans. His travels have taken him to the failed state of Haiti, post-Apartheid South Africa  and the highly industrialized rich nations of Western  Europe. He has ventured into the countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain in the Cold War era, and seen the developing nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Middle East.

Author Ali H. Cemendtaur 

In South Africa while traveling on a bus from Cape Town to Johannesburg, a woman fellow traveler sought to proselytize Ali.  "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior?" she asked.  When Ali said "no", the woman gave him a long sermon that lasted the entire bus ride. Here's an excerpt from the book read by Riaz Haq at the event:

My "no" cost me heavily. I had to listen to Cynthia for a very long time. Later, she asked me, 

"On whose recommendation have you come to South Africa?" putting emphasis on each word. 

I had a strong temptation to say "Jesus Christ's" but then I had a second thought. She would not appreciate the joke. I mumbled something to the effect that I was a student and I was in South Africa to learn through observation. When I spoke out my critique of the South African society, she let her guard down. 

"Before, we could not travel like this," she told me. 

I wasn't sure if by "we" she meant all of the South Africans of color, or she meant she and I. 

People would travel secretly in much poorer condition. But when you know that Lord loves you, you can put up with all that," she said. No wonder Marx called religion the opium of the masses.   

Riaz Haq

Riaz Haq described The Green Ibn Battuta as a book "filled with entertaining anecdotes and insightful observations about many exotic places and interesting cultures. It is written in an easy to read and highly engaging style that will keep you absorbed and make you finish it in one sitting once you start reading it."

The event concluded with a very self-deprecating and humorous monologue by Ali Hasan Cemendtaur that reminded the audience of Zia Mohyeddin's reading of Mushtaq Yusufi's work.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

My Footloose Friend Ali Cemendtaur

Silicon Valley NEDians

Silicon Valley Pakistanis

Silicon Valley Launch of Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb

Explosion of Art and Culture in Pakistan

Talk4Pak Think Tank

VPOS Youtube Channel

VPOS Vimeo Channel

1 comment:

Riaz Haq said...

"How I travelled to 20 countries in four years on a #Pakistani passport" #travel #tourism #Pakistan


A look into how I overcame social confines and experienced adventures one can only imagine in a lifetime.

Fast forward to 2012, I was living with my parents, working at an ad agency as a copywriter, and my MBA was to be completed in a month. I had never travelled outside Pakistan.

My life changed when I found out that a group of students from a course on international retail, along with some teachers, were going to Dubai. I was not taking that course, but a few of my friends and I had previously studied the course with the same teachers. My friends insisted that we go and that it would be fun.

Fun? I thought to myself, once again, this would be me asking dad for permission and him saying ‘no’. I would end up sad and angry. I could sense that this idea would not turn out to be fun for me.

But then I imagined what it would be like to be in Dubai for five days with zero parental supervision, no need for permissions, and no curfew times. And I’d be getting to wear jeans. It seemed like a dream that could actually come true!

Using what I’d learnt from the advertising world, I packaged it to be a very serious, important, safe, and strictly supervised trip and mustered the courage to ask dad.

He realised that on this occasion he shouldn’t say no because the tour was related to coursework. Also, because the faculty members would be accompanying us and one of my close friends whom my parents knew well, also got permission to go. Hence, he said yes.

I could not believe it. I wrote the biggest lesson of my life down in my diary. Never be afraid to ask, no matter what you think the odds are.

Riding the world's fastest roller coaster at Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi.

I was not earning enough at the time and was paying for my MBA, as well as all personal expenses. And so, I planned this Dubai trip on a very, very tight budget.

I ate falafels and Burger King only, so I could save money to visit Formula Rossa (Ferrari World) and the top of Burj Khalifa.


I grew more rebellious and one year later, after major arguments with my parents, I left home to be on my own. I had built quite a sizable amount of savings during the past two years, thinking I would use it one day to finally break free and travel.

I was turning 27 that year and found out from a friend that on my birthday, the world’s biggest electronic music festival, Tomorrowland, was taking place in Atlanta, Georgia.

I decided to take a chance and applied for a US visa.

At the embassy, I was questioned thoroughly about my reason to visit the US. I told them I wanted to treat myself to a Tomorrowland ticket for my birthday.

They then asked me at length about the festival, the DJs attending, and also expressed amazement at the fact that Pakistanis even know about electronic music. It was a most amusing exchange for both parties.

They asked me in detail about the nature of my job, to which I confidently responded by describing what I do and how much I enjoy doing it.

I don’t know if it was my lucky day, or if they liked how neatly I had presented my documents but I somehow managed to secure approval for the visa.

The lady who had interviewed me told me they had seen many apply for a visa there, but never a girl who wanted it to travel to a music festival.

She was fascinated. I was ecstatic. Getting a US visa, with barely any travel history was indeed an unexpected victory.

The trip to the US in 2014 was a three-week-long adventure with friends, during which I travelled from California to Vegas to Texas to Atlanta and ended it all in New York.