Summer read: Basti

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This novel, by Pakistani writer Intizar Husain, describes the forced emigration of Muslim families living in Dilli to Lahore during the violent 1947 partition of India.  Originally written in Urdu and translated mostly into English, it has a lot of literary and poetic stylings typical of Urdu writing and largely untranslatable, but as an introduction to the Partition for one such as myself who’s never heard of it, you can’t do better.  The property of Muslims in India was seized and allocated to Hindus, and vice-versa in newly formed Pakistan.  People slaughtered each other along religion lines.  It was a mess.  By the way, Urdu and Hindi are about the same, minus the calligraphy.  It’s the labels that count!


Summer read: Our lady of Alice Bhatti


This book, by Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif, describes the life, set in the present time (say 2011) of a poor nurse in the French Colony slum of Karachi who has an abusive relationship with a thug.  Her options are limited by being in a Christian minority of a Muslim country, and by being a woman in an abusive male society.  The book elaborates these themes of poverty, corruption, intolerance and abuse.  Nevertheless, it remains readable and entertaining, and gives a good ground-up portrait of this patch of the world.

Summer read: Devil of a state


I read this book, published in 1961 by Anthony Burgess, in 1975 when I was 15 years old and living in New Hampshire.  Burgess is famous for A Clockwork Orange, but he wrote many other books that didn’t get made into splashy movies.  This is one of them.  He specializes in dystopian satire.  This book is set in fictional state called Dunia, a British protectorate, modelled after Brunei, in Southeast Asia, which didn’t gain its independence from Britain until 1984, 23 years later.

The central character is a thrice-married passport officer who has children with a local woman and is an alcoholic, and about his interactions with his peers and ex-wife.  It drags a little bit.  The characters are mostly in their 40’s, which is portrayed as being an old age.  I re-read it now, in 2016, age 57.  I see nothing old about 40!  So I had to go back and look up how old Burgess was when he wrote this book.  Sure enough, he was 44 years old when the book went to press.

Not a bad read, a bit draggy and sophomoric.  Burgess has a tendency to render the speech patterns of foreigners speaking English in a relatively funny-haha but unfunny and tedious way.  For example, the book features an Italian marble cutter:

“I buy a you good a book”, said Nando Tasca.  “Very old a book.  Why you not look in a book?  I not teach a you all a the time.  I an old a man.  Get very a tired”.

I get it, right. Italians put “a” after every word.  Here’s another one:

“A Loman Catholic”, said Carruthers Chung, “and a velly flivolous man.  For that leason I did not invite him to come and play with us.”

OK, I get that one too.  The Chinese have a problem with “r” versus “l”.

This kind of asininity aside, Burgess does give a good ground-up picture of British Colonial life in Southeast Asia.  He earned his street cred on this topic working as a teacher in Malaya and Brunei from 1954 to 1959.  He appears to have been a bit of a behavior problem, with a brief and difficult prior Army career and unpopularity among his peers in the British Colonial Service.  No doubt his detailed depictions of office politics come from these experiences.  Out of a failed civil service career, a writer was born.  We don’t mind!  We are luckier to have him as a writer.

Summer read: The White Tiger

This book, by Indian-Australian writer Aravind Adiga, is set in 2008 and describes the life of an angry driver who is planning to kill his rich employer.  It is phrased as a series of discursive letters to the premier of China, who is planning a visit to the city.  It starts in the driver’s childhood village of Laxmangarh, moves to Delhi, and finally to Bangalore.

Not a bad read.  It won a prize.  I recall finding that it dragged a little bit.  Apparently people of India were not thrilled about the prize, because the book focusses on some of the uglier aspects of Indian society.

Summer read: A case of exploding mangoes


This book, by Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif, describes the life, set in 1988, of a Pakistani Air Force officer trainee who plots, with his Pakistan Air Force Academy bunkmate, to kill General Zia.  Hanif was, prior to being a writer, a graduate of this academy and an Air Force officer.  That puts the book in the genre of scenarios written by professionals.  Sometimes these can be awful, but Hanif is a good writer, which is probably why, by natural selection, it appears on my desk.

As a professional roman à clef, it carries with it considerable information about the Pakistani military and intelligence world.   Typically in the press one hears about ISI and their possible support of the Taliban or OBL. There’s a big difference between vaguely linking bold-face current events and anonymous foreign institutions, and getting a sense of how people interact inside their own bubble.

Numerical solution of SDE through computer experiments: UPDATE

I have a book sitting on my desk, Kloeden Platen Schurtz, which has been sitting on my desk since it came out in 1994, waiting to edify me.

My New Year’s Resolution is to read this book.  I will share this experience with you, anecdotally, by publishing little Python programs which reproduce the examples in the text, which are all written in some painful variant of Turbo Pascal for the IBM PC of another age.

UPDATE: I’ve moved everything I’ve done so far into an IPython notebook.   A pretty version of this notebook is here.  I haven’t covered all of KPS yet, so as I do, I will update this post with a fresh copy and move this post to the front of the queue.  I’m also deleting the old posts in favor of this notebook.