Paul Dale meets SUHAYL SAADI and BASHABI FRASER, two writers from the central belt who are trying their best to jump out of the Scots-Asian literary box.
any years ago. I remember trying to engage the youngest child ol‘ Jinn and Jang. two second generation Sikhs. in conversation. The family had just returned from the Punjab on what Jang called an 'investment trip’.
‘What did you see in India. Manny‘." I asked the child.
‘I saw a cow. the messenger of Rama.’
'()h yeah.‘ I said. ‘And what was the cow doing."
‘The cow was eating from the rubbish bin] the child countered. It was the sort of reply that confounded all my snobby spiritual and cultural assumptions.
In both his writing and in person. Suhayl Saadi brings back these feelings of contradiction. as his new book l’svt-lmraag is linally delivered onto the shelves this month after a very convoluted birth. In its original form. the book was supposed to be published before his excellent short story collection The Burning .Wirrnr. The only probletn was that his then publisher was sold to a different company and that debut novel went into literary l‘t‘eel'all. The manuscript was finally picked tip by Black 8; White Publishing but not bel'ore this solily spoken (but quick talking) 42- year-old (ilasgow (1P had totally rewritten it: 'That book was written in blood..
Set over one night. I’svt-lmraag concerns the mindstate ol~ '/.al'. a community radio DJ who goes through a heap ol~ cosmic and karmic memories during his last broadcast at the station. Taking in everything from his parents‘ turbulent past in Pakistan to the relative merits of the Asian I)th lioundation. the book is steeped in the experience of being a young Indian man growing up in urban Scotland. But Suhayl is neither interested in. nor enthusiastic about. playing tip the race card.
108 THE LIST ’5: L“:/'\:,' 2'13-1
‘I WANT TO GO BEYOND WORDS AND CRUSH THEM UNTIL THEY BECOME MUSICAL IN by the Romantich she
‘Being put into a cultural box was something I used to get really annoyed about. but now I think as long as I don‘t become known as what I call a mango novelist. There is actually a mango in my book but it‘s used in a
jokey way. Scoring points because of ethnic heritage is just not me. because it’s not what I‘m writing about. I
am driven purely and simply by music in my writing and want to go beyond words and crush them until
they become musical in l'orm.~ Touched by the spirit of
IIubert Selby Jr‘s 'l‘lit' RUUHI. Russell Hoban’s RI(/(l/(’_\‘ ll'a/krr. magic realist Juan Rull‘o. James Kelman and David Lynch. l’syt'lmraag is something else entirely: a symmetrical wound on the flank ol‘ Scottish literature that may take some time to be diagnosed and acclaimed. But acclaimed it assuredly will be.
Digging a totally different groove is Bashabi Iirascr. a Bengali poet living in lidinburgh. This Iinglish literature lecturer‘s new collection of poetry. Tartan & Turban. mixes up some extraordinarily tasty Indian rhythms with eloquent. Saltirc-phile verse (think Tagore translated by Sylvia Plath in the grip of Prozac). ‘Blake played with form a lot and I‘m really influenced
explains in her educated. warm way. ‘llcre I draw on lidwin Morgan. Ron Butlin because ol‘ the human aspect. Alan Spence and a whole ral't ol‘ Bengali poets. I read Bengali but my language of creative expression is Iinglish and I like to describe myself as an Indo-Scot.‘
Tartan 8. Turban is published by Luath Press on Thu 15 Apr, £8.99; Psychoraag is published by Black & White Publishing on Thu 29 Apr, £12.99.
Putting debut authors under the microscope
This issue Eloise Millar.
Who she? Aged 27, Millar was born in Oxford but crossed the great divide to read English at Cambridge. Currently living in Somerset and working on her second novel, she has been published in The Idler magazine, writing movingly about the death of Elvis the rabbit and her two pet gerbils, Little and Large.
Her debut ln Wednesday's Child, Millar has set her tale of domestic hardships in the notorious Blackbird Leys area in Oxford. the biggest council estate in Europe, where the author herself grew up during the 19803. Over to you. Eloise: ‘There was ill feeling in the air, a very real sense of deprivation and isolation. and Blackbird Leys is built in such a way that there were few means of escape. I just wanted to read books so my nickname was The Oxford Dictionary. The only advice I can remember any teacher offering me was not to put Blackbird Leys on my CV.‘
Cast list Welcome into your lives little Janet Roberts and her brother James. who are at the mercy of their dad’s extreme ways and horrible moods. They seek refuge in the home of their Aunt Net (a safety Net?) who, unfortunately. likes a drink or ten. Still, there's always the comforting arms of their mother to look forward to. Though not for long . . .
Name game Wednesday's Child has been a popular choice of book title in the past, with crime writer Peter Robinson, sociologists Antonia Bifulco and Patricia Moran and psychodramatist Deborah Shlian also picking that particular moniker. What the critics said Booker- nominated author Carol Birch mused: “A terrific first novel. I found myself reading it compulsively.' First paragraph test ‘Monday was mum's day of irritation. not his. They were her ironing days. She would lug her ironing board into the kitchen and plough, huffing and puffing. through piles of clothes. while steaming pots of dinner bubbled around her. She seemed most vulnerable when she did her ironing.’ (Brian Donaldson)
I Wednesday '3 Child is published by Virago, Thu 22 Apr, £70. 99.