erasing clouds

Book Review: Suhayl Saadi's Psychoraag

by anna battista

"Salaam alaikum, sat sri akaal, namaste ji, good evening oan this hoat, hoat summer's night! Fae the peaks ae Kirkintilloch tae the dips ae Cambuslang, fae the invisible mines ae Easterhoose tae the mudflats ae Clydebank, welcome, ivirywan, welcome, Glasgae, welcome, Scoatland, tae The Junnune Show…" This is how Psychoraag (Black & White Publishing), Suhayl Saadi's debut novel, opens and, it is from this colourful beginning that the reader can get an idea about what this novel will "sound" like. Indeed, "sound" is a more apt word for Psychoraag, since the story is set in the cubicle of an Asian radio station, Radio Chaandni, based in a deconsecrated church in Glasgow. Here Zaf, a Scottish Asian DJ, is broadcasting for the last time his programme since the station is closing down. This being the last night of his Junnune Show (junnune meaning "madness" or "a trance-like state"), which has been running for three months, Zaf is planning to play whatever he likes rather than getting people to phone and request tracks. He starts with Asian Dub Foundation's energetic "Naxalite", but little does he suspect that his plans for a quiet night in the safe cubicle will be ruined by a nightmarish reality and by reality-like nightmares. First, a party for the radio station will distract Zaf from the decks, then a local gang will try to assault the place. As if this wasn't enough for the selfish but lost Zaf, his mind will also start conjuring up thoughts of his girlfriend Babs, a nurse with a powerful motorbike who represents in his mind the epitome of whiteness, and nightmares of Zilla, his Asian ex-girlfriend, now a junkie for reasons not completely unconnected with him.

The story of Zaf is interrupted by short intervals in which the author reveals us also the story of the DJ's parents Jamil and Rashida and of how they eloped in the '50s from Lahore, leaving behind the former's wife and kid and the latter's husband. Throughout the night Zaf will fight against his ghosts, fluctuating between reality and dreams, thanks to the music, including tracks from Asian Dub Foundation, Les Negresses Vertes, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Mohammad Rafi among the others, but in part also thanks to an intoxicating glass of absinthe.

In the novel, Glasgow becomes an excuse to explore the soul of Zaf, who is defined as a "sample" of Pakistan in Scotland and a "sample" of Scotland in Pakistan, a man tortured in his soul by his origins and by his relationships.

The novel is narrated in different styles using the Standard English for the story of Zaf's parents and Glaswegian dialect interspersed with Urdu to mark Zaf's language. The book also includes a glossary that will help the readers to grasp the meaning of the various words in Urdu, a discography and a playlist of the songs Zaf will broadcast throughout the novel.

Psychoraag is a novel about love, hate, racism, immigration, integration and the search for "whiteness". With its playful language and music, Psychoraag is definitely the most original novel of this summer, dedicated to all those readers, and in particular to all those music fans, in search of something exciting, thrilling and a bit mad. Judging from the volume of the book, Saadi has got quite a few stories to tell. Let's hope he will do so soon.


Issue 24, June 2004

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