Scottish-Pakistani writer debuts Psychoraag in Lahore
By Mao Chapman
LAHORE: On Monday night in the Rohtas 2 Gallery in Model Town a rising Scottish-Pakistani writer completed a series of readings to promote his debut novel, Psychoraag, partly an exploration of the effects of mixing a Scottish upbringing with a South Asian background.
In two readings, Suhayl Saadi added his voice to a growing sub-genre of writers with Asian backgrounds examining the combination of Eastern and Western in a generation that is exclusively neither.
Brought up in Scotland with Pakistani parents, Mr Saadi is well-placed to join the ranks of Asian-Western writers like Salman Rushdie or Zadie Smith, and a focus on the Scottish Asian (rather than English or British) perspective is his chosen base to do so.
Psychoraag is Mr Saadi’s first novel, but he has published poems and an acclaimed short story collection, The Burning Mirror, one of which he read in Lahore. He has worked extensively for radio and as a doctor for 20 years.
Mr Saadi’s first reading at the Rohtas Gallery was a short story from The Burning Mirror called The Queens of Govan. Set in the post-industrial, historical melting pot city of Govan in Scotland, the story traces one seminal evening for Ruby, a Scottish-Pakistani girl with an alcoholic father.
Written in a rhythmic prose laced with Punjabi, Urdu and heavy Scots dialect, the story is driven by emotion. Emotional loss in Ruby’s father, alcoholic but hiding behind the sham respect still afforded him by his family; emotional confusion in Ruby’s double life – living like a respectful virgin daughter at home, but delving into Govan’s dark underbelly outside; even emotion in the respectful awe in which Ruby holds her employer, a tough widow with the assertiveness to run a kebab shop on her own in the inner city.
A narrative driven by emotion is essential to Mr Saadi. Asked how he is able to connect to other points to view, to ‘become’ his character, he replies that “real emotion and good research” are required ingredients for a good story, at least the way he tells them.
The second reading was from Psychoraag itself. The novel is the story of Zaf, a radio DJ in Scotland who on his last night on air plays and ponders his way through the Pakistani music of his parents and their origins in Lahore, and the music of his own experience.
Salima Hashmi, owner of the Rohtas gallery, introduced Mr Saadi by praising his “fresh and unusual voice” which “brings something new to where it originates”. The praise is supported by Mr Saadi’s acute perception of the boundaries between Asian and Western, to which he adds a subtle examination of the interplay between Pakistani, Scottish and English by carefully choosing the accent he writes in from moment to moment.
The extent to which the themes in Psychraag draw on Mr Saadi’s own life are a moot point for him, but he leaves the question open. “I always wanted to be a musician, and I think if I wasn’t a writer I’d be a musician,” he says when asked about why he writes what he does, and whether it comes with an agenda.
“Everyone is broken in some way, and I think art or writing or music is a quest to complete the circle, to be complete. I hope I never complete my circle, or I’d have to stop writing,” he says. “My agenda, I don’t really have an agenda, but my agenda is to implode stereotypes, subverting, even subverting myself, always questioning what I’m saying.”
Mr Saadi has already read in Islamabad and returns to Scotland Tuesday. Psychoraag will not be available for sale in Pakistan but Mr Saadi told Daily Times it would be easily available from Internet book suppliers from April or May.