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Rajarasa & (not) not-​English

By Donal McLaughlin – Rajarasa: in Sanskrit poetics, the supreme, intuitive understanding of a poem (from: Suhayl Saadi, Psychoraag)

  1. A Papal Memory

The Pope is coming to Bern this month, if God spares him. God willing, he’ll address the Catholic youth. He’s not in the best of health, & a wee nun, God love her, is giving up her bed that he might have suitable accommodation. She’ll get her reward in Heaven, as my Granny would’ve said.

The Pope & I have coincided once before. In whatever year it was he visited Ireland, I was holidaying there too. All the CÉAD MILE FAILTEs were out & my Granny took me to Knock to see him. The Free Staters were making a mint. Every field or garden became a carpark, & the prices they were charging made Switzerland look cheap. The landlady even charged for me to sleep in our car. – No, I tell a lie, Ita & Bernie slept in the car, but your woman charged for a blow-​up mattress for me. It was a new bungalow, I remember, and it wasn’t a bit of wonder they could afford a new bungalow, the prices they were chargin. Cup-​a-​soup, sold out through livingroom windows, cost a quid. The Free Staters – my Granny cursed them; swore she was never going back.

The Pope was late for the Mass he celebrated – two hours late – and I was really shocked. If there was one thing you never were, it was late for Mass. We stood & stood & waited & waited. We’d passed on the Cup-​a-​Soup, but when we saw folk in the congregation round about us having lovely fish & chips, my Granny sent my Auntie Ita (I don’t have an Auntie Ita; don’t have an Auntie Bernie, either) off to get some for us. To afford them, she took out a mortgage. The Pope, needless to say, turned up before she got back, and it was like a sin on Ita’s soul, missing the start of Mass. By the time he started his sermon, in his heavily accented English, we were fairly tucking in. I was just a teenager, but I mind thinking this was a form of Catholicism I wouldn’t have expected. It was kinda fun. The chips were awright too.

Eventually, the Mass was ended, but we didn’t go in peace – not immediately, anyway. The Pope’d to drive round in his popemobile first. We could see the wee roof & the bubble underneath working its way round, and were desperate for him to get to where we were. This was history, someone kept insisting (with an Irish accent, of course), and we were there. Bernie, I remember, gave me a Papal Visit penant which would go up beside the St Mir- ren one, above my bunk bed. Finally, the Pope drove past us. It should’ve felt holy, but all I could think of was how it was an anti-​climax: he was late, he’d kept us waiting, & now all you saw of him was this.

Just two years later, of course, someone took a pot-​shot at him. The boy in question hit his target & the whole world watched, stunned, as his Holiness crumbled on TV. Il papa survived. God is good, as the Charismatics say. Right enough, at least that day in Ireland, I didn’t have to wonder which member of the congregation round about me could maybe try the same. Their hands were too full, sure, wi fish & chip wrappers, for any o that nonsense.

Evening then fell, I remember, & John Paul moved on – to Dundalk, or Galway, or wherever he was heading next. We spent the night in that extortionate B&B. The next morning, you could walk onto the altar where he’d stood. Unusual thing was: they didn’t think to charge for it. The carpet was indigoey-​blue, I remember. You stood there & it was almost as if he hadn’t been at all. All that excitement, and already it was over and done with.

Before we left, my Granny showed me the spot where the Blessed Virgin had appeared; where the Pope’d knelt down to pray to her. You couldn’t see anything. After that, we squared up at the B&B & headed back to the border. God knows how many flags in Vatican colours British soldiers got waved at them that day.

But I digress: I wasn’t planning to write about the Pope at all – rajarasa & (not) not-​English, my theme was due to be.

  1. Translated Accounts

The great James Kelman has a new novel out this month – You Have To Be Careful In The Land Of The Free (Hamish Hamilton) – and I’m in Bern & can’t get my hands on it.

Jim’s a writer I wouldn’t be without; a writer I wouldn’t be a writer without. His last book, the critic- defeating Translated Accounts, came back to mind recently. In the novel before that, the Booker Prize winner, How Late It Was, How Late, he’d written from the perspective of a newly blind man: a technical challenge, for sure, if done honestly. Translated Accounts upped the stakes in terms of degree of difficulty. For this book, Jim imagined life under an unidentified repressive régime & produced fifty-​odd accounts, translated (supposedly) into English by non-​native speakers & smuggled out of the country. In one chapter, the text is garbled & spewed out amidst much code by a computer programme gone wild. What might have appeared arbitrary or gimmicky in lesser hands instead reflects the skills of a master story-​teller. These fictional accounts, written in the voice of non-​native speakers, reach parts other novelists don’t begin to reach. We access the very breathing patterns of those persecuted. And – once again – are left to marvel at where this author goes, at what he achieves, technically.

I was reminded of Jim’s book in March. On 11-​M, I was in Switzerland, working on something set in Latvia, a project I started in France before Christmas. The geography of writers’ residencies can really scramble the brain, even at the level of trying to remember which language, which currency, you’re operating in each time you close down & prepare to step outside. What you’re involved in seems more surreal still when an incoming email alerts you to major explosions in Madrid, but assumes you already know. One of my best friends, as it happens, is from Madrid. And just last Septem- ber in Slovenia, I befriended two poets – Victor Sunyol & Kirmen Uribe, from Catalonia & the Basque country, respectively. Three nicer guys, as they say, you couldn’t hope to meet. Continuing simply to work, without knowing they were okay, wasn’t an option.

With Victor’s generous permission – “you asks me for publish my letter? my letters are of you. make all you whishes” – I reproduce below four emails received in the days that followed. Even in Slovenia last year, Victor was apologising for his “horrible” English. In his most recent email, he refers to it as “not-​English”. For me, it is not horrible; not not- English at all. Look at the heart & soul & passion & politics which come across! Mach’s na! Go on, try to match it! For me, these real-​life emails were eerily reminiscent of Jim’s fiction. It’s salutary to read them again now, as perhaps, already, – and as we always do – we begin to forget.


Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2004 11:30:10 MET
Subject: re: you ok?
yes ok
i wish writte well english for explained you everythings in spain.

only a few words: the spain gouvernement actues as a true fascist government: manipulation and ocultación of information, .. Sunday there are elections and if is confirmed that the attack is work of the islamist terrorism the government will be seen damaged, because is the fruit of its politics of war. But if is work of the terrorism basco, its politica of hard hand will have justification. Therefore hidden the information.

On sunday there are elections. After the massacre the party of the government decided to suspend the electoral acts.The other parties also did that. And now does nobody it speak, No politician can accuse al government of every loque does. And that is the silence more accomplice.

Everyone knows the communiqué́ of the terorism islamic that is attributed the acts, and the communiqué́ of the terrorism basc, that denies it. Everyone gives them credibility, except the Spanish government.

The Tv of the governement, and the private TV that controls, hide data, are liars…

The attitude of government is arrogant, prepotente, does not listen anyone. does not accept aids, as for example, that of the government of Is- rael, that offers it specialists in Arabian attacks..

In the popular demonstrations of yesterday (Friday) the people asked responsibilities al government and accused of it to be the cause of all. In Barcelona the representative of the party of government, atthe ending of the demonstration, to leave among shouts, accusations and booings..

is that. (by the moment)

thank you for you letter

Date: Sun, 14 Mar 2004 00:16:41 MET
Subject: re: you okj?

thank you for your words.

Now 11’30 p.m.
Has 8 hours afternoon the government minister spoke, but it did not say all. it said that one took 5 or 7 persones (marroquins, hindus and Spanish hindus), but it has not say that eta is not the author of the slaughters, and iln’a does not say a word about al quaeda.

Has the fine all population has gone out has the street. in madrid and barcelona miliards of persons are again to the forehead of the houses on the party government while screaming, and in the exacting one the whole truth and the dimission. And also in all the big citys of the country.

Some members of partys of the oposition say that they had the news that the government did not do public, and one says also as high members of the intelligence services of Spain not his happy because the government don’t says has the population all that its services says to the government.

Has madrid e has barcelona, especially, every time several and several of persons are has the street. 7.000 or 8.000 has barcelona, and as that has madrid and has besides quoted. the gent does noise with cooking instruments (as has buenos aires, has the argentina, or as xile) and screams:

”Before going has the elections we want the truth”. “The deaths his ours; the war has is your” “we said it before: not war!” “you, the Fascist, you are the terrorists” murderous, liars, suffices already, manipulators

The people does not obeys the orders of a party. the assembly has done himself by sms and by and- mails.

The government has denounced these demonstrations al counsel of the elections because today is day of reflection of the elections of tomorrow, and themselves not political opinions can be given. The demonstration is Pacific, and is a happy demontsration. But if the electoral counsel says that it is illegal, what will do the police?

And the parties of the oposition one does only small words but no have said nothing important with respect to what does the people or what should do.

In spain there is again a lot of people, a lot, that would be happy with a Fascist régime, and the party of the government did big services has this persons for 12 years. the elections of tomorrow are important but very dangerous. and with the population in rage, more dangerous again.

This is not simple. I remember a lot of the years of the Fascist system of Franco. and very people think that can they not one finished.

With a government that it occupied the judicial power (judges, fiscal, lawyers of state. ..) (strength and that orders on him), a government that dominates the media of communication , a government that put the Spanish population against the Basque country and against the Catalonia, a government that buy with money the votes of the poor classes.. that is that one can do?

And what can be done tomorrow if win in the elections?

(now, 23:55)

to soon

Date: Sun, 14 Mar 2004 21:33:36 MET
Subject: thank you

thank you for your words.
now, to the 21:27, seems that the results of the elections have punished al party of the gouvernement and possibly we have it thrown out of the power the party of the government. and the catalonian political groups have enlarged its votes. but never is sure in this country. we will have to wait for tomorrow but the hope is great.

thank you again.

Date: Sun, 14 Mar 2004 23:23:07 MET
Subject: thanks
dear donal:

for the time being seems that the things go to change. Really, the party of the left socialist Spanish and Catalonian has conquered in the elections. you can see at: http://www.elec_gen04.mir.es/congreso/ DCG999999.htm

(psoe : socialist
pp: aznar & bush
ciu : the catalonian nationalist (right)
erc : a small party catalonian nationalist & republican (left)
pnv : nationalist basque (right)
iu : spanish comunists
cc : canarian party (right)
bng : galician (left)

The hope is that change the foreign politics, the economic politics, the social politics, the politics respect to Europe and America, the politic respect to basque country and catalonia..

that change all, please

Tomorrow is day to reflect, of pacts, of politics..

Perhaps is day of future.
that thus be
thanks for your attention


Suhayl Saadi’s another writer who knows what he’s doing with language – language & its different forms. His short story collection the burning mirror appeared in 2001, but I‘d been following his work avidly long before that. At a time when, in my own stories, I was combining Northern Irish & Scottish English, up popped Suhayl, using English & Urdu & urban Scots & Gaelic. This man doubled my double- palette & it was thrilling to see.

The publication of his debut novel, Psychoraag (Black & White Publishing), is reason to celebrate, grand-​style. The central character – a radio DJ called Zaf – is easily the most intriguing I’ve encountered in a while. Suhayl appeals to all the senses as he depicts this Asian-​Scot. Alone, for the most part, in his booth, Zaf broadcasts through the night. The six hours on air – for some reason, Zaf’s last six & Radio Chaandnii’s last six – are sure to suck you in. Zaf refuses to take requests, his programme isn’t planned. We read what he broadcasts. And the memories which return as his music selections play. His past, his relationships, & his hopes & fears surface as we get to imagine a Glasgow, a P-​A-​K-​I-​S- T-​A-​N (quote), & a Scots-​Asian community I, for one, haven’t read about before. With organised crime in the background, there’s a scary sense of menace. This, reader, is a novel with a raga-​rock soundtrack (a playlist & discography close the volume). The writing – the intimacy – the rhythm – the pace – the voices – the mix – are breath-​taking. Right now, I’m one-​third through – but by the time you read this, I’ll have finished. 438 pages have rarely seemed so short. Already, I’m predicting inclusion in the Booker shortlist. The Whitbread First Novel while they’re at it. If Suhayl’d retained his pen-​name, he could even have gone for the Orange. Swiss readers & publishers, take note. This is one not to miss out on. I’d get translating into German, French, Italian, if I were you, – now.

Rajarasa – it’s great there’s a word for it, even if it’s not English, eh no?

© Donal McLaughlin
Bild: Martin Zelmenis, Riga
ensuite, Juni 2004

Artikel online veröffentlicht: 16. Juni 2017