The New York Times wrote of the book:
“Leaping, chattering, dancing atop this conundrum [of the global immigration crisis] comes the hero of Celina Baljeet Basra’s debut novel, Happy Singh Soni, his head bursting with ideas, his heart set on gargantuan dreams.”
HAPPY is a workplace novel, a coming-of-age story, and, like a bag of flour, a multitude container. Following the journey of young cinephile Happy Singh Soni from Punjab to Europe, it’s a story on survival, and the inalienable right to a vivid inner life.
Who is cooking up your fried fish on your European holiday in Rome, and where does the radish on my artisanal sourdough sandwich come from?
The politics of the food industry in the South of Europe and its dependency on the labor of undocumented migrants form the backdrop of this book.
HAPPY is written to a rhythm, the plot emerged over time––some stories can only be told in a scattered way.
NUSRAT FATEH ALI KHAN, DAM MAST QALANDAR (1991)
I grew up to the soundtrack of eminent Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and I still remember his face, contorted in beautiful musical ecstasy, on the covers of the tapes my father kept in our silver Renault 9, and then the bronze Audio 100, one door repainted in a different color after a crash. Dam Mast Qualander (Every Breath for the Ecstasy of Qalander) is based on a poem by Baba Bulleh Shah, adapted from an unknown author. Released in the year of Happy’s birth, Khan’s version of the Sufi qawwali is a motif for Happy’s home and the ever-present longing for it as he ventures abroad; it recurs in different versions throughout the playlist. Watch out for a great one by Pakistani Sufi rock band Junoon.
A.R. RAHMAN & MOHIT CHAUHAN, MASAKALI, from the movie DELHI-6 (2009)
Masakali is a white dove, about to fly off into the hazy Old Delhi sky––an image for the burgeoning romance between Sonam Kapoor and Abishek Bachchan in the movie, and an all-around great Bollywood tune. I watched Delhi-6 when it came out in Delhi in 2009 and this song is a wonderful time machine to transport me back to that time. The number 6 refers to the postal code of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, a busy neighborhood to purchase sweets, perfume oils, fabrics and books, located between the Red Fort and Jama Masjid mosque.
STEVE REICH, DESERT MUSIC (1983)
I like to write to the minimalist soundscapes of Steve Reich, and, as deserts are being crossed in HAPPY, I included this work of music, composed in 1983, based on Desert Music by William Carlos Williams.
RIHANNA, UMBRELLA (2007)
I initially wanted to put a quote from Umbrella at the beginning of the book, but I learned that this would be quite expensive. In many ways, HAPPY is about finding shelter––a room of your own to then turn into a home––and what better image for shelter, care, or sacrifice is there, but the invitation to stand under another person’s umbrella?
KRAFTWERK, AUTOBAHN (1974)
Autobahn always needed to be part of the HAPPY playlist. A quintessential song to drive to. I do recommend listening to it while powering over the peripheral motorways of Delhi in dense December fog, as Ambika does in the book.
GIGLIOLA CINQUETTI, NON L’HO ETA (1964)
Non ho l’età per amarti––I am not old enough to love you. Gigliola Cinquetti won the Sanremo Festival 1964 with this song; she was only 16 at the time.
In a scene of HAPPY that got cut, I envisioned Odile from Bande à part singing it, in an empty pool in Brazil, after she escaped the story with Franz––anyway, I love that song.
THE ANIMALS, HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN (1964) & THE ROLLING STONES, I CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION (1965)
Happy dances to these two songs by the curb of a road in Rome and wins the hearts of his co-workers, and I invite you to join him, get up, sway, and copy the inimitable legwork of Mick, to then venture into Happy’s Punjabi Moonwalk––you can do it, too! Please subscribe to my channel.
SHREYA GOSHAL, RAHAT FATEH ALI KHAN, PRITAM CHAKRABORTY, TERI ORE, from the movie SINGH IS KING (2008)
Teri Ore means Closer to you in Punjabi. Forever linked to an age-old fleeting romance. I think this soundtrack was the very last CD I got.
FLEETWOOD MAC, EVERYWHERE (1987)
I wanna be with you everywhere. 🙂
DJ KOZE, RUE BURNOUT (2010)
HAPPY, among other things, is a workplace novel. Burnout doesn’t seem to be allowed among non-white collar workers, and yet, of course, it’s happening all the time. I imagine Zhivago and Happy listening to this song after the protest and falling asleep to its rhythm as it fades.
BRUNO LAUZI, TI RUBERÒ (1965)
In the softest and most sonorous of voices, Bruno Lauzi promises to steal you, to take you to lands unknown with his ship, bring you to a house built just for you, and to teach you to be happy, like you’ve never been before––this is linked to HAPPY in more ways than one. Rewatch La Grande Bellezza by Paolo Sorrentino for the sublime death scene, accompanied by this tune.
Celina Baljeet Basra is a writer and cultural worker based in Berlin. She is a founder of the Department of Love, a curatorial collective. Happy is her first novel.