A young cinephile leaves his rural village in India with big dreams, only to find himself trapped in menial jobs and forced to work off a debt he may never repay.
In a small farming village in Punjab, India, a boy crouches over his brother's phone in a rapeseed field watching clips of Godard's Bande à part on YouTube.
His name is Happy Singh Soni and when he's not sleeping among the cabbages and eating sugary rotis, Happy dreams of becoming an actor, one who plays the melancholy roles; the sad, pretty boys, rare in Indian cinema. He plans a clandestine journey to Europe, where he'll finally land a breakout role.
After a nightmarish passage to Italy, Happy still manages to find relief in food and fantasy, even as he is forced into ever-worsening work conditions on a radish farm by the syndicate involved in smuggling him to Europe to pay off the supposed debt they claim he has accrued. While disillusionment amongst the farm workers rise, Happy will find the love - and tragedy - that his favourite films always promised.
At turns funny and heart-breaking, sunny and tragic, Happy is a formally ambitious novel about the psychic fissures produced by the splintering of nations, and the lovely, generative, artful coping mechanisms created by generations of diasporic people. With this ingenious, daringly cinematic debut, Celina Baljeet Basra argues for the things that are basic to human survival: food, water, shelter, but also pleasure, romance, art, and the right to a vivid inner life.
Designer: Alex Merto
Binding: Casebound book