While our work may be rooted in place and time, somehow I suspect that most writers want their work to transcend those limitations and to dwell in the realm of ideas. That’s what I did with Psychoraag, literally a ‘raag of the mind’, or a ‘symphony of madness’, which draws on recorded music right back to the beginnings of audio-time in India, circa 1902 and the songs of a Calcutta-based, half-Armenian Jewish, half-Anglo-Indian chanteuse named Gauhar Jaan aka Angelina Yeoward. She was a woman who could dance classical, speak seven languages and play several instruments; she owned racehorses and was a superstar in her day. The music in Psychoraag spans a century and drives the narrative, from dreamy, melancholic South Asian film songs through ‘60s psychedelia to contemporary bands in Scotland and Pakistan. It was listening to the epic music of ‘60s Bay Area bands - the Airplane, the Dead, the Animals, the Fish, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Kaleidoscope, and many more - during the awful Thatcherite-Reaganite 1980s (my coming-of-age: The disgustingly triumphalist Falklands War, the criminal destruction of Nicaragua and the defenestration by both sides of Afghanistan) that quickened the seed of creativity in my mind and kicked off this whole process, which led ultimately to Psychoraag and everything else I’ve written.. Music is a great unifier, but it also evinces the fact that human civilisation is one great carpet, formed by countless threads and that to unravel or to destroy one piece is to destroy the whole. Now, while I try to heal people, we’re in another heinous war, my taxes buy white phosphorus with which to burn Iraqi children down to the bone and on both sides of the Atlantic the political lunatics really have taken over the asylum. And so it’s important, now more than ever, that oppositional ideas are disseminated, both overtly and by other means. As Borges said, “censorship is the mother of metaphor”.
I am hugely honoured to receive a PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles National Literary Award, as I greatly admire the work which PEN does all over the world – I personally know a number of writers from various countries whose lives and work have been saved by the hard graft of PEN and Amnesty International. I also think it crucial that dissident literary voices are heard and acknowledged, particularly in the hegemonic corporate world of trans-national publishing that on the whole is simply another brick in the wall of a continuing imperium. It’s important to note that Psychoraag, which now has been shortlisted for a number of awards and has received much critical acclaim, was rejected by almost all major London publishers before eventually finding a small, entrepreneurial publisher in Edinburgh who, with the cooperation of the Scottish Arts Council, was willing to take a risk. I particularly admire the anti-racism intrinsic to the award and it’s a huge acknowledgement for me that the cultural - and therefore political - struggle in which I am engaged is not just a useless scream in the disempowering wilderness of shopping-malls that much of Britain, sadly, has become. I salute and congratulate the other writers who have won awards and I am deeply honoured to be in their - and your - company. La luta continua!
I hope that you have a great evening and blessings, namaste, salaams, shaloms and everything to everyone. Thank you.