Celina Baljeet Basra

November 14, 2023 
The following is from Celina Baljeet Basra's debut novel Happy. Basra is a writer and cultural worker based in Berlin. She is a founder of the Department of Love, a curatorial collective.

I am Happy. Happy Singh Soni.

A Punjabi currently based in Italy, I am working full-time on Europe’s largest radish farm.

I am well experienced in all tasks related to radish farming: i.e., sowing radish seeds, transplanting radish sprouts, tending to the growing plants, injecting weed killers most expertly, spraying to death the ugly ones and caring for the beauties. By eradicating all uncertainty, the harvest is bountiful, always.

First and foremost, my labor is a labor of love.

I feel confident that I have reached a level of excellence in European radish farming. Hence, I want to widen my skill set and actively seek new challenges by exploring other aspects of farming in Italy. This is why I am applying for the open position as a shepherd on the island of Sardinia.

Also, I have to admit, my back would thank me if I were able to work in an upright position once more. The constant kneeling amidst the radish patches is killing my spine. I often catch myself these days musing among the vegetables, stretching my back, unable to recall who I am. For a brief moment, I exist in a blank space: a white cube smelling of lemony cleaning agent. Time expands and contracts. I pull myself back into reality by looking at my hands, greenhouse dirt underneath surprisingly rosy fingernails. The sight of my skin roots me. Brown skin with tiny pink injuries from tiny radish shovels.

What are the long-term effects of constant spine bending? Is spinelessness the desirable state after all?

I am empathic, flexible, and resilient. The journey from India, crossing deserts, mountains, walking through a vast forest I cannot name, and arriving via boat in Bari, certainly did take its toll. However, I am still alive, and I am at your service, or rather at the service of your black Sardinian sheep, pecore nere.

I can drive a tractor and a truck. I have never taken a taxi in my life, nor have I boarded a plane. I am excitable and impatient, charismatic, and single-minded. I anticipate, always. I look ahead. I identify the problem before you even know you have one. I am perpetually hungry, and I always need a snack. I miss pakoras. I miss my morning tea. I miss my mother. I tend to suffer from diarrhea more often than from constipation. My metabolism is as fast as my mind. By jumping two steps ahead, I tend to fall back three, ending up behind the starting line. But I always get back on that horse, as one should. Though I cannot ride a horse; I’ve only ever ridden a camel—once, at a fair, and I threw up right after. I am a Hypersensitive Introverted Extrovert. I did a test online. My love language is Words of Affirmation. I did that test, too. Most of the workers here are Sikhs like me, but, still, it tends to get lonely. I cannot say that I am happy, but I am lucky to be here, in Europe.

Strictly speaking, and I don’t want to beat around the bush, my

status of residency is not legal. Illegal? You may very well say so, but I couldn’t possibly comment. I am currently in between nationalities, but I am certainly doing my part for the European people: providing them with the cheapest, crunchiest, reddest, and raddest radishes, bulbous and disproportionately huge, to be chopped up into European salads and to decorate European sandwiches. Let’s forget about the taste for a moment, watery, carrying a faint sharpness, just a memory of its ancestor radish’s sapid glory: earthy and spicy, delicate in flavor. According to my research, radishes were domesticated in Asia prior to Roman times, growing happily for a long time in what is now China, Myanmar, Vietnam, and India.

I admit, I care too much. On a frosty night in spring, I was caught sleeping with the fledgling radish sprouts, covering them in Indian scarves and blankets. Some might say I cross boundaries; I say I am passionate about my job. Leave your emotions at home? I say bring them to the workplace. That’s the only way to get the job done. Crying is fine. People who cry at work are better workers, always. Those are the workers you want.

Before I came to Europe, I dreamt of Europe.

In my dreams, I envisioned my European home. German engineers, Danish designers, and Swiss cesspool specialists had joined forces to design this dream house, located in the center of Europe, somewhere pastoral and green. Out front stood a tree, an oak, with a trunk as wide as a healthy German man is tall, six feet, coincidentally, the same diameter of a Russian gas pipeline, just as sturdy and unyielding. On the crown of the tree, Dutch maidens with heart-shaped mouths were lounging, lazily spinning cotton candy out of their super long, golden hair while shitting grated gouda cheese directly into my mouth. The cheese production was as natural to them as breathing; there was nothing ugly about it. And I was standing underneath them with my mouth wide open, enjoying every morsel. The cotton candy clouds descended, hovering briefly, then covered my head like a golden veil. I was a bride, a cotton candy bride of Europe, well-fed on gouda in preparation for the wedding ceremony. Finally, the Dutch maidens turned into Dutch boys, who were frying up artisanal bacon. Somehow, they’d managed to bring state-of-the-art pans and tiny gas cookers up into the tree—I digress. Let’s just say, my foolishness is past. The dream was just a dream; radish is my reality. And I always dig where I stand.

If you were to inquire about my language skills, you’d be surprised to learn that, in addition to my ever-improving Italian, I speak a little bit of French. I taught myself back in India while watching Godard movies on my mobile phone.

My extensive experience with farm animals big and small, i.e., water buffaloes and Beetal goats, will enable me to handle the job of managing your pecore nere with ease and vigor. I am no stranger to loneliness and isolation, which will come in handy while working on those Sardinian hills alone. I will have my black sheep to keep me company.

If you would like to call my former employer as a reference, I would kindly ask: please don’t. They are ignorant of my wish to widen my skill set. The coordinators don’t forget and they don’t forgive a debt, ever. Take my word for it; I will be the best worker you ever hire.

Do let me know if there is anything else I could send to support my application, i.e., letters of recommendation, or writing samples, such as a nine-page screenplay entitled The Sad Dancer (Tawa Press, 2004). I do not presently have my certificates and qualifications with me, but I am happy to ask my mother to send them from India.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time.


Happy Singh Soni


Excerpted from Happy: a novel by Celina Baljeet Basra. Published by Astra House. Copyright © Celina Baljeet Basra 2023. All rights reserved.

More Story
A Statement of Solidarity With Gaza From More Than 100 Literary Translators A group of over one hundred literary translators—including International Booker Prize winners Jennifer Croft, Daisy Rockwell,...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.