By Amanda Kee
I’ve heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Lassies a-lilting before dawn o’ day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;
“The Flooers o’ the Forest are a’ wede away”.
(extract from The Flowers of the Forest, a Scottish folk song)
Melancholy and Indignation.
No other country that has felt this particular two-edged sword more acutely than Scotland. The Flowers of the Forest laments the deaths of Scottish soldiers during the Battle of Flodden in 1513.
Today, Scotland is still lamenting the many tragedies that have befallen on the land: From the brutal Highland Clearances to the destruction of World Wars to the mechanization of rural lands to the drowning sense of self-inferiority even in the face of political independence.
Who would have thought that the land of haggis, bagpipes and Loch Ness monsters is still scarred by the bone-deep trauma left by these disasters?
“Their names, though lost to us, are written in the book of God”
When I first received news that I had been accepted into the Scottish Literature Summer Programme, you could not have imagined my exhilaration. ‘Longing’ puts it too mildly the century-long yearning churning in me to revel in the enchanting beauty that I had imagined Edinburgh to be.
When I look back now, I see how naïve I had been.
Tourists gape at the Highlands in awe but they do not see the grief and loss chilling the very winds swirling around the now-forsaken valleys.
Tourists avidly snap pictures of “Harry Potter’s birth-place” along Princess Street just to proudly prove that, “me-adventure-seeker had been there!” They do not pause to wonder at Sir Walter Scott’s statue just a few streets away, whose dignified head has been caked with seagulls’ blessings but whose history has been richer, more complex and well, real, than any Chosen One’s can be.
Apparently, J.K. Rowling wrote the first book of the Harry Potter series in this cafe. Tourists flock the place to admire the grounds where The Chosen One was brought to life
Tourists tap to the beat of the ever-playing bagpipes along the streets, not realizing that this is merely a show made for them to blindly consume and yes, blindly destroy.
Every morning, afternoon and evening, one can hear bagpipes playing all over Edinburgh. The capital is packed with clichéd red-green scarves, scenic postcards and Nessie the Loch Ness Monster souvenirs
The notion of “Scottishness” (who knows what it really means anymore?) is fast reducing to a mere shell. We take what is theirs, and leave nothing but a few tokens of appreciation behind.
Nessie with a bagpipe! A must-buy!
Let’s make a pact to ourselves: if we were to step into a new country, we will start our adventure from the steps of a local bookstore. With one eye fresh with touristy-giddiness, and the other eye trained by soul-baring native writers, we will walk forth with more prudent, less self-indulgent steps.
If you have a yen for the richness of Scotland, here is a little taste of it:
The Loch Ness Monster’s Song by Edwin Morgan, The Scots Makar
Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl?
Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl.
Drublhaflablhaflubhafgabhaflhafl fl fl –
gm grawwwww grf grawf awfgm graw gm.
Hovoplodok – doplodovok – plovodokot-doplodokosh?
Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgabrlgabrl fok splfok!
Zgra kra gka fok!
Grof grawff gahf?
Gombl mbl bl –
So, what say you?