“I will spare you the attempt to describe what you would hardly comprehend without going to see it. But certainly this noble lake, boasting innumerable beautiful islands, of every varying form and outline which fancy can frame,—its northern extremity narrowing until it is lost among dusky and retreating mountains,—while, gradually widening as it extends to the southward, it spreads its base around the indentures and promontories of a fair and fertile land, affords one of the most surprising, beautiful, and sublime spectacles in nature.” – Rob Roy, Sir Walter Scott
Tonight, I’m sixteen again. I’m falling in love with Scotland for the first time, making up my mind that I have to see it before I die. Sir Walter Scott’s fantastic descriptions make me linger over every page and my imagination absolutely refuses to rein itself in. I’m preparing for the engineering entrance exam, but every
moment that I can spare I spend over the pages of ‘Rob Roy’, sleeping with it under my pillow and turning to it religiously for the succour it gives me. I’m young, extremely romantic and easily swayed by the idea of bagpipes and remote castles. I’m not cut out to stew over Calculus and thermodynamics.
We are reading Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ in class, and I’m heartbroken for all the soldiers who have been lured to their doom by that bewitching woman. One Sunday afternoon, I take a break from preparation to write a prose sequel to the poem. In it, the soldier who has just fallen victim to the woman’s charms is about to die, but she realises that she has actually fallen in love with him. She sheds tears of remorse and begs him to marry her. I cannot remember now how it ends, but I’m quite sure they must have married and “lived happily at ever after”. When you’re sixteen, you’re optimistic and not inclined to believe in unrequited love. I see a woman in flowing robes awaiting her lover; she’s standing on a hillside, hands clasped, darkness falling rapidly. She has almost given up hope when he appears in his kilt, playing the bagpipes. She would have put all the heroines Anne of Green Gables ever dreamt up to shame.
What a difference time makes! I’ve given up writing stories now and I cringe whenever I discover an old diary of mine (and there are plenty of these), but I confess these sappy scenes were what I thought of when I was in
Scotland in October; we had just hiked up a hillside on the banks of Loch Lomond, and there we were, looking down at that lake, at scenery described in ‘Rob Roy’. The imagination discounts the cold and the wind and the toil of the climb, but I wouldn’t have exchanged that afternoon for all the riches of the world. The lake was a sparkling, lovely blue, silver in places touched by the sun’s rays; dark rugged hills rose in the distance, and the peak of Ben Nevis above them. What I’d known only through books all along was real- the happiness was overwhelming. Seeing Loch Lomond made everything almost tangible: all the books I’d ever read, all the descriptions I’d enjoyed. In some absurd way, it lent credence to every story played out in my head and reinforced the bonds I felt with people long dead or even non-existent. Time stood still and we listened to the wind: the voices that floated over on it were dismissed nonchalantly. I could try a million times to describe how it felt, and I’d fail at every attempt.
Riding on the bus up and down nameless rural roads, I knew only that I was somewhere in Scotland. Nothing else in the world mattered, not a wisp of anxiety touched me. The hills on the horizon with filmy grey clouds floating over them and engulfing their peaks, reminded me of Middle Earth. They were cold and remote in a way much different from the hills I grew up with, green and forever bathed in sunshine. The hike up the hill, past coniferous forests (where I pretended I was a wood-dryad) and gurgling springs, reminded me of the spectacular Himalayas. Could anything sinister ever lurk in those magnificent valleys? Could even a ripple disturb the serene surface of the lake? A Buddha statue had somehow turned up in one of the gardens by the bank, as if to endow it with a physical version of spirituality.
I’m envious of all those people who are yet to fall violently in love with Scotland or are still sixteen. I’d give much to be a schoolgirl again so I can be unabashedly silly and experience life with open-eyed wonder. My imagination would still be fresh and untainted by reality, for when you imagine things, you don’t have to worry about the expense or weather or Delhi belly.
One fulfilled dream ought to make room for another and be a cause for jubilation, but I find myself struggling
with a few voids now. Why should the first dreams be the best ones?