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Most of these articles and essays explore the art and craft of writing and other aspects related to the process of making art.

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being scottish
(750 words)

Glossary

When I gaze at old portrait photographs, I wonder at the lives within. In photographs of myself, it is always autumn. It may be the chemical process, which turns all things, ultimately, to sepia. Or perhaps it's an essence of some sort, imbibed from the atmosphere which swirls over this white, northern island. Scotland holds autumn within herself, a bleeding stallion, a silver tree, birds battling on the hill. A Masonic spire. With my pen, I draw refrains from the sighs of the dead and trumpet them as tales of the new Alba. My long, hirpling fall is a supra-mythic Scottishness which I cannot explain. Neither tribal or territorial, it is an Albannach shroud which emerges liminally through fiction. I mistrust walls, stridency and final definitions, since the lumpen application of any one philosophy leads to animalistic exclusion and averts our gaze from the stars. I embrace subtlety, the striving for excellence and all things polyglot, musical and oceanic. I have affinities with the Graeco-Egyptian tenements of the Green City and the pinnacles and junk-shops of Odin's town; I yet may find Horus, perching amidst the spinning weather-vanes of the Canongate. I dive into the mammoth lochs up north with their deep, grey worship of the sky and I, too long for bedrock and ziggurats. I roll with Lothian song-speech and granite Mounth precision. Even Knox transubstantiates on the Day of the Dead. I dance in the blue-black energy of Glasgow rock and in the flat nakedness of the Clyde River, which springs, not from the Ballencleuch Law but from Lough Dergand which, late at night, turns jokes and bottles with the salmon. Through paradox, does beauty manifest, and the vacuum of Empire fill with the emptiness of gnosis.

I celluloid my forehead and hastily scribble: SCOTTISH. But that is inadequate, so I add: English, British, Pakistani, Indian, Afghan, Sadozai, Asian, European, Black(-ish), Minority Ethnic, Male, Non-resident, 21st Century person, 15th Century being, Glaswegian, Middle-class, Writer, Seeker, Lover, Physician, Agha Jaan, Son, English-speaking, Music-loving, Left-leaning… until I run out of space and time and ink. Scottishness becomes a metaphor through which I perceive other things. The ends of twigs catch in the stream.

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Massed kilts 'n' cocaine ceilidhs unsettle me, though I love the Zen thrum of Gaelic song. I once bought a Clan Sinclair (Hunting) tie because of its mystical Levantine links and a MacPherson (Dress) one because it looked good. I have never felt any identification with the psycho-mechanics of Scottish football; this has nothing to do with the Sufi game, rather, I feel excluded by flag-waving and terrified by teams, mobs, tribes, which seem inherently unthinking and potentially fascistic. I connect with Ludhiana, Lahore and Herat, but not in the ken of the old gin Raj. I want to hear the tap-tapping of sepia fingertips at business board-table and parliamentary bench, I long to seed Ibrox turf and to ink the pages of long rags. Indigenisation, a physical, economic and spiritual dynamic, is a multi-dimensional, trans-mythic concept which requires, on all sides, a seeking after love, a need to be. We all negotiate our psychic relationships with land, icon and totem.

Something in me will remain beyond the pale of the photograph. I am outside the Outsider. I am the murdered Arab on the beach, the Mudejar sound-sculptor who alights upon the mudflats of Greenock. Tide by tide, I am sinking into this land. I stare at the sun through a veil of golden leaves. The Scotland within the photograph, within me, seeps into the pages of winter libraries, where a silent, dark galaxy of words pullulates beneath vellum: town plans, city mothers, glass houses, blown leaves, the souls of large trees, the sea, the grinning lunatic of Glasgow Green, puraana zindagi, pichla janum, the drifting, larken voice of my apron'd mother as she sings by the window in Urdu, with the Beatles playing in the sky; and all the while, ordinary people scream at me to wash the dirt from my face, the blackness. I, screaming at myself.

All this tidal ebb and flow is a creative tension. Things wash up on the beach; some sink back into the ocean. Rolling in perfect darkness on the sea-bed, is a sealed jar. In the jar, where everything is light, there is a very old, singing djinn. The songs are strange, alchemical silver, and can be heard only by dead prophets. I am that jar, and the quietest, most subliminal song of all is called, Nad Albannach Honay Kay Nateh.

[this is to appear in 2002 in a book, Being Scottish, eds. Tom Devine and Paddy Logue (Polygon).]

Glossary:

Agha Jaan

Nad Albannach Honay Kay Nateh

Mudejar


puraana

pichla janum

 

Affectionate term for 'father'

Being Scottish (Gaelic-Urdu)

Spanish Muslims living in Spanish Christian
lands; the forms of art created thereof

puraana zindagi old life

previous life

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