Given the melancholia that Scots were said to be prone to in the 1700s, no doubt a consequence of the frequent wars they found themselves engaged in, the unrelenting and unforgiving natural elements they had to do battle with when they weren’t fighting the Brits and the brutally majestic, obsessive and monomaniacal presence all year round of the Scottish Highlands (described by an expert on all things Scottish as “that region where common sense no longer prevails and the Celtic imagination is all”), the poet Robert Burns probably struck the right chord when, in 1788, he wrote Auld Lang Syne (loosely translated to mean “the times gone by”) making a strong appeal to not forget old acquaintances and raise a cup of kindness (loosely translated to mean “pour me another”) to old relationships even as Time marched relentlessly on.
Though, from the evidence available, Robert Burns never intended his work to act as a farewell to the old year, its call for the preservation of our oldest and dearest relationships – perhaps best observed in the reflective quality of New Year’s Eve itself when, if we are lucky, we are in the company of close friends and family – seems to have found such universal resonance that it is still doing the rounds after 230 years and has become an absolute tradition in all New Year’s Eve celebrations, the opening lines from it (because that’s about all that most people can usually remember) a must-do at the stroke of midnight before all kinds of other silliness kick in, like inebriated people of advanced years in conical hats blowing whistles at each other or clumsily stumbling around in search of the next pair of lips to slobber on in what has suddenly become a very bright room with the houselights full on.
Nor is Auld Lang Syne a tradition and prerogative of the English-speaking world for which Burns originally intended it; it has global significance, too, its tune, if not the words, used, I am told, by Maldives and Korea (probably when still in its undivided form) for their national anthems, which, if true, would have both anthems sounding much the same – a bit of a bother if both countries were to be facing each other at, say, a world football event – and Japanese stores have been known to play it as a polite reminder for customers to leave as closing time approaches. And, though intrinsically linked to the end of a year and the beginning of a new one, Auld Lang Syne, being essentially a call for remembering old relationships and acquaintances, finds relevance at other occasions too, although those may not have the same celebratory quality – funerals, for example – which is the interpretation of Auld Lang Syne that I’d be inclined to offer for 2016, a year that, for me, is best forgotten because to remember it would be for the worst reasons.
The bright spot is that by the time you read this piece, it would be over and, despite the grogginess of mind and tiredness of limbs that many of us might be experiencing after a night of Bacchanalian excess that good sense warned against but the madness that afflicts us in party season vetoed, 2017 seems to hold the promise of new beginnings and unexpected surprises (hopefully, of the good kind) having, to start with, an unstructured, asymmetrical, off-kilter air about it, quite the opposite of the regimented, squared-up, confining look that 2016 had, an Apple to an IBM, if you will (and look what happened there!).
If the lessons of that face-off were to be juxtaposed on the New Year (and there are really no rational reasons to justify why they should be), I am hopeful of a less intolerant, dogma-driven, myopic, isolationistic and fundamentalist world where free-thinking, open-mindedness, forbearance and inclusiveness will not suffer ignominy on Facebook and Twitter, or at the polls, where forcibly playing the national anthem at the beginning of every cinema show and getting people to stand for it will not be construed as nation building and the pinnacle of patriotism, where the eating habits of people with different religious persuasions will not be interfered with, where single working women will not be seen as prime bait for any predatory male or social misfit, where governments will do what they are meant to do – govern, not meddle in peoples’ lives and presume to be their moral guardians – where Police will police, not become lackeys of the ruling political party and do its every bidding, including jailing someone for caricaturizing a sitting minister on Facebook and where iPhone 8 will be as much of a game changer as the first iPhone was 10 years ago.
Happy 2017, all, and don’t pine for Auld Lang Sine.