In my garden there are native and exotic plants, long plants and short plants;
plants that are standard and non-standard; and some that are self-fertile and some that require cross-pollination. I have plants that are variegated, plants that are colourful
and plants that are plain. There are weeds, and refugees from other gardens, and some uninvited guests. Each plant has a unique history, a story to tell, and most contain, in their gene pool, the essence/quintessence of some far off land and ancient culture. There is no homogeneity in my garden, except at that most basic level of planthood; that fundamental point, whatever it is, that makes them living, breathing plants and not living, breathing animals. Yet, despite the variety and complexity of my garden inhabitants, I find that, if I provide them with water and food and treat them equally with politeness and respect, mixed in with a little song and a few sweet nothings, they thrive. Yes, even with the most basic of provisions, they thrive. They don’t fight or squabble, put each other down, rip each other apart for competitive advantage or napalm each other. They are a miracle of good neighbourliness and co-operative, companionable living, willing and eager to share their environment with birds and bees, wild life, and humans, too.
The multi-dimensional, multi-cultural and peaceful nature of my garden, reminds me that this time, thirty-five years ago, I was preparing to start the Michaelmas Term at Oxford University. I was a young seedling transplanted from a small island in the Pacific to one of the most wonderful cities in the world. I was about to flourish, and enjoy one of the best years of my life, within the nurturing environment of the Oxford University Foreign Service Programme.
For one academic year, I , along with several dozen others, from all curves of the world, lived and laughed and learned…. and, yes ,sometimes, drank too much and, sometimes, loved unwisely, and sometimes, cried. We were a microcosm of the world; we were all faiths, all cultures, all social and political classes, all sizes and shapes and ages, and, as you can see from the photo, all hairstyles 🙂
Our common ground was in our education and our human-ness. We were nourished and cared for by the University, our daily needs provided for, and most of us were generously supported by that most British of British institutions, the British Council. And, for that, one, much too short, year, we were, despite our differences, the embodiment of good and peaceful co-existence; the way our world could be.
This post is written today in honour of the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi who was born on October 2nd, 1869. Today is a national holiday in India. Worldwide, it is the UN International Day of Non-Violence.
For a good read on ‘things British Council’ and the mess of war and displacement, try Fortunes of War by Olivia Manning:
is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel and also denotes the first term of the academic year.