Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Secret Garden - Contest Speech

Text of the speech delivered at the Toastmasters Area 6 Speech Contest on Saturday the 1st of March, 2008. (Video at the foot of the post)

It is not the sap within the furrowed bark,
Nor a wing attached to a claw,
But rather a garden forever in bloom
And a flock of angels forever in flight.

So said Khalil Gibran of Beauty. Truly, a well-tended garden, like any other thing of beauty, is a joy forever. And maybe it is this pursuit of beauty that prompts many of us to take up gardening, to take the pains and nurture a plant, to see our efforts bearing fruit.

There are some gardeners who give their plants only the basic supplements like sunlight and water. They do not prune the plants or till the soil too much. They let nature take over. The plants in turn struggle initially but soon find their foothold and learn to thrive without needing the gardeners. They grow with minimal nourishing but without any shape and direction. If there are leaves lying all over, the gardeners may or may not clear them. They let such fallings rot and that becomes the manure. Such plants can grow in any environment but they seldom respect it since they are busy devising survival strategies…they are so self-absorbed. A wild beauty pervades such gardens. They are another form of the woods and forests – detached and by themselves. In the absence of the gardeners, they seek solace and camaraderie in the birds that flock them to make nests; they find family in the wind.

There are gardeners who spend ample time in their gardens everyday. They give the plants copious water, superior manure, sometimes imported and a lot of care. They pare down the plants at every chance, a little here, some more there, at the side, over the top. They turn the soil frequently. They keep the plants truncated so that they are manageable. Hence, such gardens never come around to providing any shade to the gardener even after years of nurturing. Such may become puny and start withering or languishing at the first lack of the manure and pesticide they are used to. They seldom survive in any environments other than their own. They become completely dependent on the gardener and he revels in this fact. The gardener’s presence is all too obvious in such gardens.

And then there are gardeners whose plants are allowed to grow on their own but are pruned when an abberant bud is seen. They are given decent manure at well-placed intervals. Pesticides are sprayed only when there is a threat of disease. The soil is tilled after interludes too. Such plants grow tall in the right direction and are shaped beautifully. They need the gardener but not incessantly, only to give direction to their growth. They are well adjusted and respect their environment as well the gardener because they are dependent on both for balanced growth although they are more or less on their own. Such gardens exude beauty and enough care. They make the gardener’s home beautiful and provide requisite shade later in life. Such plants are the neighbour’s envy, gardener’s pride.

I have never belived that our children can be likened to globs of clay. That sounds like a one-time job…you can’t keep moulding clay forever, it will dry up sometime and will have to be baked, and sooner not later.

I believe, children are like plants and we are like gardeners. So then, let us also not let them loose and let them grow wild lest they don’t need us anymore, lest they don’t care for their surroundings anymore, lest they have no shape and direction in life and grow wild with fallen leaves all over our garden.

Let us also not smother them with our care and let them get used to only particular things that we think are best for them, let us not supervise every leaf, let us not watch or condescend every move they make lest they start withering no sooner there is a dearth of the best manure and pesticide, get pruned beyond necessity and their growth is stunted.

Let us allow our plants to reach the heights they deserve but prune only when an anomalous bud comes out. Let us allow them to get diseases, make mistakes and stumble and fall; but let us be there to then spray pesticide, bring out the lesson in their mistake and help them get up and stand strong. Let us let them be, let them sway in the wind but also let them know that we are there for them, lest they need us. Let us bring forth beautifully manicured gardens that are things of beauty, with trees whose shade we can relish during the sunset of our life.

What can we give our children?
Knowledge, yes, and honour too,
And strength of character
And the gift of laughter.
What gold do we give our children?
The gold of a sunny childhood,
Open spaces, a home that binds
Us to the common good…
These simple things
Are greater than the gold of kings.

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