At Hyde Park

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By B. Ramlallah

For our readers unfamiliar with London, Hyde Park offers a delightful glimpse into the city’s green heart. Imagine sprawling grounds exceeding 350 acres, dwarfing even our beloved Botanical Garden of Pamplemousses by a factor of four! Kensington Gardens, once the private domain of Kensington Palace (Queen Victoria’s birthplace), seamlessly connects to Hyde Park, creating a truly magnificent expanse. Together, they boast the title of London’s largest and most vibrant park, teeming with diverse birdlife and boasting a magnificent array of mature trees.

Hyde Park’s southern side is graced by the Serpentine, a picturesque artificial lake occupying roughly 40 acres, where marshland once dominated the landscape. Beyond the Serpentine lie other highlights not to be missed:

– Hyde Park Corner (south side), the official starting point for measuring all distances from London.

– Marble Arch (north side), a former grand entrance to Buckingham Palace.

– Rotten Row, a historic track reserved for horseback riding.

– Speaker’s Corner, a world-famous platform for public discourse, located near Marble Arch.

Speaker’s Corner: A Stage for All Voices

Speaker’s Corner is a captivating spectacle nearly every afternoon. A vibrant tapestry unfolds as individuals representing a kaleidoscope of beliefs take center stage. Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses – all find their voice here, alongside those advocating for political change – Socialists, Communists, Conservatives. Those yearning for Scottish and Welsh independence raise their voices, as do people of colour from Nigeria, Ghana, and the West Indies. Each stands on a makeshift platform, passionately addressing the crowd.

Some orators arrive armed with elaborate visions for reforming the world, their fervour bordering on fanaticism. Others, with a genuine desire to share their message, take to the stage. Religious figures like priests, monks, and nuns reach out to those who might not be drawn to traditional houses of worship (“les brebis égarées” – the lost sheep), offering hymns and religious messages in a public forum. Regardless of our personal views on their messages, we can’t help but admire the dedication of these selfless individuals, both religious and political.

On sunny days, Speaker’s Corner pulsates with life. Many come not just for the oratory, but to be part of the spectacle itself. A true melting pot of races and cultures gathers here. Loudspeakers and music are forbidden, so orators must rely on the power of their voices to be heard. Rarely does a visitor to London miss this vibrant spot. For Mauritians seeking compatriots, keep an ear out for Creole amidst the energetic throngs. Speaker’s Corner is a place unlike any other – a testament to free speech where, unlike Mauritius, anyone can step up and address an audience (if fortunate enough to find one) at any time.

The number of listeners varies greatly. Some orators hold court to a solitary soul, while others captivate a hundred or even a thousand. In fact, during 1953, I found myself the sole audience member for an elderly Scotsman reciting the poetry of Robert Burns! The creation of Speaker’s Corner stands as a thoughtful initiative, providing a platform for individuals to express themselves or simply vent their frustrations. I’m told that even Nikita Khrushchev, during his visit to London, expressed a desire to witness Speaker’s Corner firsthand.

*  *  *

The Colonial Office hosted a farewell tea party in honor of the five Mauritian journalists who concluded their four-week visit to the UK. The party was well-attended by dignitaries from the Colonial Office, including Sir Hilton Poynton, Permanent Under-Secretary of State, and Mr. C.Y. Carstairs, Assistant Under-Secretary. Representatives from the British Council, including Mr. Paul Reed, and Mauritian officials like Mr. Robertson were also present.

The party was quite interesting. We had the pleasure of meeting some Mauritians who have settled in the UK, and they were delighted to meet us. Our presence evoked memories of their happy days in Mauritius. Among them were Dr Benedict and Miss Scullard, who either stayed in Mauritius for a while or visited. They fondly reminisced about their time on the “lovely little Island.”

Throughout the 90-minute event, we fielded a variety of questions, spanning from Mauritius’ overpopulation issue to our impressions of the UK. A newspaper representative and a group urged me to share my impressions, even the negative ones. I began by addressing the unpleasant aspects I had observed. It saddened me to witness public displays of racial prejudice, such as the offensive statements on accommodation cards in shop windows: “No Africans; No Coloured, No Asians.” Despite efforts by numerous institutions, notably the British Council, to combat this issue, many average Britons oppose legislation against it, preferring a change of hearts.

Despite this blemish, which detracts from Britain’s allure, I commended the British people for their courtesy, honesty, willingness to assist those in genuine need, and tolerance. They possess a strong work ethic and a commendable sense of responsibility. As inhabitants of underdeveloped regions, we have much to glean from their example.

6th Year – No 267
Friday 25th September 1959

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 12 April 2024

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