Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Double View

On a recent visit to Kochi, Bertrand de Hartingh, the Cultural Counsellor of the French Embassy, talks about a host of subjects regarding India and France

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram 

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 5.30 p.m., on a Tuesday, last month, Bertrand de Hartingh, the Cultural Counsellor of the French Embassy at Delhi was about to stride into the Chavara Cultural Centre in Kochi. But he stopped suddenly because a group of chenda players were giving a spirited performance. This was part of the celebrations of the opening of the new Annexe of the Alliance Francaise.

The annexe is a spacious set-up with a hall and several large rooms. Posters of various images of France hung on the walls. “The opening of the annex at its own premises in Kochi is one of the biggest achievements of the past few years,” says Alice Gauny, the director of the Alliance Francaise of Thiruvananthapuram. “From now on we have a space in which we can teach, organise events, and develop partnerships and activities.”

Bertrand nods as he cuts the ribbon and lavishes praise on Alice. Just four months into his new assignment, Bertrand has already fallen in love with India. “I have been charmed by the intelligence and the dynamism of the people, and their readiness to have a look at everything, with open eyes,” he says. “I immediately felt that India is a place where I can learn a lot.”

He is also fascinated by Kerala. “It is a complex state,” says Bertrand. “Kerala has the highest rates for education, a low child mortality rate, and many other achievements. On the other hand, when you travel across Kerala, you can see garbage here and there. And then you think, 'How can such an obviously intelligent people allow this?'”

But Bertrand says France and Kerala are similar. “In both places, people like to laugh, tell jokes, read, have chats, enjoy nature and the arts. Both have a heritage which has lasted for hundreds of years.”

Asked about his work profile, Bertrand says, “My job is to meet and convince people, be it a professor, student, researcher, activist, or media person, that France can be a partner. During my Kochi visit I met Kerala University officials and had discussions on setting up partnerships for vocational training and higher education and businesses.”

There are more than one thousand French businesses in India. These include famous companies like L'Oreal and Schneider Electric. “They have thousands of employees, who make products for the Indian and world market,” says Bertrand. “We believe that by walking along with India in their development journey it will be good for the world.”

But all is not good inside France. It has been hit by a spate of terrorist attacks. “The mood in France is that the people want to heal,” says Bertrand. “Let's go on with what we are. We want to have our democracy the way it has always been.”

However, there is a feeling that there is a rising anti-Muslim bias. But Bertrand says, “I don’t think so. During the attacks at Paris in January, one of the victims was a Muslim policeman. These people use the name of Islam, but they kill everybody. They negate the human value. A lot of French Muslims are horrified by what has happened.”

Yet, despite that, there is an increase in popularity of the Far-Right parties like the National Front. While Bertrand acknowledges it, he says, “All around the world there is a tussle between nationalism and globalism. When people are confident and the economy is doing well, they go for globalism. But if there is a financial crisis, and people become afraid, then they will opt for nationalism.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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