By Shevlin Sebastian
When the Luxembourg-based artist Sophie Medawar opened the newspaper on Friday morning (December 14) at Fort Kochi, and read the news about a strike in Kerala, she could not help but go down memory lane.
In August, 2016, when she landed in Kochi, with her husband and daughter, they set out from the airport to Chingoli, near Haripad. As they cruised on the highway, both could not help but notice the rather deserted highway. Sophie’s husband turned to her and said, “Kerala is very quiet. What’s happened?”
Sophie was also equally puzzled. But when they reached their destination the people said, “Oh you managed to come. We have a strike today.”
And that was when Sophie understood why their driver had pasted a notice in Malayalam on the windshield. She was told it read: ‘Tourist transportation’.
Interestingly, Sophie has had her own experience of a strike. This was when she was studying at the ‘Academie Julian’ art school in Paris. On her second day, when she stepped out on the Boulevard Saint Germain to go to college, she saw people shouting and walking past.
Soon, the police fired teargas canisters. In response, the strikers also let off small explosions. This resulted in white, red, blue and green smoke. “It created a fog and the police could no longer see the rioters properly,” says Sophie. “It was amazing. Thankfully, there was no violence and I was able to reach the college safely.”
Sophie pauses and says, “The French are masters of the strike. And they are still at it. Although the riots in Paris today have become violent.”
For Sophie, that initial experience in Paris of a strike was a novel one. That’s because, in Luxembourg, there are no strikes at all. “It is a very quiet country,” she says. “In fact, the last strike I remember was when I was 12 years old.”
A boy had been run over by a bus because there were no proper barriers near a school. So the people protested. “We have never had a strike for political reasons,” she says.
Incidentally, the country has a population of only six lakh or, as Sophie says, “That is the same number of visitors that are expected to arrive for this year’s Biennale.” So, because of their small population, they can pass messages directly to their politicians. And there are swift responses from the powers-to-be.
“But having said this, in my travels, I have seen strikes in many parts of the world,” says Sophie. “It’s a part of life for many people, not only for Malayalis.”
(The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)