Celebrating hartal – the Kerala way

There is nothing else that we in Kerala celebrate more than the frequent hartal or strike. As a state, in addition to the regular festivals and holidays, we are lucky to be blessed with these total lockouts. This means that whenever there is a dearth in the regular holidays, and the office goers and school students want a break, the one organisation or the other calls for a hartal. It is not necessarily political parties. Even the traders union, bus workers union, bus owners union, teachers, government staff, you name it and you get it. One of them always takes turns to call it a break.

We in Kerala have a special way of celebrating hartal. By accident or by intention, hartals mostly happen on a Friday or Monday. Happy citizens do get a long weekend. And whoever makes the call makes sure that they give enough time for all to plan what to do on a these days.

A view of Kannur Fort Road on the first day of the strike. All empty and desolate.

So you get two days notice, plan a trip to Mysore or Goa, have a nice break and come back when the hartal call is over and all is settled, and happily back to office. Those who don’t make it to trips can shop their favourite whiskey from the nearest Beverage Corporation, buy chicken and beef, and have a jolly day the next day. My guess is that the happiest people in Kerala after a hartal is called would be the Government and Chicken sellers. They laugh their way all the way to the bank. Big sales happen.

This time the celebrations due were really big. It was for two full days. 48 hours. Looking around, I could see the whole world preparing like there was no tomorrow. Surely, this was bound to happen when the unexpected vacation is extended to two days.

The markets were jam packed like it was doomsday coming and people were stocking rations. Guess what, the price of bananas rose from thirty something to fifty odd in no time. There are people who really know how to identify jackpots. Within a jiffy, I could find the stock of vegetables go missing from the shelves.  I had a tough time, trying to buy a dozen eggs. All I could manage in the end were eight of them, that too after queuing up in front of three shops.

Then, the petrol bunks there was rush like it usually happens every fortnight when fuel prices are hiked. Bikes and cars were jostling for space. I really couldn’t make out the logic but. See, it’s a strike, and especially in Kerala you will not be allowed to take your vehicles out and roam, then why the hustle-bustle at the petrol pump? Maybe, another doomsday effect.

The treat to the eyes was the biggest ever queues I had got to see in from of the Beverages Corporation. The line up extended all the way from the outlet at the first floor of a building, down across the parking lot, into the footpath on the road. Nowhere else in the world would you be able to see this sight of such a disciplined crowd in a line waiting patiently for their turn. As somebody said, people in Kerala wait patiently in lines only for two purposes; one is to buy liquor and the other to take passports.

I had a tough choice. Dies non was declared. Being a public servant had to be in office on those days. And I took off from home on my bike, early on the first day of strike, before those who would be out there to protest on the roads could wake up. In office, there was nothing much to do. We come to office, but don’t expect any public to be there. Most of them who were supposed to be there would sound asleep at their home even after the sun rises over their asses (Well, that’s a new term for the non-malayalee. For those from Kerala, just translate that to Malayalam).

Since there was nothing much to do, and nothing much expected to come our way other than trouble if we sat in office for too long, got the green signal from big boss to leave. But what to do on such a day when you are not at home and call all the way to office and now you have to travel all the way back home expecting some bloody communist to block your way and let off the air from your tyres?

So I decided, to go off for some nature photography. I took off to Azhikode Beach, and as expected few steps into the drive and commies were out there on the road with the blockade. Surprisingly, this time around, there were no youths involved. Don’t know, suddenly have the DYFI foot soldiers lost some shine?

The guy who blocked me was a seventy something malnourished soul, along with a few of his friends of the same age. He hardly weighed fifty odd kilograms, but was drunk to the brim.

He popped a question – “Don’t you read papers?”

I was like – “Do I look like a guy who does not read papers? You look like one!” But no, I replied decently – “Yes”

“Don’t you know today’s a strike?”

Again, me in affirmative – “Yes”

“What do you fill in this?” – He asked pointing to my bike’s fuel tank. “Petrol tannae alle?”

“Yes” was my standard reply to all his questions.

Then he gave me a study class for five minutes, like the ones that is usually taught in the study classes of local communist branch meetings, of anti-globalisation, price hike, all those stuff, I was sick with enlightenment after some time. Don’t know why, but I seemed to be an ignorant fool to him, who was roaming around on a hartal day looking to take photographs of landscapes, who do not read papers, and had no idea why the price of petrol was rising.

I had nothing more to say except “I understood everything comrade. I’m going back home now. Lal salaam

The last word impressed him. “Nee communist aa allae” was his reply. (for those who did not make out what it is, he asked me if I was a communist)

God! I did not have time to start another discussion. I turned my bike as quick as I could, bid him good bye and reached home in no time.

The next day again, I reached office, quite early, before oldies like this guy could wake up and block out again. Done with sundry work like last day, I was back to home in a jiffy, without planning any extra-curricular activities. No, not because I was scared of somebody stopping me again, but cannot stand the sight and sound of a party class once more.

As I write, the 48 hours is about to end, just another two more hours to go. Tomorrow is a Friday and I have to be back in office as normal, to take the huge load that would have piled up over the last two days. And thank God it’s Friday. I can go back to rest in the weekend. God bless God’s own country. Work Monday, Tuesday, Off on Wednesday, Thursday, and Work Friday and again off for Saturday and Sunday! It’s just three days work in a seven day week. Long live Das Capital!!!

Now, what next? Wait for the next hartal, and am sure it won’t be a long wait, as long as I am in Kerala. And hope next time it’s either on a Friday or Monday, so that I don’t have to work in between holidays.

Circumstances do make men lazy!!!

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