MY FRIEND, GAUR
Gauri Lankesh’s mother was keen to get her married since she had finished college. One day, she asked her to dress herself up. A prospective groom and his parents were coming home to “see” her. After the visitors arrived, Gauri showed up in the living room, with coconut oil dripping from her hair. “My mother was furious,” she recalled with delight. “But the boy and his parents fled from there!”
Gauri remained self-willed till the end.
Free spirited, affectionate and full of energy, Gauri won friends easily. A gracious host, who made her guests feel at ease within no time, she insisted on cooking a dish or two whenever she had a get-together at her house. She continued to do this even in recent times, when she was overworked and overcommitted to a point of great fatigue. Three weeks ago, when she had me over to meet Jignesh Mewani, the youth leader from Gujarat, she had sliced a large pineapple and made cheese-pineapple-cherry sticks.
Gauri’s interests ranged wide: journalism, politics, films, literature, plays. Her editorials in Lankesh Patrike, a weekly that declared itself as the paper for “the intelligent Kannada young men and women”, show her rich and varied sensibility (The weekly was renamed Gauri’s Lankesh in 2005).
Gauri frequently wrote on urgent political events in India and abroad: the Maharashtra government’s proposal to sell river Nira; the tragic deaths in Kandhamal in Orissa; the brutality of the Israeli state towards Palestinians; Tibetan resistance to China; and so on. Her political idealism and keenness for social justice were unwavering.
A curiosity about the potential of human action was ever present in Gauri. She admired a mainstream American politician, Al Gore, who made a scathing documentary on climate change. The photographer, Kevin Carter, who committed suicide after taking pictures of a dying Somalian child, also earned her regard. She applauded Fatima, an activist from a Somalian nomadic tribe, who stopped Saudi Arabia’s plans of clearing a forest to build a coal mine in her country.
Gauri’s essays on BV Karanth, the theatre legend, Ki. Ram Nagaraj, the beloved scholar of Kannada poetry, K Ramadas, a dear friend of her father’s and her well-wisher, UR Ananthamurthy and Tejasvi, the writers, and on Kalingaraya, an Amrutmahal Kaval bull she saw in Ajjampura, the famous cattle breeding station, and Chenni, her father’s dog, show her caring and loving side, which endeared her to people from various backgrounds.
During a six-month stay in the US, over two decades ago, Gauri translated Purnachandra Tejasvi’s novel, Jugari Cross, into English. Initially reluctant, – “My English isn’t good enough to tell the quality of your translation,” – Tejasvi liked her draft when he read it. She also translated Idries Shah’s Tales of the Dervishes into Kannada and a set of nineteen short stories from India and outside titled, Kappu Mallige (Black Jasmine).
Gauri’s writings on her ongoing struggles – in 2003 – to secure the shrine for Baba Budan, a Sufi saint, and a Hindu deity, Dattatreya, which both Muslims and Hindus revered, from being occupied by the Hindu right-wing, show her as activist newly arriving to the difficult world of politics. At bottom a social democrat, she became more and more settled as a political activist in subsequent years.
Passionate about secular ideals, Gauri, like her father, gave ample space for ideas affirming gender and caste equality, peaceful religious co-existence and the welfare of farmers and tribals. While her weekly asked readers to be sensitive to Naxal concerns, it never endorsed the Naxal boycott of elections, since she had faith in elections as a legitimate means of doing democracy. For her, non-violence was non-negotiable. She mediated the surrender, in fact, of nine Naxals last December.
Gauri fearlessly took on not merely the religious right, but every kind of vested interest: power-mongering heads of mathas, unscrupulous businessmen, corrupt officials, rapacious educational institutions. Those fighting a fair cause could find a ready ally in her. The mainstream media might have ignored them, but her weekly made space for them.
Over the years, Gauri’s work brought her close to hundreds of activists from Karnataka and outside, many of whom became personal friends with her. At a time when few Kannada writers actively participate in political discussions, she, a journalist, vigorously embraced that obligation. Even when one disagreed with her stance, or found it rigid at times, her selfless idealism and courage endeared herself to socially sensitive youth across the state.
When Gauri was assassinated . everyone realised how special she was.
(The author teaches at Azim Premji University)
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