Gauri Lankesh: A friend who challenged me to conquer my fears | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Gauri Lankesh: A friend who challenged me to conquer my fears

In the 21st century, Gauri emerged as the dependable crusader who stood up to be counted even when no one showed up. From the pictures and posts I see of her surrounded by the much-maligned JNU students, I knew she had not given up her mentorship mantle.

opinion Updated: Sep 07, 2017 17:02 IST
Family members mourn the death of journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead in Bengaluru on Tuesday. Lankesh was the editor of a weekly Kannada magazine.
Family members mourn the death of journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead in Bengaluru on Tuesday. Lankesh was the editor of a weekly Kannada magazine. (PTI)

‘What are you afraid off?’ Gauri had challenged me. As a trainee sub-editor on desk of ‘The Times of India’ in late-1980s, Gauri Lankesh had decided I was worthy of her mentorship and guidance as she prodded me explore reporting on the big bad city. She gave me and other trainees tips and suggestions on story writing while interrogating us to think of new angles to stories.

In those days, Gauri was hardly the radical journalist that distinguished her in last few years. Always the quintessential liberal, Gauri was a combination of a liberal feminist, music lover and counsellor to those who’d visit her in an idyllic Def Col barsati which she shared with her then spouse, which was later immortalised in several Farooq Shaikh movies. The barsati was the hub of our social lives and scores of colleagues, writers and moviemakers coming and going at all hours.

You could listen to rock music, borrow the latest books, party hard, have cook outs and, if it was your want, discuss politics as well. In the midst of these chats she could quickly and without fuss produce the most delicious curd rice one had tasted. Many of us honed our social and journalistic skills hanging out with Gauri and her husband.

Fascinating stories of Lankesh Patrike, the journal her illustrious father, P Lankesh ran, intrigued a few of us. “Was it really possible? Could one run a journal/magazine on subscription alone?” What an utterly utopian idea. No wonder she chose to return to Bengaluru disillusioned with national/mainstream media and run the journal.

At this juncture, I had lost active contact with Gauri but kept up with her activities through the civil liberties circles. Her fierce beliefs led her to many scraps not only with authority figures but with her brother who is said to have wrested control of the journal from her. They reportedly later reconciled.

In the 21st century, Gauri emerged as the dependable crusader who stood up to be counted even when no one showed up. From the pictures and posts I see of her surrounded by the much-maligned JNU students, I knew she had not given up her mentorship mantle.

In November 2016 Gauri was held guilty of defamation by a judicial magistrate in Hubbali, Karnataka, fined and sentenced for six-month sentence, but received bail the same day. She was least unconcerned about the case, but surprised how it was being used by some in BJP to scare off journalists. Her concern was for press freedom in the country. Selective and precision targeting of critics of the ruling ideology is what kept driving her.

Only yesterday she was on social media trying to exhort liberal and progressive friends to come together and bury their differences to fight the bigger battle.

Many writers have perceived a trend and likened her assassination to other thinkers like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi who criticised hardline Hindutva. To me she remains my friend who, in her death, has once again challenged me to conquer my fears. Hope I can be as brave as you, my friend.

Damandeep Singh is director, Carbon Disclosure Project, India

The views expressed are personal