A few months into my first job as reporter in The Times of India, Bangalore, in the 1990s, Gauri joined the desk, on transfer from the Delhi office. “Hello, mari..” (that’s Kannada for pet, or little one) she said, and gold-flecked brown eyes twinkled with the promise of much mischief, great humor and the thrill of a million little rebellions.
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Gauri wasted no time in taking charge, and now I had two shoulders to cry on, which I did a lot of in those days, for the same reasons that most 23-year-olds need a shoulder to cry on that is not Mother’s. The other shoulder, of course was Bharathi Gowda, another colleague of mine.
In no time at all, Bharathi and I were raiding her lunchbox every Thursday, for delicious akki rotti and badnekai palya. It was with Gauri that I mustered the courage to dally briefly with non-vegetarian food, and there were dozens of lunches that comprised Schezwan fried rice and chicken in garlic sauce. “Baare… ko-ko-koli time!’.. she’d say. And we’d hotfoot it to Ginza up the road on Church Street.
Gauri was the Guru of Cool. Some of the cool things were cool because she did them… Watching her, I learnt to be cool and confident while ordering my own rum-laced Thums Up at the Press Club.
She picked me up to go to work, and waited for me to finish work to drop me home, because she had to pass my house every day. She did this through her old Bajaj scooter, and then the first Kinetic Honda, and then her little white Maruti car, we commuted to work together through every change of wheels of Gauri’s. When I finally acquired my own wheels, a Luna, and bravely ventured out to office on it one day, she was right behind me, at Richmond Circle, saying “Brave Girl!”
She once considered changing her name, just for fun. She didn’t want to be known as Lankesh’s daughter. She considered her choices. Palya was the village they came from. Her father was Palyada Lankesh. Palyada Gauri… Gauri of Palya… she mulled over it, but it wasn’t happening. “Gauri Palya!” she said, and immediately began giggling uncontrollably!
Gauri Palya (also known as Goripalya due to the crematorium in the area) is a locality off Mysore Road in Bangalore, notorious as the place where criminals, wannabe criminals and crooks hung out in its labyrinthine lanes and bylanes! She decided that notoriety that goes with being the daughter of P Lankesh was best, after all!
When she moved to join Sunday Magazine, I was devastated, though it was only two lanes away. I had been perfectly happy with a few tables away!
We are both from the generation of journalists who made the transition from the typewriter to the computer. We were all more connected and in touch with each other in a way that the Twitter generation can never be.
Yesterday, when Bharathi and I comforted each other over losing Gauri, I tried to remember when I had last spoken to Gauri, or visited her. It was at least eight years ago. Was it her office? Or at Press Club? I do not remember. But Bharathi and I agreed, it never mattered. We always picked up the conversation where we left off the last time.
We had caught up on Facebook. I read every post of hers. She probably read mine too. She often shared my posts like my little verse on beef ban. On Facebook, I avoid politics, and stick to humor, and share my blogs on nostalgia and the Ramayana. For Gauri, who took over the editorship of Lankesh Patrike, founded by her father, and could finally marry her journalism with her activism, Facebook became a political space.
Before she went from journalism to activism, I knew she leaned left. I was a novice at political reporting, and since I did not have any political leanings, it was easy to report with detachment. I have interviewed her father, P Lankesh a couple of times, and many politicians, writers and poets too. Everyone listened to each other, disagreed with each other, and no journalist was questioned or berated for what he or she wrote. There was infinitely much more reporting done in those times. Views-disguised-as-news were rare.
Today, social media seems to have blurred the lines of civil disagreement in all media, including journalism. Gauri had taken to donning the activist hat more than the journalist hat these past years. Her posts on Facebook were in line with her writing. She wrote much that I disagreed with. She annoyed, irritated and angered many, who because they did not know her personally, trolled her mercilessly, She let them all say their piece to her, and rarely blocked anyone for disagreeing with her.
Now I am trying hard to remember something, anything, that made Gauri angry. She was always smiling, and when she wasn’t, her eyes gave her away, She laughed a lot, teased her friends, and acquaintances. She in fact, spoke teasingly to everyone, taking liberties which no one grudged, because it was Gauri. In those days differences were acceptable because everyone was inclined to accept them, perhaps. One didn’t let one’s political leanings to show in one’s reporting. And that is why I can’t pinpoint exactly what made Gauri the journalist tick.
The activist Gauri, whom I have followed almost exclusively on Facebook, is much easier to understand. I see her posts, ranting and raging against all she believed is wrong with Hinduism . I do not agree with her on this, and my response to her posts has been to not respond at all. She probably has similarly completely ignored my little posts celebrating everything from Rama Navami to Ganesha Chathurthi to Navaratri and every other festival that I like to celebrate.
From Gauri’s FB posts, I understood she was being activist. I think she was an activist against extreme Hindutva. But I am unable to figure out what she stood for… Many things, perhaps. Like Dalit’s rights, Human Rights, Feminism. Communal Harmony. How was she going to use her activism for these rights? She was probably working it out. We will never know.
I do know this: Gauri never wavered in her steadfast defense of her belief. I followed her posts, infuriating, annoying, and often provocative. I laughed, and never confronted her, because, well, she was entitled to her opinion, and I didn’t have to be ashamed of mine.
Now we learn, not everyone, thinks this is a good way to settle an argument.. And so, Gauri has gone. To a place where the argument never ends, one hopes.