Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Goodbye Brave Gauri

I was sitting at my computer and writing an article – was not on the net and don’t watch news television – when my mother called. “Didn’t you have a friend called Gauri Lankesh?” “Yes,” I said, “but I haven’t been in touch since. . .” My mother cut me short: “She’s been shot dead in Bangalore.”
As I got on to Facebook and Twitter and switched on the television, numbed, so many memories came to life.
Perhaps the most poignant one was a practical joke Gauri played, which backfired badly.  It was the first memory of Gauri that popped into my mind as I grappled with the news.
This was in the mid or late nineties. After some years in Times of India, Delhi, where we were colleagues, Gauri had moved to Bangalore office. She, me and Kalpana Jain used to exchange letters over the office air bag. Gauri’s Hindi was a joke and once she wrote a letter to us – Hindi in English script. Kalpana and me responded with English in Hindi script.
Some days later, I was on night shift when I got a call from office saying news has come that Gauri has died of a heart attack. If I remember right, there was then a call saying this was a practical joke (or perhaps I learnt about it when I reached office).
This is what had happened. Gauri, the brat that she always was, had sent a message over the office telex machine addressed to Kalpana and me, saying “this is to inform the sad demise of Gauri Lankesh. She died after receiving a letter in Hindi. . ..”
The teleprinter operator had handed it to Kalpana, who was on the afternoon shift. She read the first sentence and, shaken, didn’t read beyond it and handed it to the news editor. He too did not read beyond the first line. Apparently the editor was informed, a short meeting was called, condolences offered. Then one of the senior editors – either editor Dileep Padgaonkar or resident editor Ajay Kumar - called the resident editor of the Bangalore office to get some details. He was taken aback saying she’s right here hale and hearty! Gauri had to face some disciplinary action for that (since the office telex had been used) but she bounced back.
Oh, how I wish this news too was just a practical joke. Unfortunately , it is all too real.
Gauri was spunky. In those days in Times House, women journalists who did smoke would not do so in the large hall on the second floor where journalists of Economic Times, Times of India and Navbharat Times sat. They would go to the women’s loo and smoke. So did Gauri initially, seeing the others. It used to irritate me and I used to tell them to smoke openly in the hall like the men did. One journalist said she couldn’t because her father (also a journalist) would come to know. Another had some other feeble excuse. But Gauri decided to go ahead. One night shift, after the dak edition andas we were preparing for the city edition, she lit up. The peons were aghast. But the unwritten rule had been broken.
So many times I have rested at her home in Defence Colony when I was out on meetings for an article I was writing and had to report to for night shift on the desk. My first haircut went horribly wrong and it was Gauri who took me to another and told him what to do. I continued with him for nearly 10 years.
Like I said earlier, I hadn’t been in touch with her for ages – just the normal drifting apart that used to happen in those days when there were no cellphones or email or Facebook. I used to keep hearing news of her and reading about her. The last time I had a serious discussion about her was when she lost the defamation case. When I read about details, I felt she had been on weak ground on that and had talked to a former boss and another journalist about it.
I doubt whether Gauri and I could have bonded like we used to very much if we had met recently, given our political leanings. That would have come up after the initial pleasantries. But she did not, absolutely did not, deserve to be shot dead.
Goodbye brave Gauri.

1 comment:

geeta sahai said...

Very touching piece. May her soul RIP.