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'My daughter Gauri was like my mother'

By Shobha Warrier
Last updated on: November 02, 2017 18:01 IST
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'Even now, I look at my phone at night looking for a message from her.'
'She hasn't done anything wrong; she fought against the bad, she fought for justice.'
'So, I know she will get justice one day.'

IMAGE: Gauri Lankesh, right, with her mother Indira, centre, and niece.

November 5 will mark two months since Gauri Lankesh was murdered outside her home. The murderers are yet to be identified and arrested.


When's Shobha Warrier spoke to her mother Indira Lankesh at her younger daughter Kavitha Lankesh's Bengaluru home, she broke down several times.

Indira Lankesh spoke for more than an hour, ending the conversation by saying, "I talk about her to all the newspapers, thinking something good would come out of it, and she will get justice."

Gauri, my first child, was far more mature for her age.

When she came to see Kavitha, my second child, in the hospital, she was just 3, but was not at all jealous of the newborn.

She was so understanding that she said, "Let Amma be with the new baby, I will sleep with my grandmother."

She was such a quiet child that I don't remember her ever fighting with her siblings.

She was 7 when Indrajit, my son, was born and she loved taking care of him as a big sister. Being the youngest, he was the pampered one at home, but that did not make her envious of her brother.

In school and college she had lots of friends and they used to come home regularly. She was not only friendly, but very kind to everybody. Though never a topper in class, she used to pass always with a first class.

By the time she was in college, Gauri had become quite vocal about the rights of women and spoke always for equality.

I could not believe the transformation; from a soft-spoken girl to a strong young woman fighting for equality, against caste discrimination and injustice.

When her maid respectfully accepted her salary, Gauri would ask her not to do so. 'You worked to earn the money, accept it as your right,' she would say.

She was instrumental in changing me, too. I used to address my husband (the late editor, writer, film-maker P Lankesh) as 'yajamaanaru' (master). She told me one day, 'He's not your yajamanaru and you are not his slave. Stop calling him that.'

After that, I addressed him as 'namma mane varu' (the man of my family).

Though she was close to her father, when we fought, she always supported me. She would tell her father, 'Amma works so hard in the shop and also takes care of the family. You should not say anything to Amma.'

More than a daughter, she took care of me and was always on my side.

Her father was an influential figure in her life, always recommending the kind of books to read.

He gave only books as presents, and not jewellery or dolls or dresses. He used to take the children to the book store on birthdays and ask them to buy as many books as they wanted.

That was how her love for books started. She was a voracious reader, more than her siblings.

When she was studying in Paris, her father had a stroke, but we hid the news from her as we knew she would get upset and fly back immediately.

When she called on his birthday, he had almost recovered and without thinking, he said, 'Now I am fine. You don't worry'. She got so alarmed and pestered me to know the truth. I had no other go, but to tell her what had happened.

Then she said, 'I am coming back right now.' I told her, 'This is precisely why we didn't inform you.'

IMAGE: Indira Lankesh.

In a way, it was my husband who inspired her to be fearless and straight forward. He was that kind of person, a person who was very brave.

He never accepted advertisements from anyone including politicians for his newspaper Lankesh Patrike. He did not want to be indebted to anyone.

Gauri followed the same path when she took over the paper after her father's death.

When my husband was working as an assistant professor of English at Bangalore University, he used to speak in public places about corruption and criticise the government in strong words.

When the university asked him for an explanation about his speeches as he was not supposed to talk like that as a government servant, he resigned and came home.

He had always been like that -- fearless and bold. Once he caught an MLA's son copying and did not let him write the exam. He didn't care whether anyone had any political connections or not; he only fought against injustice.

He started Lankesh Patrike in 1980 after he resigned his job at the university. People loved his paper, but the powers that be were scared. He used to attack the people in power without fear, and they were scared of him, unlike today.

Today, politicians have become so powerful that they silence those who attack them.

It was not that there were no threats then; there were, but it was not like what we witness today.

When she was in college she got close to Chidanand Rajghatta (the well-known journalist, currently The Times of India's US correspondent). I was against it as I wanted her to concentrate on her studies.

I came to know from my friends that despite my objections, she was still going out with him.

During that time, a young man known to us had come to see her. Maybe because of her relationship with Rajghatta, she came home that day after cutting her hair very short. She thought he would reject her if she had short hair.

I was so angry to see my daughter in short hair that I slapped her! Without uttering a word, she went inside.

She was a college girl and a very bold one, but she didn't say a word against me although I slapped her. She never did say a word against me. That was how my daughter was.

I told her to get married to Rajghatta and if they had no such plans, she should end the relationship. It was after my warning that they got married.

Anyway, the marriage did not work and they got divorced. But they were in touch as friends. Gauri remained single, but she loved children and adored her niece and nephews.

Gauri studied journalism in Bangalore and then moved to Delhi. From there, she got a scholarship to study in Paris for one year.

After she became a journalist, the father and daughter became even more close. She used to call from Delhi and discuss all her important assignments with her father.

Taking over Lankesh Patrike

My husband worked till the last moment of his life, I would say. He came home after getting the paper ready for the week on a Tuesday night and went to bed, but he didn't get up in the morning.

When he passed away, she was in Delhi, but was here to meet him a week earlier. She was very distraught to hear the news. Hhis death was a huge shock for all of us.

All those who worked for Lankesh Patrike wanted to know if the paper would continue. Both Gauri and Indrajit decided to jointly run the paper.

One thing Gauri felt quite bad about was her lack of knowledge of her mother tongue, Kannada. All my children are proficient in English and not Kannada. After she took over the paper, she learnt Kannada and started writing a lot too.

Unfortunately, differences cropped up between the sister and brother over the kind of stories they wanted to publish in the paper.

Unlike Indrajit, Gauri was very bold and like her father, she wanted to be aggressive in her approach to every issue which my son did not like. He preferred to have a moderate, soft, voice.

I tried my best to patch them up, but there were some people who took advantage of the situation and created a wedge between them. I could not do anything to bring them together and it was very upsetting for me.

The consolation was that they split only professionally and not as brother and sister.

While Indrajit held on to Lankesh Patrike, Gauri left and started Gauri Lankesh Patrike and followed her father's style of functioning.

One day she asked me to pen my memoir; my life with the well-known writer and journalist P Lankesh.

I am not a writer and I told her I didn't know to write. But she persuaded me, encouraged me to write whatever came to my mind, in the language that I think. She said she would polish it before publishing it.

He had titled his life story as Hulimavina Mara (The Sour Mango Tree), so I decided to write Mulimavu Mattu, Naanue (The Sour Mango Tree And Me).

The book starts with me getting married to him and it ends with him passing away. Gauri wanted me to be very honest while writing the book and true to myself.

I had a life that was full of ups and downs, both financial and personal.

From extreme happiness to sadness, I had felt all the emotions in my married life. My life changed after I came to know about my husband's affairs.

I used to love and respect him till then, but after that, love went out of our marriage. We respected each other till the end, but I lost the love I had for him.

When I sat down and went back in years, I experienced mixed feelings, happiness and also sadness. I cried many times writing what I went through.

Gauri knew everything that had happened in my life, but my son was young at that time. Only when he read what I wrote did he become aware of so many things. 'Only from your book did I come to know how much you struggled in life,' my son told me.

After serialising the story, Gauri published it as a book from which I read a few chapters at the Bangalore Lit Fest. I chose the chapters on my husband and Gauri.

It was only because of her that I wrote my life story, otherwise the idea would not have come to my mind.

If you ask me what my husband would have said if he had read my book, I think he would have said,'Mmeow!' That was what he always said if he wanted my attention.

IMAGE: Gauri with her niece.

As Gauri did not have a family or children, her life was her paper. She dedicated every moment of her life to her paper. I feel she would have behaved differently if she had children.

She was not only a journalist, but an activist too. It was the activist in her that made work closely with Naxalites.

She was against caste discrimination, Hindutva, beef politics, etc and was very vocal about her disapproval.

I was a bit upset about her involvement in these issues, but then I could not dissuade her.

Some of the issues she took up were so grave that even she knew something would happen to her; in fact, she had told me also that they would try to harm her.

When she used very strong words against someone or some political party, I would tell her to tone it down and be a little less aggressive.

I used to tell her constantly to be cautious as I was always worried about her safety.

On the 5th of September around 7.30 in the evening I got a call from Gauri's neighbour.

She said, 'Your daughter has fallen in front of the gate. Please come fast. I have already informed the police and called for an ambulance.' I thought she might have fainted due to fatigue.

Only my granddaughter Esha and myself were at home. Kavitha had gone to play badminton. While we were on our way, my brother called me and said, 'We see on TV that Gauri has been attacked.'

A week earlier, she had told me about some people lurking near her house, but then she also said it could be sex workers.

By the time we reached there, in 15 or 20 minutes, the place was crowded with the police, people and the media. The police didn't let us go in initially.

Then I saw the car near the gate with the headlights on... and there she was lying on the ground, face down, with her hands spread out...

I will never be able to erase that image of my daughter...

They took her body to the hospital, but everything was over by then.

She used to go home from work very late, by 10.30-11 at night. She would message me every night after she reached home as she knew I would be worried and not sleep till I got her message 'I am back home. I am fine, but I am tired.'

And if she was with her friends, she would message, 'They will leave me at my house. Don't worry.' Only after I got her message would I go to sleep.

Even now, I look at my phone at night looking for a message from her even though I know she is not there to send me any more messages.

Yes, there will not be any more messages from my daughter.

She hasn't done anything wrong; she fought against the bad, she fought for justice. So, I know she will get justice one day.

When I went to meet the chief minister, I told him, she never took any favours from anyone. Please see that she gets justice in death.

What hurt me was when so many people abused her in such foul language on social media after her death. I don't know why people have become so hateful these days. At the same time, there were many, many, unknown people talking and writing in support of her.

On the 12th of October, there was a public meeting and I was touched to see so many people coming with the badge, 'I am Gauri', to mourn her death. I also had the badge, 'I am Gauri'.

I named her after my mother whom I lost when I was two. My daughter was like a mother to me ... always supporting me, encouraging me, protecting me...

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