The first time I met Gauri Lankesh was through her father, the famous writer and editor P. Lankesh, who was incidentally from my home town, Shivamogga. In the three decades since, she had come out of her father’s shadow and become a noted journalist and activist.
It was only when she was establishing her father’s paper that we interacted often. But it was in 2004, when I was a reporter in Hassan district, that I saw Gauri Lankesh, the journalist, in action.
A handful of us were taken deep into the Western Ghats to interview Saketh Rajan, who was leading the Maoist movement in south India. It was an arduous journey, but despite her small frame Lankesh recorded every little detail.
When we met Rajan, Lankesh wanted to know why the movement would take up arms against the state. Her questions were incisive, critical, and fearless. When we left at night, anxious and exhausted, she asked me to sing a song from her father’s film ( Ellindalo Bandavaru, which centred around the struggles of a labourer). It made her emotional.
A year later, I saw Lankesh, the indefatigable activist. This was at the height of controversy over the Sufi shrine at Baba Budangiri. Many groups had started a campaign to “restore” it as a temple. The police was present in full force, ready to arrest Lankesh and other activists who had publicly called for protests against the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh Parivar.
Lankesh managed to sneak into the district, but was eventually arrested. I met her in jail, where she was kept for a day. It was a chilly morning and she was unwell. I offered her a coat and left to cover the scenes of protest at the shrine. Though disappointed that she missed out on the protests, Lankesh never used her status as a “journalist” for her activism. For her, the two worlds could be separate.
Over the last few years, both of us made Bengaluru our base and we kept in touch about Kannada literature, films, and politics. I often disagreed with Lankesh, but we argued because we felt the other could be convinced. Sometimes, she would relent and change sides if the other person was convincing enough.
Our last, long conversation was earlier this year, when she wanted to know my opinion on Uttara Kanda , Kannada writer S.L. Bhyrappa’s latest book.
I was surprised that she liked it; she had been one of his most bitter critics. I had problems with the narrative, but she felt that the writer had finally inculcated feminist views on Sita. We argued, and finally decided that it was best if we agreed to disagree.