“Hello, Koyal. Do you remember me?” Standing among a gathering of mourners, I turned back to find out who was addressing me. It was her.
“Of course, I do, Gauri.” We shook hands and remarked about us meeting in an unfortunate circumstance: At the cremation of E Raghavan, our former colleague (he was also my former boss). Both of us grief-stricken, we didn’t converse much.
That brief meeting, five and a half years ago, was our last. Years before, we had waved at each other at an interaction I had attended with her filmmaker sister Kavita.
It was in the late 1980s that Gauri Lankesh came to the Times of India office I worked in. It was her second stint there, a former colleague informed me. She, one of the daughters of the legendary P Lankesh, had been transferred to Bangalore from the Delhi office.
How could she wangle a transfer, something unheard of, conspiratorial minds in the office thought. “She must be close to the management,” some suggested. “Is she senior to me? Will I have to work under her?” other twenty-somethings wondered.
Before long, Gauri dispelled all our doubts and theories. Flitting from desk to desk, she spoke to everybody, making an acquaintance with even people not connected to her work. Ever chirpy, she could bring a smile on the face of the most surly chief of the News Desk – not a mean achievement.
During her second stint, she was assigned to Desk work. Sometimes she would be on the morning shift – which began at 9am – with me as the desk head. We were contrasts: She the lively one, playing truant regularly for a chai or a smoke; and me the diligent-looking guy with the pretension of being a chief sub-editor.
Another former colleague, shocked at her murder, wrote to me: “She was feisty, had a spark, was fun-loving and sort of laidback, quite different from the political activist she later became.” That was the Gauri even I knew.
Beneath the flippant persona was a youth who was bothered about how women were viewed and treated. The feminist in Gauramma, as her friends addressed her, perhaps wondered why women could not do things that men could. She never told me this, but I could sense it.
“She spoke her mind and was bold,” our ex-colleague wrote to me.
The woman with a piercing look knew some stark realities of our society. Few people in their twenties do.