Lankesh, Gauri and their world of alternative journalism

Lankesh, Gauri and their world of alternative journalism
January 26, 2000. Prof K. Ramdas, the well-known rationalist, was among the many who attended Lankesh’s funeral. He described Lankesh Patrike as a unique social movement in the history of Karnataka, and lamented the time had come to give it a burial with its mentor.

I was part of Lankesh’s team then. If Lankesh Patrike was a movement, I argued, it had to be kept alive through collective effort. Gauri was nowhere in the picture. I expected Ravindra Reshme or T K Tyagaraj, fearless reporters who had taken on corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, to step into Lankesh’s shoes. Gauri had not written anything in her father’s paper till then, and was a novice to Kannada journalism. Yet, within a few minutes of the staff meeting that week, Gauri had become editor.

Not a good choice, I thought like many others. Yet, as a Lohiaite, I supported her for ideological reasons. Lankesh had instilled in me a pro-Dalit, pro-Muslim, pro-women attitude. I still remember the Sunday Gauri wrote and rewrote her first editorial note. It was an issue to pay tribute to Lankesh. Articles, poems, letters were pouring in. When the issue came out, it sold well. The movement was alive and the paper’s well-wishers were relieved.

I had been a staunch ‘Lankeshite’ since my college days. Lankesh Patrike had introduced a new idiom to Kannada journalism. For those tired of the impersonal, dull style of the dailies, here was an eight-page tabloid for 60 paise. No ads. No space-filling stories. From politics to cinema, everything was covered in a lively style. The headlines were fresh and unpredictable. We read it again and again till the next issue came out!

For my friends in theatre, journalism and literature, Lankesh Patrike was an addiction. We learnt about political analysis, book reviewing, column writing, and reporting through the paper. When some of us started writing, the influence was apparent. The tabloid shaped the sensibility of at least two generations and taught them to think and be anti-establishment. For two decades, Lankesh Patrike was a true university for me as a reader and later contributor and a columnist.

Three months after Gauri took over, I got a call from the paper. I was told my column would be stopped. I said, ‘Fine!’ I stopped following the paper, but was aware Gauri continued the anti-establishment positions of her father. Gauri did not have her father’s finesse or creative genius. She had to discover her own strengths. She became an activist. She became a product of the times, when the progressive forces of Karnataka were trying to come together. After launching her own weekly, she was in search of a distinct identity and hence became a willing voice of several activist forums. She made brief, matter-of-fact and hard-hitting speeches.  She was clearly anti-RSS, anti-BJP and pro-minorities.

By then tabloid journalism in Karnataka was in a crisis, with 24x7 news channels becoming more tabloid than tabloids. Gauri had inherited a paper without ads, and had to continue to run it that way. After some years, she started a magazine for those taking competitive exams to cross-subsidise Gauri Lankesh Patrike. The new magazine, coupled with the sale of her father’s books, helped her keep Gauri Lankesh Patrike going.

Lankesh had also seen many ups and downs. But he had a network of faithful news agents who were his admirers. Though leading Kannada writers were hurt by his acid comments, younger writers would avidly follow him. When he criticised the leaders of the Dalit and the farmers’ movements, they would stop reading Lankesh Patrike, but would still be curious about Lankesh’s take on some crisis.  This was true of politicians too. Even the BJP leaders stung by him felt they were educated by his criticism. Lankesh would say, ‘As long as I am around, the BJP can’t come to power in Karnataka.’ And he was proved right.

Gauri shared most of her father’s concerns except Lankesh’s rediscovery of Gandhi which made his writing introspective and meditative. He was truly progressive but would never spout the movement’s jargon. It is unfair to expect all of this from his daughter, who grew up in a different atmosphere. But she fought. and bravely. Gauri had to jump into the fray, and fought with conviction.

But the Karnataka of her father’s time had changed. The obscene letters he used to get had turned into vicious social media posts. Perhaps Gauri believed Karnataka still had a democratic space where the criticism would be met with criticism, and not violence. But she was too visible and became the target of a larger conspiracy. The ploy is to shoot one and silence thousands. But history tells us not everyone can be silenced for ever.

The author is a well-known Kannada writer and culture critic.

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