Book extract: My daughter Gauri

I delivered the baby at 6.55 a.m. on 29 January. It was a girl and she weighed nine pounds. I thought I had never before seen a child as beautiful as her. All the pain I had suffered disappeared from my memory the minute I saw her face. I was shifted to a special ward which was free of charge because Lankesh worked in a government college then. When he came to see her, Chennammajji wrapped the child tight in a cloth and handed her to him. He sat there looking at her for long. I can never forget the joy that I saw in his eyes that day.

He brought frocks, jubbas and other clothes for her from a shop and wanted them put on the child. “We can’t put new clothes on a newborn. It has to be old clothes worn by another child,” said my ajji Chennamma. But he wouldn’t listen to all that. “Do put these on. I want to see my daughter in these,” he pressed. Left with no choice, Chennammajji put the new clothes first on a cow which was wandering on the hospital premises and then on my daughter.

I was in the hospital for a week. Lankesh would come every morning and evening and sit there with his daughter on his lap, gazing at her. it for his daughter, complete with a bed and a pillow. All my children passed through the same cradle.

We named her Gauri. That was my mother’s name. I returned to our home in Shivamogga after two-and-a-half months… Lankesh had bought a new, green cradle and readied it for his daughter, complete with a bed and a pillow. All my children passed through the same cradle.

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One day, Gauri had eaten pani puri near South End Circle on her way home. That night she had a very high fever. Her body burnt like embers. She began to talk gibberish and we could not understand anything of what she was saying. We realized it was no ordinary fever and took her to one Pandu Nursing Home around 11 at night.

Gauri was unconscious by then. She would wake up every now and then and talk gibberish. “You have not raised your daughter the right way. I will check her later,” said the doctor and left. He didn’t come back even as it neared midnight. When we asked the nurses, they said the doctor would be back only the next morning.

Lankesh was furious. He picked up Gauri and got ready to leave. “You cannot take the patient without the doctor’s permission,” said the nurse, trying to stop him. “I will break every glass in your hospital. Here is our child suffering with high fever and your doctor says we have not raised our daughter right. I will deal with you later,” he said.

We took Gauri in an auto to Martha’s Hospital. It was raining heavily. By then Lankesh had called Marulasiddappa and he too arrived. Gauging her condition, the doctors there immediately admitted her.

Gauri was diagnosed with brain fever and they started her treatment. The doctors said they would need to take a sample of her spinal fluid. Gauri had no consciousness of where she was or what was happening to her, but she kept screaming, kept trying to escape from whoever tried to hold her. It was only after four people held her tight that they could extract the spinal fluid with a syringe.

After a thorough examination the doctors said, “Your daughter needs to gain consciousness within forty-two hours. If not we cannot guarantee her survival. Even if she does survive, she might be blind for life.” We were both shell-shocked. My daughter’s eyes are as beautiful as her father’s. I used to boast that Hema Malini’s eyes were no match for my daughter’s.

The difficult days had begun. My mind had gone blank. I sat there staring at her. I would look at the watch every five minutes and hope she regained consciousness soon. Gauri lay there unconscious, without any sign of movement. About thirty-six hours later there was some movement in her limbs but her eyes remained shut. It was thirty-eight hours after she lost consciousness that she finally opened her eyes.

The life that seemed to have left my body returned. She could see. But she was extremely weak in her limbs and could not even stand. She fell down every time we tried to prop her up. She was kept in the ICU for a few days.

Those days Lankesh’s student Hariharapriya used to drop by at our house regularly. We took turns to sit with Gauri at the hospital.

They shifted Gauri to the ward after a few days, but it took a long time for her to recover. She would certainly not have survived if we had not taken her to Martha’s that day.

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When Gauri was in Pre-University College my friend Rani told me that she was going around with some boy. The boy who was senior to Gauri by two years in college was Chidanand Rajghatta. Gauri had introduced me to him once when he had come to Ganesh Bakery in Gandhi Bazaar. He was tall, dark and lean. I was surprised how my daughter, who was dainty like a peacock, could like this boy who looked like a crow pheasant.

What’s more, they were still so young, both at an age when they should be studying hard. I told Lankesh about him. “Call the boy home, I will talk to him,” he said. When he came home, Lankesh advised him that education ought to take priority at this point in his life. He listened quietly and left. Gauri promised to pay attention to her studies and not meet him any more. I went quiet after that. A year later she was caught by the same Rani when she bunked classes and went to watch a film with Chidanand.

Meanwhile, there were two marriage proposals for Gauri from doctors. Both families were known to us. One of them in fact came home without any warning. Gauri locked herself up in her room and never came out. A few days later she went to a beauty parlor and cut her waist-length hair into a bob. Her logic was that the boy’s family, who were conservative, would not want a girl with short hair. And she was right. My brother Shivu, who was shocked by her new avatar, gave her two slaps. She just kept silent.

The other doctor had won a gold medal. He too came with his father once to our house. Gauri was so furious that she sat in front of them in the same old clothes she wore at home.
The boy was short and had a small paunch. He wrote two letters after going back asking what the girl had decided.

“I don’t want to get married. I want to study,” she said stubbornly. Lankesh was then busy shooting for his film Ellindalo Bandavaru and did not bother much about all this. He just wrote her a letter from the shooting location advising her to conduct herself in a way that wouldn’t hurt her mother.

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We were still in our Gandhi Bazar house when Gauri finished her Pre-University course at National College and joined up for BA Honors in Journalism, just then started at Bangalore University. By now Chidanand Rajghatta had completed his degree and joined a postgraduate course. Their friendship had continued. Convinced that Gauri and Chidu couldn’t do without each other, I had decided to keep quiet. Chidu was close to my husband. Lankesh, Ajith and Chidu spent days in front of the black-and-white television when there was a tennis or a cricket test match.

Gauri went alone to Delhi for her post-graduation in journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. It was the first time that a child from our home was going so far away, all alone. I was naturally in tears as we saw her off to her train at the Bengaluru station. Lankesh was also anxious. He who wouldn’t worry much about her when she was at home, started paying close attention to the weather in Delhi while watching the news. He didn’t want her to suffer the bitter cold or the severe heat of Delhi.

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Returning to Bengaluru a year later after finishing her course in Delhi, Gauri joined the Times of India as a reporter. By then Chidu had also started earning a good name. “Enough of you two going around like this. You get married or stop being seen together,” I insisted. Now that my daughter had finished studying, I was confident she could manage and stand on her own feet.

One day when Lankesh had taken us all out to a restaurant on M.G. Road, Gauri declared, “Chidu and I are getting married next month. We have registered our names at the registrar’s office.” “What sort of a marriage is that?!” I asked. But Lankesh appeared very happy that she had decided to marry in a simple manner without any rituals. He beamed with pride when she said, “My marriage will cost fifteen rupees and fifty paise.” He too believed in such simple weddings and encouraged them.

After returning from office one day Gauri informed us, “We are getting married tomorrow morning at 11.” Since her father was not yet home, she called and told him.

Next morning, after opening my sari shop I asked Shantha to take over and left with Lankesh for the registrar’s office. Chidu and Gauri were already there. Soon after, his father Dr Rajanna and mother Uma also arrived. Neither of them was for this civil marriage. They were particularly anxious because Chidu, unlike our daughter, had not informed them earlier and had broken the news only that morning.

After we came out of the registrar’s office, his mother Uma said firmly, “What sort of a marriage is this?! We have to have a traditional wedding and invite our relatives and friends.” Gauri would not agree. “The boy’s parents get the girl’s parents to spend a lot in the name of tradition. I don’t want all that. My Appa and Amma have educated me, that is enough,” she said. Lankesh was standing there quietly smoking.

I finally tried to pacify her. “Let us have a simple ceremony at our house and invite 20–25 people from both sides.” Lankesh too agreed because it sounded simple enough. Gauri had no choice now.

About four or five days after that we arranged a small function at home. I finished all the preparations in a hurry. Appayya, Shivu and Vimala came from Shivamogga. Lankesh’s brother Shivarudrappa and his children came. About fifty people came from Chidu’s side. But Chidu and Gauri invited none of their friends and continued their rebellion against a traditional wedding! My brother Shivu performed the dhare ritual of giving away the girl in marriage.

Lankesh watched it all from his study as the marriage rites went on in our dining hall. Someone called out to him, “Come, put akshate on the couple’s head and bless them.” He said, “No need for any of that. My blessings are always with my daughter anyway,” he said. But when everyone insisted he did come downstairs and bless the couple.

Translated by Bageshree S.

Extract taken from The Way I See It : A Gauri Lankesh Reader,  edited by Chandan Gowda, a faculty member at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. Used with permission from DC Books and Navayana Publishing Pvt Ltd who first published the book in November 2017.

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Book extract: My daughter Gauri

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