“I am one of the oldest writers of the magazine. But I have not been killed as yet,” says B Chandre Gowda, 62, with a puckish laugh. At the office-cum-newsroom of Gauri Lankesh Patrike in Basavangudi, Bengaluru, the weekly newspaper edited by slain journalist Gauri Lankesh, spirits are low but the fight is not over.
A large portrait of P Lankesh, Gauri’s father and a legendary Kannada writer, poet and journalist, dominates the room. A row of computers on the left is where the 16-page weekly is produced every Wednesday on the Pagemaker software by a small three-member team. Unlike other Thursdays, there is no new issue on the stands today.
Gauri was shot dead on Tuesday night at her home in Rajarajeshwarinagar. The editor’s cabin, with an antechamber that her colleagues say is stacked with at least a thousand books, has been sealed by police.
“This was a home for us, not really a formal newsroom with a definite hierarchy. Ma’am did not behave like a big editor. She gave us the freedom to work,” says Girish Talikette, 32, who joined the paper six years ago because he “wanted to learn from a committed journalist”. At the same time, she oversaw every little detail of the edition, from the edited copies to the layout to the headlines.
“‘Baba Daandale’ was her headline,” says Talikette, pointing to the latest cover story on the riots that broke out in Haryana after the conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan last month. Gauri Lankesh Patrike had reported a similar case in Karnataka when the seer of a mutt had been accused of raping a disciple for over three years. “The paper also reported the sustained moral policing on in coastal Karnataka and the land scams in urban Bengaluru,” says Shivasundar, a former colleague and writer for Gauri Lankesh Patrike.
On Page 2 of this issue is Gauri’s column, Kanda Hagey, which tears into the prevalence of fake news and cites instances of central ministers who gave such information new viral life.
Another page is given to a column, Boose Basiye, that has been running since the Narendra Modi government took office. “That translates into English as ‘bluffmaster’,” says its Mangalore-based writer Suresh Bhat Bhakrabail. “Gauri decided to call the column that,” he says. Now 72 years old, Bhakrabail says that like Gauri, all those who oppose the politics of Hindutva groups, are under threat. “I know what can happen to me, but I do not care,” he says.
Gauri Lankesh Patrike was formed in 2005 after Gauri and her brother, Indrajit, parted ways over the future of Lankesh Patrike, the tabloid they inherited from their father, after his death in 2000. “When she returned to Bengaluru, after a decade-long career in English media, she did not know Kannada very well. But, within a year, she was not only writing but thinking in Kannada,” says Shivasundar. The newspaper tapped into a pool of district correspondents and writers for its content. “Because we are a small newspaper, Ma’am would only choose stories which had a high social impact,” says Talikette.
“She was a frail person to look at. But a very strong woman, despite her 17 cigarettes a day,” says Gowda, 62, from Shivamoga. He writes a regular humorous column on politics, seen through the eyes of archetypal rural characters — from the oldest man in the village to the village drunk. He remembers her as a “very serious reader”. “She finished S L Bhyrappa’s novel Uttara Kannada in one night before reviewing it,” says Gowda. “That is the only Bhyrappa novel the Sangh Parivar activists hate — he was a RSS worker once — because it has Sita as its central character, and not Ram. Gauri loved it,” he says.
What lies ahead for this band of journalists? “That is a big question. We have to meet the family and then decide. There is a consensus that the paper should continue, but we have to see who takes over,” says Shivasundar. The one certainty is about the next issue. “It will be dedicated to Gauri Lankesh. And it will come out on time with a large nationwide rally in Bengaluru on September 12 to demand justice for her,” he says.