For the love
On his 71st birth
anniversary, legendary journalist Lankesh came alive as thousands gathered
to resurrect his anti-establishment legacy. M. Radhika
reports from Bangalore
Editor. Writer. Filmmaker.
Playwright. Satirist. Poet. Teacher. Rebel. On his 71st birth anniversary,
the great legacy of anti-establishment journalist Lankesh lives on in
Karnataka with his daughters and wife holding the flag of creative resistance
Father, Like Daughter: Gauri Lankesh, editor, Lankesh,
with her father as backdrop
The smiling thinker stared teasingly from a huge picture above
the dais, while his peers delivered speeches about him. He mock-smiled
with the same ease from another picture outside the hall, while his fans
savoured the books written by him. That mock-smile characterised
his dare devilry in writing, style and sarcasm — courage that drove
his followers to the hall for his birth anniversary, organised by his
family on March 8, 2006: Lankesh — 71.
If alive, he would have added a few more feathers to his pen. Not cap.
He detested tiaras of pride. That was P. Lankesh — loved and loathed
by people for his pen that spared none. For two decades since 1979 when
he started his tabloid, Lankesh’s fiery writing satiated the Kannada
tabloid reader’s appetite with wit and wanton. He lived and wrote
dangerously. Picking on politicians, something people wanted, not sparing
celebrities, decrying cocky litterateurs, stripping the ill-deeds of the
corrupt, Lankesh built a brand name for himself and wrote non-stop till
his death in 2000.
For the hundreds who thronged Bangalore’s Ravindra Kalakshetra on
March 8, Lankesh remained the symbol of an irreverent critique —
he lashed out through the legendary newspaper Lankesh Patrike, his ire-platform,
at his numerous establishmentarian enemies. Lankesh took up the cause
of the oppressed and minorities. He was the doyen who dared to go to war
against corruption and communalism.
Lankesh, the master, had an eye for young talent and nurtured them. Many
established names in writing owe it to him for their first success in
journalism and literature.
The audience loved it when his peer and protégé Professor
K. Ramdas hit out at communal politicians with the same gusto that evening,
while spoofing a “soulless society that does not protest when Bush’s
sniffer dog does a security-check on Gandhiji’s samadhi”.
Professor Keshava Murthy, another Lankesh contemporary, lamented that
his “path and vision are not debated as much. The minute you think
of Lankesh, you think of revenge through writing, politics and controversial
views, not just writing’’. The speakers regretted the lack
of passion and inner conflict among contemporary writers. Their urgent
plea — Lankesh has to live on.
It was not the staff
of Lankesh Patrike, the tabloid he started in 1979 after the Emergency,
that organised the event. His daughters — journalist and editor
of Lankesh, Gauri Lankesh, filmmaker Kavitha Lankesh, and his wife, Indira
Lankesh, organised the evening, to keep the torch burning. A ‘legacy’
gesture by Kavitha Lankesh who inherits her father’s film-making
streak, is an award for a debutant filmmaker every year. This year, Bengali
director Suman Mukherjee bagged it for his film Herbert. Back in Kolkata,
Mukherjee ran into trouble as he was not allowed to release his film.
“They felt it was anti-establishment,’’ he said.
Following her ouster
by her brother, Gauri Lankesh launched a new paper. In four weeks
flat, she brought out the first edition of ‘Lankesh’
and kept her father’s spirit alive
As for Gauri Lankesh, who took over her father’s journalistic reins,
she was Lankesh Patrike’s editor till a year ago. But she was sacked
in a coup of sorts by her brother Indrajit Lankesh — she was branded
as a Naxalite sympathiser.
When Saketh Rajan, journalist, academic and a Naxal leader and his associate
were gunned down by the Karnataka police last year, Gauri’s Citizen’s
Initiative for Peace (CIP), which was till then brokering peace talks
between the government and Naxals, fought to get Saketh’s body —
they wanted it to be handed over to his mother. She made a public issue
of many alleged fake encounters. Soon after, Naxalites from Andhra Pradesh
avenged Saketh’s killing by shooting dead eight policemen at Pavagada
on the Karnataka-AP border.
Inviting the establishment’s wrath is not new to Gauri. She was
jailed during the SM Krishna regime for protesting against the Sangh Parivar’s
attempts to communalise Bababudangiri, a sufi shrine in the Western Ghats.
Along with Girish Karnad, UR Ananthamurthy and several other eminent persons,
she led the campaign against this vicious vhp campaign, especially after
the Gujarat carnage had shocked the nation.
However, the backlash following the Pavagada attack was intense. Indrajit
Lankesh accused Gauri of many things and even filed a police complaint.
Following her ouster by her brother who is not exactly a committed, adversarial
journalist vis-à-vis the establishment, a gritty Gauri Lankesh
launched a new paper, with support from Lankesh seniors, many friends,
her mother and her sister. In four weeks flat, she brought out its first
edition. And named it Lankesh. The paper, indeed, became a symbol of Lankesh’s
truest legacy. During Lankesh’s 70th birth anniversary celebrations
last year, when Lankesh was launched, supporters turned up in large numbers.
For many, the Lankesh dream lives on in Lankesh.
“I have more freedom now, though the government continues its persecution.
There’s no opposition in the State now. Even the Congress is not
a legitimate opposition. My father was always the opposition,’’
she says. Gauri is happy for staying in Bangalore rather than packing
her bags off to Delhi or Mumbai to return to English journalism. She feels
happy to ‘continue’ her father’s anti-establishment
stand. Lankesh’s legacy lives on despite the family’s efforts,
as Kavitha put it, through discussions, his plays staged by theatre groups
and his books. It only proves that life can begin yet again, at 71.