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For the love of Lankesh

On his 71st birth anniversary, legendary journalist Lankesh came alive as thousands gathered to resurrect his anti-establishment legacy. M. Radhika reports from Bangalore

Like Father, Like Daughter: Gauri Lankesh, editor, Lankesh, with her father as backdrop
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 and integrity.

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.

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
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.

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.

Apr 01 , 2006

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