The last time I had a detailed conversation with Gauri Lankesh, we both laughed as she tried to get a grip over the pronunciation of "nincompoop". It was the term she used to describe those who threatened her with dire consequences.
Gauri was getting Gujarat Files — my book on Narendra Modi and Amit Shah's roles in the 2002 Gujarat carnage — translated into Kannada, to be published by her in house Lankesh Publication.
She was the first person to reach out to me in June 2016 after I self-published the book. Gauri's subsequent arrest in a defamation case and the routine threats she encountered from various organisations ensured that the publication got delayed.
I suggested to her that I could ask another publication take over because she was embroiled in a legal suit. But she simply laughed and said, "Darling, I am stronger than these nincompoops."
Only two days ago, I wrote an emotional Facebook post about being under constant attack from the Right, as skewed leaks by those in power targeted me during my recent trip to Canada.
Soon after, Gauri messaged me: "Hang in there love." Little did she know that death was staring her in the face even as she typed those words. I do not how to react. I am not taking part in any candlelight march, nor marking my presence at any protest. Since last night, I have decided against going on television debates too because I can no longer take this pretence of a well-meaning society.
I am tired of speaking to the same echo chambers each evening because nothing, absolutely nothing seems to bother my country and its people. I don’t want to sit in the newsroom debating about the life of Gauri Lankesh because there is nothing to debate. Much like the journalism she practised for decades, there are no ifs and buts around her murder, committed by radicals and those in power.
why do i feel that some of `us' are fighting between ourselves? we all know our ``biggest enemy''. can we all please concentrate on that?— Gauri Lankesh (@gaurilankesh) September 4, 2017
Ok some of us commit mistakes like sharing fake posts. let us warn each other then. and not try to expose each other. peace... comrades— Gauri Lankesh (@gaurilankesh) September 4, 2017
As I write this, I am repulsed not by the Right, the bigots, the bots or the trolls. I am repulsed by the silence and the neutrality of the sensible, the intellectual and the Indian middle class. I am repulsed by those news organisations which bring in representatives of the extreme Right when they debate the persecution and murder of the Rohingyas in Myanmar to appear neutral.
I am repulsed by our supposed balancing act in calling a spade a spade. I hate the hypocrisy of the neutral, balanced journalist-and-intellectual who wants to hold a candlelight vigil for Gauri at Jantar Mantar but will not understand the essence of all that she was fighting for.
Gauri was not a fan of my appearance on news channels. She once called me after a news debate, angry and fuming: "You have to understand that they don’t call you on a channel to listen to the truth or the facts, you are just a face of the alleged other side, the left liberal, the Muslim who balances the look and feel of their debate."
To be fair, I did not quite agree with Gauri then, but today, when I see news channels running provocative and communal hashtags on their screens — and TV anchors condemning Gauri Lankesh with a caveat — I know what she meant.
When I see BJP leaders asking for justice for Gauri, it amuses me. Gauri was the face of the opposition to the Right in Karnataka. She has written scathing op-eds in her newspaper Lankesh Patrike about how Karnataka is becoming the laboratory of Hindutva.
When I met Gauri in 2012 to write a cover story for Tehelka titled "Karnataka-Hindutva Lab 2.0", she introduced me to the phenomenon of the mainstreaming the Hindu Right in the state.
Gauri was right. Barely three days ago, the Modi government inducted one of the most radical faces from Karnataka, Anant Kumar Hegde in its Cabinet. Hegde is the same leader who — in the last one year — has made the most derogatory and communally charged statements against Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. He is the very leader who, through his tweets, recently asked the government to keep me and few other journalists including Barkha Dutt under surveillance for our views on the government. Yet, this is understandable coming from a government that has made no pretence of its biases and affiliations.
What is beyond my comprehension, however, is the acceptance of this new normal by my supposedly well-meaning friends who believe that there is no place for hatred and radicalism in our society. How many murders will it take for them to realise that none of those who have lost their lives defending free speech and a just society in the last few years are doing it for personal gains?
I know for a fact that within a week, Gauri’s name will only find mentions in left liberal and intellectual op-eds.
All those who are changing their display pictures to Gauri's in solidarity would have returned to their respective lives of comfort. Twitter trends asking for justice for Gauri will go back to talking about the glorious achievements of the government without questioning the doublespeak.
Journalists asking for justice for Gauri Lankesh too will return to their editorial rooms, and news desks will continue to tell their respective guest coordinators to invite people from "both sides" to comment on yet another murder, lynching, atrocity or genocide.
Since the news of Gauri's passing, well-meaning friends have been sending me messages to stay safe. To be honest, these messages are nauseating. If a murder is what it takes for you to worry about others who are fighting similar battles, then I and others like me are better off without your concern.
Gauri gave her life for a country and a society that did not deserve her.
When I logged on to Facebook today, the chatbox told me she was active 21 hours ago. I want to cling to the belief that it was all just a nightmare — that a pop-up will announce another message from Gauri the next moment.