Gauri Lankesh’s unfilled Kashmir dream

The notice board outside the Main Theatre (MT) at my alma mater Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) serves the purpose of announcing the daily screening at MT and National Film Archives of India, which is associated to the Institute. On happy occasions, when an alumnus wins a prestigious award or on sad occasion of an alumni’s demise – the board announces it.

Shortly after the killing of feisty journalist Gauri Lankesh, the notice board carried her name in an announcement. The announcement said a condolence meeting was being held at the Wisdom Tree on the evening of the same day. Four year ago, under that very tree we had gathered to pay tribute to Narendra Dabholkar - who was murdered just a couple of kilometers away from the campus.

A day after Dabholkar's murder after some members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) attacked Kabir Kala Manch members and students of FTII; I received a call from Gauri, who I fondly called Captain, asking for details. She expressed her solidarity with all her heart.

Later when FTII went on a strike against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan by the new Government at the centre, Captain had spoken to me a couple of times with great concern about the same.  

Today when I see in photographs Captain’s name in that very campus and on that very board – it feels me with deep sadness. I recollect all these incidents because all these incidents scattered over time and spaces are all, as I see, clips of the same chain. I recollect these also to give a glimpse of how Captain always stood in solidarity with the battle of the right against the might.

Captain’s concerns included the issue of Kashmir’s occupation too.

One night in April 2017, my phone rang. It was the middle of the night and my heart skipped a beat when the phone rang at that ungodly hour but on seeing Gauri Lankesh’s name flashed across the screen, I settled down. Gauri was the one who always burned the midnight oil and I knew it wasn’t odd for her to call me at this hour. “Thank you so much,” Captain blurted out when I answered the call.  Her voice was filled with immense gratitude. I wondered why she was thanking me while she continued, “I just finished reading Curfewed Night. Thanks for recommending it,” she said and added, “It is so sad that I hadn’t read this book for so long.”

Captain then went on to tell me how the work of her weekly Gauri Lankesh Patrike, her activism and the cases against her - a strategy of her opponents to exhaust and harass her - leave her with very less time to read good books. She told me that she had taken an oath to read at least three books a month. When I heard about her oath, I suggested she read, “Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora” in the month of May. By the end of May, she had read the book.

It all began on the 9th of October when Captain was in Udupi, close to my home town Manipal, for the historical Chalo Udupi rally. I had just returned home after a brief but intense visit to Kashmir. So when Captain and I met at the rally she insisted I be with her and share with her my Kashmir experience.

That noon, when we were finishing lunch, Captain asked me if I would be ready to go to Kashmir with Shivasunder (another comrade of ours) to do a series of reports for her weekly. I immediately agreed.

That noon Captain told me how she has been trying to argue from over a decade about Jagmohan being the orchestrator of the Pandit exodus but nobody cares to listen. She also told me about her one interview with Syed Ali Geelani. When I told her about the people displaced from the other side of Kashmir living in Jammu she honestly said, “I did not know about this,” and added, “Actually, neither the state nor the media wants us to know.”

Gauri was willing to listen to what the state and the media did not want us to listen and she was willing to speak that which the state and the media did not want us to speak.

Since that day in October 2016 the conversation between me and Captain was majorly about Kashmir.

After some weeks when I reminded her about the plan Captain said, “Shivasunder seems to have other commitments. We both can go together.”

I did not hear from Captain about our Kashmir visit plan for the next few months and I started doubting if it was ever going to happen. Though I never doubted her concern about Kashmir and her longing to give her readers a true picture of Kashmir, I was becoming quite impatient because of the delay.

Later when Captain called me in April 2017 saying she had read Basharat Peer’s book and followed it up with reading the spine chilling book on Kunan Poshpora, I knew the plan was still on. By then I had learnt from a common friend and a senior activist that demonetization had hit the circulation of Captain’s weekly and she was in a financial crunch. The information made me realize why the Kashmir plan was not materializing and I stopped asking her about it.

Captain herself spoke of the financial crunch when in August 2017 she called me to say how a particular article by someone in Kashmir thrilled her and how badly she wanted to meet the writer. When I said, “We can meet the author when we go there,” Captain, who by then had taken loans to run her weekly, explained the economic crunch and said, “Let me recover a bit and then we can go.”

Now Captain is no more with us and I fear with her unfortunate killing - the weekly also will breathe its last. After this calamity, I am afraid that neither the visit to Kashmir nor reporting on Kashmir for the readers of weekly will ever happen.

On that April night when Captain called to tell me she had read Curfewed Night she had asked me if I could translate the book and assured me that she will publish it. I told her that during my interaction with the author Basharat Peer I had asked him if I could do the translation and he had verbally permitted me to do so. She took his email address from me saying, “Then let me write to him as a publisher and avail rights for publishing the translation.” I don’t know if she ever wrote to Basharat Peer. But this too, like our Kashmir visit and writing about Kashmir for the readers of her weekly, remains unfulfilled.

I recollect these interactions, our jointly made but unfulfilled plans while writing this because I believe I am bound by responsibility for letting the friends from Kashmir know that Captain, who stood in solidarity with every struggle across the globe, of the right against the might, understood the struggle of occupied Kashmiris and also longed to meet them and hear their stories and chronicle them for Kannada readers.

I am writing this story of Captain and our plan of Kashmir also because it speaks of how a person is perpetually chained at various levels by the order of things from fighting the system and yet how some determined people like Captain were continuously making efforts to make the world stand on its legs and change this order of things.



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