I joined Sunday magazine in 1999 – my first big job with a national publication – and to describe myself as gawky on my first day would be an understatement.
The gawkiness continued for a couple of days till one day I walked into my office in INS building on Rafi Marg in the heart of the national capital, to unstoppable laughter.
The Sunday office was a small one, and usually a silent one. And it was rare for my then editor, Vir Sanghvi, to visit owing to his travels and managerial responsibility.
But that day was different. The laughter was deep, and it continued. As I walked in, Vir introduced me to Gauri Lankesh.
I was engulfed in a hug and could sense that the infectious laughter could have only belonged to her. As she let go of me, I could feel the warmth that engulfed me go away. Looking straight into my eyes, she smiled. “What story are you working on?”
She listened to me with rapt attention as I went on and on about my story, my sources, my plan. She heard it all, said nothing, waved her hand and walked away (she was leaving for Sri Lanka).
But, that woman had my attention.
Her warmth was combined by this solid show of strength in her voice. Her smile was combined by her hawk-eyed look which she gave me when I told her about my story.
I was in awe.
I remember this one time, when she was alone in office, she asked me to get coffee for her. I would have gotten it anyhow, considering how much I respected her, but she made sure to say “if you can, please.” Of course, I got it for her.
Gauri was every aspiring journalists’ dream come true. Watching her, fearlessly asking netas to give her news, as she calmly sipped on her coffee was a sight.
And I have had the honour of watching her work and working with her.
Years later, after both of us had left Sunday, we bumped into each other. “So, I was right about you. You’re a star now,” she said. She remembered the time she had told me, while we were both at Sunday that she was watching me. “Be credible. You’ll grow up to be a fine journalist,” she had said to me.
Gauri has been one of my life’s biggest teachings. Drop a story but never compromise on your credibility, she would keep on repeating. It has stayed with me all these years. She’d also joke around on how we should not trust sources. “Always cross check,” she’d say.
Whatever I know of journalism has, to a great degree, come from her. I can never match up to her skills or her courage. But, I can proudly say that we bonded over our mutual love for gardening. When she wouldn’t be guiding me on my next story, we’d be discussing the next plant to nurture other gardening tips.
She was everything you could hope for in a journalist. And for a rookie like me back then, I looked up to her. I still do.
Although I hadn’t met her in a really long time and writing this piece, on the night she has been murdered, brings her back to me.
As you always said, Gauri – I’ll see you on the other side.
You fought hard and you fought well. Rest in power, feisty one.