Gauri Lankesh, and that piece by her ex-husband

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Parakram RautelaUpdated: Oct 24, 2017, 09:40 AM IST

File photo of Gauri Lankesh. Photograph:(Facebook)

I had been worried about the pathos I would find in the piece and so had put off reading it for a few days. 

I was familiar with Chidanand Rajghatta's work, having worked with the Times of India. Chidanand is the Times' Washington DC correspondent, and his work is always competent. 

Sure enough, when I finally sat down to reading the piece one quiet evening over dinner, it left me watery-eyed. 

How could it not have? 

A woman had been shot at the doorstep of her home in cold blood by people who can only be described as cowardly (terrorists?), and her ex-husband was writing about her. 

But it also left me appalled, and not because of anything that Chidanand had written. 

Gauri and Chidanand had met in school, had courted for five years, and then been married for another five before going their separate ways. 

They remained friends, with each other and their in-laws. 

Chidanand says they reached out to hold hands before the judge hearing their divorce petition and their lawyers hissed that they should disengage should they wish to disengage. 

After their divorce, they went to lunch. 

In his piece, I thought Chidanand hit a high – which reminded me of Naipaul – and a low. 

In his first book on India, An Area of Darkness, Naipaul describes his friendship with a Sardarji he meets in south India. 

Like the average north Indian, the Sardarji salivates over his “Aryan” heritage, looks down upon what he sees as the darker south Indians – “monkeys” he calls them – thinks they stare at him, and finally commits an act of violence against what he thinks is a south Indian man gawking at him. 

Lying on his back, the “south Indian” man tells the Sardarji that he is just like him – a north Indian. 

I had had to double back to the passage – the incident is recounted with such a deft touch – asking myself: “Did the Sardarji really slap that man?” 

There is a similar exchange over cigarette smoking in Chidanand's piece. 

Gauri is visiting him in Washington and wishes to smoke. 

Chidanand insists that she go outside to do so, that she not smoke inside the house. 

Gauri tells him it's cold outside, and that she started smoking because of him. 

Tough luck, he says. 

You're becoming too American, she says. 

It's got nothing to do with being American, he says. It's about being healthy. 

“Bollocks,” she says. “I'll outlive you.” 

“Liar”, Chidanand writes in his piece. 

And leaves it at that. 

He hits his low when he refers to the maid that Gauri had sent his way as her “gift to us”, writing that she is still with him. (It is incorrect to refer to a human being as a gift, even in India where we often treat our domestic help as if they might be.) 

But all of this seemed to elude most of Chidanand's readers. 

After having read his piece, I looked at the comments. 

The “top comment” said, “Press ti tutes and award wapsi brigades are big time bstds.” 

A second said, “Gouri khan was a chain smoker and a drunkard woman.” 

A third said “The writer is a bad journalist at worst.” 

A fourth educated Chidanand on how one could smoke inside a house in the US – “smoke at the chimney... smoke into the exhaust fan in the kitchen... smoke in the bathroom”. 

A fifth said, “whosoever has eliminated the ultra leftist has done a splendid job. you live and prosper on this land.” 

And it went on and on and on... (Perhaps I am being too unfair. There were also a few sensible, sensitive comments but they were far outnumbered by the other kind). 

How did we become a people like this – full of sound and fury signifying nothing? 

There are stray answers here and there. 

That the anonymity afforded by the internet reins in the better angels of our nature. That now that everybody is able to broadcast his or her opinion via social media, nobody is interested in anybody else's. That our younger generations are not familiar with the idea of reading a book, and therefore struggle with complex ideas. 

Whatever the reason(s) might be, the state of affairs worries me. 

They say the biggest problem facing India today is the lack of jobs. But even if we were able to create them – what jobs would we give these people? 

Follow Parakram on Twitter @parakramrautela