A few days ago we marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Gauri Lankesh. I knew her and thought I should write about a few other people whom you will have heard of but do not know personally. However you may have formed a strong opinion about them. I have met all of them and would like to tell you something about them based on experience rather than hearsay.
Let me start with the one who has most notoriety but is one of the most attractive individuals I have ever met, Kanhaiya Kumar. The fact that he is disliked by anyone puzzles me because he holds absolutely no views that are exceptionable.
In person he is quiet and gentle (not anywhere near the cliche we have of the Bihari) and unfailingly polite. He has come to my house a few times, he doesn’t drink and sits and engages whoever speaks to him. He is well-read — indeed, all the people I am about to describe are better read than most urban Indians — and holds his learning lightly. He has one individual with him, a friend who is there to protect him.
The unfair treatment and the nasty fabrications that Kumar has received from the media have resulted in him becoming exposed to public violence. The police isn’t there with him, and it is this one friend (both of these young men are thin and small and I wonder how they manage to feel secure with only the other for company but they do) who must protect him from harm. He is highly charismatic and when I have bumped into him at literature festivals, it was obvious that the young of our country (those not brainwashed) love him.
It was Gauri Lankesh who introduced me to Kumar and brought him home. She wanted like-minded people to meet, particularly those who were opposed to the mindless majoritarianism of our time that we have been destined to suffer.
Kumar is full of life and fun and has a mischievous sense of humour, which comes across in his public speaking. He is very enjoyable company indeed. Umar Khalid is more serious. His Hindi is as rich and his speech as fluent as Kumar’s, but it is less rustic and more Sanskritic (listen to him carefully, he uses words like ‘vishwavidyalaya’ etc). He comes across in his public speaking as more grim and though he is very young, I do not see him changing over the years. He seems fully formed intellectually, which I find remarkable. When he is my age, which is close to 50, Khalid will likely be the same as he is today.
I asked him last month in Delhi if he had received police protection after the attack on him. Two men with a gun (which they had fired) had confessed to attacking him as their “Independence Day gift” to the rest of us. Idiots. To my horror and shame, he said that he had applied for protection but had not received it. This government is run by a man who asks people to lynch him instead of Dalits. But I suppose that is easy to say from behind the NSG and Black Cats.
Khalid revealed this without fuss or emotion.
Also serious, though she has an air of levity about her, is Shehla Rashid. She is calm and reflective when she speaks in public and that is unexpected because the reputation is that of someone fiery. She has repose, if you know what I mean. She is Kashmiri and that state and this nation will benefit from her involvement in its politics. I understood, based on a brief conversation with her a few days ago, that she plans or is planning to be a participant in active and perhaps electoral politics. Good for her and good for all of us.
Jignesh Mevani is a Gujarati and a proper intellectual and to me that is a relief. It is such an anti-intellectual culture that he and I come from that it is depressing. Mevani was also introduced to me by Lankesh (you might have an idea by now of why she was killed. She promoted those individuals who are most hated, for totally wrong reasons, by our media).
Mevani came to our office in Bengaluru and got into a very high-quality debate with my colleagues, particularly the Dalits, on Dalit issues.
One of the more humbling things for me — and there have been many in a life of eating crow — is coming into the world of activism and realising how much more people in this field know than I do. Theirs is not the casually acquired and superficial knowledge of journalists and certainly not comparable to what you and I know.
Any of these young people will wipe the floor on facts in debate with any of our major politicians. I do not see my friend Amitbhai Shah lasting three minutes in reasoned argument against any of them. Should they get into Parliament, it will be magnificent for our country.