Devanur Mahadeva on Rajashekar Koti: ‘Commitment without compromise’

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For the first day in 46 years, today’s issue of Andolana, the Kannada broadsheet daily newspaper from Mysore, appears without the name of its founder and editor Rajashekar Koti, who passed away on Thursday, 23 November, 2017, at age 71.

In an edition replete with memories, today’s paper leads with a moving tribute by Koti’s longtime friend, the renowned Kannada writer Devanur Mahadeva. The piece is a testament to the hoary literary, sociological and ideological moorings of the city and the paper.

Below is a loose translation.

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By DEVANUR MAHADEVA

The year was 1975. Rajashekhar Koti was in Dharwad but he was getting to be known. When he visited Mysore, it was [the writer] K.P. Poorna Chandra Tejaswi who encouraged and exhorted him to set up the newspaper in Mysore.

We were all inclined towards the social movements of the time: Samajawadi Yuvajan Sabha and Jayaprakash Narayan had caught our attention. But it was Koti who crystallised his involvement into something more lasting, with Andolana.

When Andolana  got its own printing press, I remember saying that in the newspaper arena, P. Lankesh stood tall as a dhyani, but Koti was a one-legged tapaswi (ascetic), who rose through his discipline, dedication and determination.

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When it came to commitment, the word ‘compromise’ did not crop up in Koti’s dictionary. He relentlessly used his journalism to promote the cause of Dalits, and in sticking to it, Andolana’s role is massive.

Similarly in promoting women’s rights. Koti would speak to my daughter in ‘plural’, as if she was his elder. When I would ask why (“Yaakree, Koti”) he would keep quiet. But that was the character of the man: soft as a flower, hard as a rock.

I have seen Koti’s difficult days just as I have experienced difficult days. But while I forget, Koti remembered it all. When a friend secured me a bank loan of Rs 1,000 and I gave Koti Rs 100, he went around telling the world, not once but all the time.

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I never saw a greater lover of the Kannada language than Koti. Sometimes it bordered on the excessive, but he would never give in to my reservations. “Ree, hogree, hogree (come on, come on),” he would say.

I could sometimes be charitable and transactional towards Kannada but not Koti: he was neither charitable nor transactional.

You could christen him ‘Kannadada Koti’ [Kannada’s Koti].

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I never saw Koti sleep. He would shut-eye for a brief while in the morning and in the night but he was always-on in a manner difficult to understand.

When I saw his body yesterday it didn’t strike me at all as if he was dead. When some people die, a part of us dies. It happened when [the Kannada writer] Alanahalli Krishna passed on. It happened yesterday.

We shouldn’t think that in Koti’s absence, the socio-economic-political movements in Mysore have suffered a blow. We shouldn’t think like that. When we are all gone, the struggles and the movements will go on, like water.

The struggles for a better tomorrow is like water in flood. There may be streams joining it without our knowing. What we need now may be something new, something different.

Are Gandhi and Ambedkar dead?