Why am I expected to be a hero?
With her debut book Small Acts of Freedom set to release next year, Gurmehar Kaur, who has been labeled an 'activist', assures us that she is just another girl who loves spending time at Starbucks and can’t live without Zara.
Tolstoy’s War and Peace rests on Gurmehar Kaur’s bedside table. She is excited that Jane Austen will feature extensively in her second year literature studies at the Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi. And she just finished Anuja Chauhan’s Baaz (and loved it). She tells us a secret—that she is no leftist, loves hoarding money and can’t live without Zara. One day, she wants to be known as a writer and maybe work at the UN too. No, entering politics is nowhere in the picture. “This is despite the fact that I always tell television journalists that I have not even attained the legal age to fight elections.”
She has a close group of friends, doesn’t party much and can share where she hangs out in Delhi. “But you won’t tell the ABVP guys, right?” she laughs.This 20-year-old young woman has her weak moments too. “I am no hero and why am I expected to be? I can get teary-eyed when there is no one around, thinking about the kind of abuses I was subjected to. I was feeling a little low on my flight to Chandigarh but I did my best not to let my fellow passengers notice it,” says Kaur, who was in Chandigarh in May.
We start talking about the trolling she was subjected to by ABVP members and how it made her a household name. Did she ever imagine that people could be so insensitive, so vicious? She says she never did. It was a rude shock. “Now I feel that we as humans are essentially sadists and the online medium promises us enough anonymity to bring that out. I feel like I suddenly grew older by decades in those three days. I have had several face-to-face interactions with people from both right and left wing, we may disagree on many fronts, but I have never experienced such behavior in person. Well, so many right-wingers have requested me for a selfie after a heated debate.”
I feel we humans are essentially sadists. The online medium promises us enough anonymity to bring that out.
And how does she look back at the time when the controversy erupted? How did she cope with the trolls, the aggressive news anchors, and character assassination by many student leaders? “Yes, I did feel vulnerable, just like anyone my age would. It was a tough period. But my friends and family never left my side. The teachers at my college stood by me. They would not miss a chance to assure me that I was not alone.”
No, she is not scared to speak out again. “Why should I be? Also, authority has to be constantly questioned, no matter who holds the power, no?”
A new-age journalist with a smartphone on video mode barges in uninvited and asks about how India should react to Pakistan’s misadventure on the borders. “Why not wait for the day when you can have the Indian Defence Minister answer that?” Kaur asks politely. He leaves.
It takes her a while to get back to her normal self, when she talks about her love for tennis. “Maria Sharapova is my favourite”, or her obsession with coffee, “How can anyone live without it.” Or how she will react if she comes across Arundhati Roy, “I wouldn’t be able to utter a word.”
Will she wear a placard for the photoshoot? Kaur winks, “Hasn’t everyone showered enough love on that picture of mine?”