Fall of a media moralist
By Ravi Shankar
Published: 24th Nov 2013 07:15:35 AM
The small parking lot in front of the M-Block of Greater Kailash Part-II where Tehelka magazine’s offices is crowded with journalists hunting another journalist. OB vans jostle for space, and hacks wait restlessly for a byte or a bite of the biggest scandal that has engulfed the Indian media—the sexual molestation of a young colleague by Tehelka’s founder-editor Tarun Tejpal. The parking boys are making a killing, charging Rs.1,000 as fees instead of the usual Rs. 10. The wolf pack with mikes aren’t complaining, as they wait for Tehelka’s managing editor and long time Tejpal associate Shoma Chaudhury to emerge like a modern Antigone in a sordid saga of admission, acquiescence and blatant defiance. The man who the Western newspapers had crowned as India’s biggest crusader of truth after his spy cams claimed significant scalps is now hiding from the cameras.
Says an art curator who had attended the Think fest where the molestation happened, “He is a victim of hubris, he genuinely believed in the infallible myth of himself.” It was his Shakespearean flaw; creating a formidable brand with indomitable will and ‘lacerating’ it with at costly “bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation,” as his email to Chaudhury said.
At Think, the audience booed him for making a long speech on Amitabh Bachchan, who they were more keen to hear. “Clearly he has no sense of propriety, referring to Amitabh Bachchan as Amitabh,” said a Goa resident present at the jamboree. “At a formal event, you call him Mr Bachchan.” But Tejpal couldn’t care less. The writer who would cultivate publishers sycophantically but tore up the manuscript of his first novel which was rejected by Penguin Books, would later claim he was the one who introduced Sir V S Naipaul to Indian society by throwing a big bash for him at the ITC Maurya’s Nandiya Gardens after he won the Nobel Prize. By the time it was the second decade of the Noughties, Tejpal had become an international name, listed by Asiaweek as one of Asia’s 50 most powerful communicators; by The Guardian as among the 20 who constitute India’s new elite and as one of India’s 50 most powerful people by Businessweek. His novels were published to international acclaim. The Sunday Times (UK) hailed The Alchemy of Desire as “an impressive and memorable debut”. Le Figaro called it a “masterpiece” and Sir. Naipaul raved, “At last! A new and brilliantly original novel from India.” In France, it won the Prix Millepages and was the finalist for the prestigious Prix Femina.