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Tarun Tejpal- Indian under spotlight

Tarun Tejpal- Indian under spotlight

Tarun Tejpal, the well known journalist and author, was in Paris in September 2009 for the launch of French edition of his second novel 'The Story of My Assassins'. His first novel 'The Alchemy of Desire' was a commercial success worldwide.


Here's Tarun Tejpal- the person who is a youth icon for fearlessly standing up for what one believes in, à la Ayn Rand perhaps...


IIP: Urban India knows you as a firebrand journalist and the man behind Tehelka. Just when we did not know what next would flow out of Tarun Tejpal's pen, you surprised us with your debut novel- The Alchemy of Desire/ Loins de Chandigarh. An international best seller, the subject was dreamy and sensuous- a language certainly alien to the hard core investigative journalism you are synonymous with. What made you retreat to fictional writing?

TT: Literary fiction has always been a key component of my psyche. There is really no contradiction between the journalism I do and the literary fiction I write. All people are multiple within themselves. The activist mode of my journalism is as central to me as is the contemplative frame of literature. In fact, I believe the literature enriches my journalism and the journalism expands the material of my literature. The writing of Alchemy was sustaining and liberating. I wrote it at the most difficult time of my life. It was a reminder of- and retreat into- the infinite kinds of beauty that fill our lives.

IIP: The response to your first novel was overwhelming worldwide. Libraries in France selected it for the 'Reader's Choice Award in the Pocket book category' during the 'Salon du Livre 2007' where more than 30 Indian writers presented their works. The readers adopted the book and you without prejudice. A success indeed, in retrospect ?

TT: Yes it was. More so in France. I suppose its themes are the ones that tug at our hearts- love, desire, loss... It is gratifying that the book keeps finding new readers, speaking to different kinds of people.

IIP: Your second novel 'Histoire de mes assassins' has just been released in France. It is a detour and yet again a surprise package for your audience. We know that you have been at the receiving end of a corrupt system with your investigative journalism. Do we see a bit of Tarun Tejpal in your narrator on whose life several attempts have been made ?

TT: Yes, 'The story of my assasins' is as different a book from 'Alchemy' as is possible. Its concepts are different. It attempts a narrative of India- and I suppose the world- that is being increasingly ignored and buried. It explores the pathology of power and wealth, and its impact on the underclass and oppressed.
The book is, of course, me, but the narrator, I hope, is anything but me. Its a mistake for readers to imagine that the writer is the narrator just because a book is in the first person. Surely, the narrator of 'Alchemy' and 'The story of my assasins' can not be the same person ! I created the character of a cynical, highly dislikeable narrator because it allowed me to enter the material at an angle that could refract its truths.

The voice and politics of the narrator is not necessarily the voice and politics of the writer. The narrator is one out of many characters the writer uses to tell his story. An intelligent reader will be able to locate the true politics of the writer through the cacophony of voices that fill the book.

IIP: Hard hitting in its theme, India in 'Histoire de mes assassins' is not the India the western world is familiar with through the ubiquitous Bollywood lens. Presenting the ugly underbelly of this colourful country with the caste system, religious bigotry, minority oppression and desperation, this is one of the realities of Incredible India. Your comments?

TT: Yes it was my attempt to present a real picture of my country. India is the most complex country in the world, and the most unequal- boundless wealth of 20% and great poverty for 80% (of its masses). Today, because of commercial interests, the West only wishes to see the shining face of India. I present this attempt to obliterate the stories of more than 800 million poor Indians. My novel is an attemot to re-legitimise their lives and voices.

IIP: Authors like you have the power to bring about a subtle change in the collective consciousness of people through their incisive, insightful and provocative writing. Journalism is closer to your heart. And fictional writing- it is not your nemesis. Your comments ?

TT: We live in an age of hype, marketing, falsehoods and fluff. In both my journalism and my literary fiction, I ursue the same thing- the quest for the deep and the authentic. I believe the truth- even just the quest for it- has transformative powers. Fundamentally, I wish in all the work I do, to argue for justice and compassion. In India at least, we simply do not have enough of it.

The difference, for me, perhaps is that in my journalism, I am a warrior- always aware of the right and wrong. In my fiction, I am a seeker- perennially in doubt, perennially curious about the human condition.


IIP: Which authors have influenced you the most ? What are some of your favourite books you read when you retreat in to your own private world, away from the public gaze?

TT: Franz Kafka, George Orwell, Dostoyevsky, Arthur Koestler, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Yeats, Conrad Aiken, V.S. Naipaul, Emile Zola, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Saadat Hasan Manto and Munshi Premchand. My favourite book is the 'Mahabharata' which I consider the greatest novel in the history of the world. I tend to poetry now when I wish to retreat- Whitman increasingly.


IIP: Any message for the Parisian public ?

TT: I'll be back.

More about Tarun Tejpal

Tarun J. Tejpal is an author, journalist and editor-in-chief. Born in 1963, he followed his father, who served in the Indian Army, all over the country. He studied economics at the Univeristy of Chandigarh. In a career spanning over 25 years, he worked as an editor with the weekly magazine India Today before co-launching Outlook. He has also created IndiaInk, with Sanjeev Seth, the editing house that first published Arundhati Roy. Presently, he is the editor-in-chief of the Investigative magazine 'Tehelka' which he founded in 2000. After a few sting operations, fighting the corrupt system, legal battles and format changes, Tehelka is now a weekly news magazine. He has also been named among the fifty leaders at the forefront of change in Asia in 2001 by Businessweek. He is also counted amongst India's 50 most powerful people for the year 2009 by Businessweek.


His first book 'The Alchemy of Desire' was translated in more than 15 languages. The French edition was published in 2005 as 'Loin de Chandigarh' from Editions Buchet-Chastel and was translated by Annick le Goyat. French readers eaglery lapped up the author's work. More than 300,000 copies of 'Loins of Chandigarh' have been sold so far. Given its popularity and public appeal, it was nominated for Prix Femina. In Salon de Livre de Paris, 2007, 'Loin de Chandigarh' was given the Reader's choice award in the pocket book category. His second book 'The Story of My Assassins' is now available in France from Editions Buchet-Chastel. The French title is 'Histoire de mes Assassins'. Within a week of its launch in September, 'Histoire...' was nominated for the Prix Medicis Etranger.


Tarun Tejpal lives in New Delhi with his wife and their two daughters.


Official website of Tarun Tejpal