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Tarun Tejpal: The friend I can no longer recognise

Here's Binoo K John's account of knowing Tehelka Editor Tarun Tejpal over the years.

Binoo K John |

Updated:November 23, 2013, 12:08 PM IST
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Tarun Tejpal: The friend I can no longer recognise
Here's Binoo K John's account of knowing Tehelka Editor Tarun Tejpal over the years.
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We three--Parsa (Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr), Tarun and I-- were in the same team at India Today and we three together laughed the loudest. As our immediate boss both of us admired and learnt from Tarun.

His is a case of life imitating his own fiction. He has become one of the characters he created and so be foresaw his own destiny. I cannot reveal all details about this particular case and some earlier ones.

The decline of Tarun as a human being coincided with the decline of Tehelka into a slightly shady venture. The magazine is funded by a Trinamool MP who is also India's Chicken King. The start of the Think festival was the beginning of Tarun's personal decline and that of his magazine.

He and his sister stopped at nothing to get money out of corporates. Tehelka plummeted the depths just as it had climbed the heights of glory and made us all proud.

For that itself it has to close down. The biggest story that Tehelka had was killed and "monetised". That corporate is the main sponsor of Think fest. Tarun had lost all sense of propriety, character.

His descent into criminality after climbing the Everest of glory is an astounding, shocking story. More so to his old pals for whom there was nothing better in life than drinking with him and recounting tales. Oh how he could laugh.

No man in India achieved all that Tarun did. He took on governments with a panache only he could summon, he wrote the best Indian fiction , though the establishment and readers ignored it, he created the best Indian magazine and now it's gone.

He wrote the best essays in the history of modern Indian journalism and if you read all of them, including a classic on the Punjabi, we will be astonished as to how a man embraced all what he hated and criticised. With pride he showed me the Punjabi essay page with the typical Post-It pasted on it by Aroon Purie and written in red fountain pen ink: "Brilliant. Use some words I can understand."

That was around the time that Tarun in the first of his moves that he would make throughout his life, took away the Essay page and the famous Books page (which I was to later edit) from Shekhar Gupta (Indian Express) who guarded his turf like a bull dog. "you are a smooth operator man," I told him and he gave me one of his impish similes. He was only beginning in life.

I knew he was best qualified to edit those pages and he took the pages to another level altogether a task I found difficult to match as a later Lit Editor of IT. We worked together closely for the release of Arundhati Roy's novel which he published. By that time he has reached another level. He was closing in on the stratosphere.

Soon Arundhati was dropped. Naipaul was next. Ten years later in his house I dined with Naipaul who decorated his drawing room as if all the Naipaul books stacked there weren't enough. The man had bought his hero home.

Naipaul was the only hero and idol he had. "Boss read Naipaul boss," he kept telling us in the newsroom as he sat there with his feet up on the desk even as AP walked past.There in Tarun house I saw Naipaul eating from Tarun's hands. Even in the presence of a Nobel prize winner,Tarun was King.

When I see him on TV, being taken away, one part of me will die. For many others there will be reason for gloating because he stamped on them and destroyed them. For the many women colleagues and friends I know who he tried his tricks with, it will be justice.

Generous and loving to a fault, he later became a killer of stories and careers. I cannot fathom all this. I am utterly broken. I knew early this year that his end was near because he had gone beyond the Line of Control and once you cross that there is no return. If you hit a bank once, you don't stop with that. You always want a second hit. It is the same with assaults and one night stands.

He was a Messi in this difficult art, dodging though the most difficult of terrains and 'scoring' at will and confounding his victims leaving them broken, shattered and often jobless.

Starting with India Today, as he climbed step after step, he lost interest in doing journalistic work. His mind was elsewhere. Like all great men he lived in the future but like all fallen men he could not see his own life and character being chipped away by the flesh eating bacilli of ambition, greed and ruthlessness.

One day late at night in CP after we had put together another great India Today issue (I haven't read IT for 5-8 years now) and we struggled to kick start his ramshackle scooter, a guy approached us for 'illegal' parking fees. Tarun immediately took out the only Rs 5 he had and gave it to him. I protested and turning around he said,:

"He also has to live, boss." That sentence changed me.

And now he is gone. He cannot live any more.

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