By T S Sudhir (Twitter handle : @Iamtssudhir)
Over the last three days, a lot of forest cover and airtime has been exhausted in condemning Tarun Tejpal, Shoma Chaudhary, Tehelka and along with that, the Indian media. Twitter has played prosecutor and judge, to hang Tarun from the nearest tree. There is also considerable glee over the fall of a brilliant journalist and writer, especially by those who were envious of his meteoric rise and those who accused him of being a Congress stooge targeting the BJP.
I do not wish to go into any of that.
A caveat first. I do not know the journalist in question. I have however, worked with her father, who mentored me during my early days in news television. Yes, `mentored’. Given what Tarun is alleged to have done now, that beautiful word, that carries with it a great deal of responsibility, has been sullied.
I have met Tarun just once in my life, sometime in 1991, when I was in college, freelancing for different newspapers and magazines. I was asked by a senior journalist to meet Tarun for some `gyaan’. Much to my surprise and delight, Tarun spent a half hour with me at the India Today office, talking to me about journalism and what I should and shouldn’t do. He need not have done that – I was after all just a stranger, an enthusiastic freelancer, with dreams of getting into mainstream print journalism in a couple of years. The fact that he took that effort to give me time has always stayed with me. So much so that whenever any student who wants to be a journalist wishes to meet me for `gyaan’, I always remember what Tarun did for me and make it a point to give my time to the youngster. It is like payback.
Which is why the present incident has left me extremely disturbed. Here was a father who had asked his buddy Tarun to take his daughter – with journalistic ambitions – under his wings, to `mentor’ her. And he, going by the extremely detailed narration by the young Tehelka journalist, abused both his position and that relationship. A `father-like’ figure is meant to be precisely that. Like a Father. But he seems to have crossed that Laxman rekha which better sense should have stopped him from doing. We would expect that from a man with the wisdom of Tarun Tejpal.
But if his first letter reflected vanity and arrogance, his subsequent text messages that suggest that what happened inside the lift was `consensual’, is downright crass. Tarun is suggesting that his `daughter-like’ colleague was willing to have a casual fling with him inside the hotel lift and he played along. There is even a suggestion that because he is the Boss, she must play along. On both counts, he is grossly in the wrong. Whether as a daughter or as a junior colleague, it was his responsibility to play and act right.
Not once, but twice.
Not that Tarun is blind to a father-daughter relationship. The journalist’s letter refers to the angry tirade that Tarun unleashed against her once he discovered that she had told his daughter (incidentally her good friend) all that had happened.
“She is my daughter. Do you even understand what the word means?” This is what Tarun asked the journalist, just hours after he had molested her, groped her and attempted to rape her. Hypocrisy, thy name is Tarun Tejpal?
According to the journalist’s version, he went on to add. “I can’t believe u went and mentioned even the smallest thing to her. What an absence of any understanding of a parent child relationship … I cherished you like one of my best kids always, all these years; and because of one drunken banter you so easily say these awful things.”
Tarun Tejpal, even if your version were to be believed, you did not think that she was your “kid” when you engaged in despicable behaviour on two occasions. What stopped you from slapping your “kid” and ask her to behave herself if you are suggesting (unbelievably) that she made the moves? What stopped you from lecturing her on an “understanding of a parent child relationship” that you claim to understand so well?
Tarun Tejpal, now when you describe her version of events as a “totally mendacious account of what happened, in its details, in its tonalities, in its very suggestion of non-consensus” you expose yourself much more. As a person who in fact, did not have any “understanding of a parent child relationship”.
Do you even realise what the father of the journalist must be going through now, how distraught he must be feeling that the person he trusted his little one with, turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. For him, it is a breach of trust.
You have claimed that your family stands by you, buying your story that some political forces are behind this all. I really wonder if that is true. It sounds more like what a well-known criminal lawyer you are rumoured to have met for legal counsel, has advised you to say. In your defence, you have fallen back on that old hackneyed excuse of a political conspiracy.
Tarun, as someone who was seen by many admirers as a torchbearer for the kind of journalism we would like to see practised in this country, unfortunately, today you have given not just journalism a bad name, you have also given mentoring and fatherhood a bad name. For a media that has found it difficult to live down allegations of being paid media, all of us will have to pay for your alleged misdemeanour. Your example will unfortunately be thrown at us every time we point a finger, to tell us `Papa don’t preach’.