Friday, October 17, 2008
"If communalism wins, India dies"
Tehelka magazine editor and author Tarun Tejpal talks about the fissures that are tearing the country apart.
By Shevlin Sebastian
(Photo: The author with Tarun Tejpal (right) at the Taj Green Cove, Kovalam)
Tehelka magazine editor and author Tarun Tejpal came to the Kovalam literary festival to give a talk on new trends in journalism and to read extracts from his upcoming novel, 'The Story of My Assassins', which will be published by HarperCollins in December. Barely had he sat down at the outdoor café at the Taj Green Grove to have a conversation that a young woman came up with a paperback edition of Tejpal's best-selling novel, 'The Alchemy of Desire'. "Please, Mr Tejpal, can you sign it?" she says. The author obliged, as she says, with deep feeling, "I loved the book. I feel very close to the characters."
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Any idea why Alchemy has had such a strong impact?
If you write about emotions and human experiences it has a resonance. People love and suffer in the same way everywhere in the world. I get emails every week from people who have been moved by the book. And it keeps getting published in more and more languages. Right now, it is doing well in Romania, so I am getting mails from there.
Which role do you like more: writer or editor?
Journalism is what I do day in and day out. It is the priority of my life. So, I have to struggle very hard to find the time to write the literary fiction. There is no fixed schedule, time or place. I take my laptop along with me and whenever I find time I write. Being an editor in India and to do the kind of journalism Tehelka does is very challenging.
How is Tehelka doing?
The magazine is losing a lot of money. I have to keep finding investors. It's a daily struggle. But, on the positive side, Tehelka's work garners global acclaim. In fact, former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor Tina Brown, when she was inducted into the Magazine Editors Hall of Fame in the US, named Tehelka as among her five favourite magazines. There is acclaim in India also. Those who count, from the Prime Minister’s Office downwards, read it. We do the best we can to uphold public interest journalism.
How is Indian journalism doing these days?
There is too much of an obsession with Bollywood, business and cricket. There is a fixation with the trivial and the decorative end of journalism, and very little with the genuine, societal, deep end of journalism. We need journalism of empathy. Journalists must fight for the fundamental virtues – the values of liberal thought, tolerance, equality and justice. It is sad, but I don't think the Indian media is living up to its enormous challenges.
What about the middle class? Is it living up to the challenges?
The middle class is just too self-serving. It fails to see it needs a commitment and engagement with the idea of India. It should think outside of itself. When the house collapses it takes everybody along -- not just the poor, but also the rich. So, it is in the self-interest of middle class and elite India to start giving back to society, to start constructing a society that is unbiased.
Your comment on the attacks on the Christian communities in Karnataka and Orissa?
It is shameful. All bigotry and hate should be curtailed. It is time for India to enact hate laws. No hate in speech, writing or education. Mahatma Gandhi was a great believer in individual liberty but there was one thing which he believed in strongly: The state must be absolutely firm in imposing laws to prevent the creation of any kind of enmity in schools and colleges.
Today, there are thousands of educational institutions of the right wing and the minorities, which are creating a culture of hate. If you sow hate, you will reap hate. And that is what is happening now. In Karnataka and Orissa we are seeing the absence of empathy. We cannot imagine the other's lives, that they are as human as you and I.
Apparently, private surveys suggest that the support for the BJP has increased after these attacks.
If it is true, it is frightening and tragic. If the idea is to polarise the country and thereby win elections, it is the worst thing that can happen to India. We need to fight it. The very idea of India is under threat. We have regional wars, caste wars, language wars, religious wars – we are in real trouble. To put it simply, if communalism wins, India dies.
Does that mean India will break up?
Anything is possible. We always think the world is what it is. But things are changing all the time. Sixty years ago there were 550 principalities and kingdoms in India, but all that was yoked together to create the idea of India. Remember, East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971. If we do not protect the idea of India in the way the founding fathers had envisioned, anything can happen.
(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)