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Q and A with Tarun Tejpal
Photographs by Mohit Khanna
Published: Volume 13, Issue 4, July-August, 2005
I personally don’t think there is a single voyeuristic or titillating line in the book.

Iconic journalist-turned-author, Tarun Tejpal, has an uncanny knack of making news. A few months ago, his debut novel, The Alchemy of Desire, created widespread ripples as much for its extremely bold and original theme as for its crisp writing style. Also launched in London, with a book reading at a well-attended gathering, the racy work received rave reviews in the dailies. In a candid exchange with Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena, the Delhi-based wordsmith speaks about surviving storms...and the desires that drive his life.

A few years ago, the crusading journalist had hit the headlines with his Tehelka exposés that unveiled corruption in high places. But post ‘Operation Westend’, the 41-year-old keeper of the nation’s conscience had got embroiled in an ongoing battle to survive as Tehelka crumbled around him and he – and his team – was faced with debts, lawyers…and commissions of inquiry. After two false starts, Tehelka, The People’s Paper hit the stands – in January last year. Incredibly, with his world in turmoil – at what he has himself called ‘the worst time of his life’, Tejpal began work on his pet project, his first novel. And, in 500-odd days of writing, the writer found the voice and tone to tell the kind of story he has always wanted to pen.

How did your stint in journalism help you as a writer?

In the most obvious way; journalism – a direct engagement with the outer world – helps by generating more material in your life that can then help fuel the writing. At the end of the day, all writing feeds off a lived life – journalism ensures a much varied many hued life, a larger range of concerns. In a less obvious way, because of its cynical hardbitten nature, it helps cut down on the fluff and forces an involvement with the real.

From journalism to fiction…. Was that a natural progression – the realisation of a long cherished dream?

Well, actually it began the other way around – I came to journalism through an intense involvement with literary fiction, which peaked as an undergraduate. Journalism, to begin with, seemed to be the ideal conduit to more serious writing, but then journalism slowly took over my life completely. At the same time, I never ceased to struggle to find a way of doing the literary fiction I wished to.

Would you agree that for a first novel, The Alchemy of Desire is an ambitious product – in content and presentation?

Well, I hope it is. Nothing less would interest me. It was written after years of struggle for the right tone. The question, of course, is: does it manage to carry off its ambition?

How did you select the rather bold theme of the novel?

I hope it is a true and deep book – not clever and tricksy. I would not be displeased if it’s seen as bold. It tries to look at difficult subjects like passion and emotion in an adult, even-eyed way – without shame, hypocrisy or subterfuge. The central themes of the book are the pursuit of love, desire and art – and meaning through them – and these for me are perhaps the most important engines of life.

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