Tarun Tejpal discusses how his career in journalism has influenced his writing.
What led you to decide to write a fictionalized version of the events that happened to you after the Tehelka exposé? Why a novel rather than nonfiction?
Well, the novel is about much, much more than just the fall-out of the Tehelka exposé. The obvious factual aspects of the exposé were being dealt with by us in the normal journalistic way. The amazing thing the exposé did for someone like mea chronic literary animalis to open up an incredible hinterland of material, as becomes seldom available to writers of fiction: rare insights into the metabolisms of power, the underbelly of India, crime and politics, justice and spirituality.
In fact, as I marinated the teeming themes in my head, the challenge became finding a narrative voice and form that could wrestle down the endless complexities of India, of the material that was swirling inside of me.
No non-fiction could have made it possible to address this wealth of physical, moral, and emotional material. It's why we still read and write the novel.
How has your career as a journalist and publisher influenced your writing?
Primarily, I'd say by keeping me viscerally connected to the real issues and people of India. I have come to live in terror of writers who write from high, lofty, isolated perches. In my experience they can create fine prose and neatly rounded narratives, but all too often too hollow, with no taste of sweat on them, no stench of the real. Being a journalist at Tehelka, more than being a journalist, ensures a rootedness that I have come to believe is priceless for any serious literary novelist.
Whereif anywheredo you see your book fitting in to the tradition of Indian writing?
It is a crucial break from the old ways of seeing and writing about Indiawhich have been very sanitized and two-dimensional and cut to please a Western palate. In a sense this is the counter-narrative on India: close to the bone and underbelly, gritty, deeply authentic, capturing the incredible polyphony, the multiple fault-lines, and the moral complexity of the subcontinent.
What do you think the future holds for political/activist writing in and about India?
We need much, much more of it. India has a million difficult stories waiting to be told. It awaits a legion of great writers.
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