Thursday, August 11th, 2022 01:21:32

Tremors have caused havoc to the surreal world of Tejpals

Updated: December 14, 2013 12:03 pm
It was the worst nightmare for the select elitist group of self-proclaimed intellectuals who consider themselves god’s gift and live in a cocoon, insulated from the dust and grime of the world of commoners. One of their leading lights, Tarun Tejpal overnight became a nationally abhorred villain, a molester and rapist. The heavens fell the moment the complaint to Shoma Choudhry, managing editor of Tehelka, by alleged victim, a Tehelka staffer and a friend of the daughter of Tejpal describing minute to minute her movement at Tehelka’s Thinkfest in Goa and how she was twice forced into lift where her boss sexually assaulted her, was published. Tejpal was a disgraced, despised and haunted man.
But Tejpal could not believe that an ordinary employee of his could raise her voice against a powerful man like him. She comes from a middle class family which has neither resources nor connections. Whereas he had all the necessary connections, pull one string and abracadabra he could go back to his surreal world of self-declared secular intellectuals, an elitist band of writers, editors, lyricists and oddities, who believe they have Teflon Touch. Tejpal considered that he was above law. Laws are for common people. Not for the likes of him!
The cases filed by the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government against Tehelka were made redundant the moment Dr Manmohan Singh Government came. The charges were never heard of. This is another advantage to this class. It has protection from one or the other power—like it hardly mattered in America whether protection was provided by the State Department or Al Capone. The protected person was safe.
But when alleged victim sent her complaint to Shoma, Tejpal must have been shocked. The persons like him, intellectual, secular and living in a closed ethereal world of handful others like him were beyond the people like alleged victim. People like Tejpal consider themselves, if not God for the Holly Polly, at least a superior being.
But then the ‘commoner’ alleged victim took umbrage and complained against his conduct. She did not consider it an honour and privilege that he paid ‘attention’ to her. The likes of Tejpal, while swaggering around ostensibly busy in creative and intellectual pursuit, a charade for establishing easy connectivity with people in power and thus acquiring influence, also have liking for hi-fi living—flying to exotic destinations, frequenting cocktail circuits and love being surrounded by fawning wealthy men and beautiful women some of whom swoon when a member of the fraternity reads a poem, or reads a passage about le amour. Many have developed an arty look that separates them from the normal people.
Such people fiercely guard their turf, any trespasser or any attack on one of them and they all join forces to counter the intrusion. Its much more strong than the Delhi’s Lutyens Club. Some did try to come to help Tejpal. The people like Vinod Mehta or Akhtar Javed or Sonjoy Roy and Shoma Choudhry—all influential and prominent ‘intellectuals’—tried to help Tejpal but were badly hauled up. Against one tweet of Javed Akhtar in which he said something like that not even the name of the accuser girl is known, she must not be allowed to escape in an auto, a deluge of tweets followed in which he was severely chastised. He deleted his tweet.
Vinod Mehta, much respected Editor, was badly bruised when during a discussion on Times Now, he read out a SMS from Tejpal saying that it was consensual sex. In fact, he was so angrily criticised that he looked ashen.
Tehelka Victim’s Excerpted Mail to Shoma Choudhry
It is extremely painful for me to write this email to you – I have struggled with finding an easier way to say it, but there isn’t one. The editor in chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, sexually assaulted me at Think on two occasions last week.
From the very first moment, I wanted to call you, or find you and tell you what he had done to me – but given how absorbed you were at Think; preparing for and conducting sessions, and the fact that it was impossible for the two of us to get even a minute alone together, I could not. To add to this, I had to process the fact that it was Tarun who molested me — my father’s ex colleague and friend, Tiya’s dad, and someone I had so deeply respected and admired for so many years.
Both times, I returned to my room in a completely distraught condition, trembling and crying. I went straight to Shougat and Ishan’s room, where I called G Vishnu and told them what had been done to me. (All three of them are copied on this email. You can contact them for any clarifications you see necessary). The second time he molested me, I even told Tiya what happened. When he heard I’d told Tiya (she confronted him), he lashed out at me, and I became truly terrified of what he would do. I avoided him in all situations except in rooms full of people, until I checked out of Think on Sunday.
As of Saturday evening, he sent me text messages insinuating that I misconstrued “a drunken banter”. That is not what happened. Banter does not involve forcing yourself on someone, trying to disrobe them, and penetrate them with your fingers despite them pleading for you to stop. As you read through the details of what happened in the attachment to this mail, I hope you will also understand how traumatic and terrifying it has been for me to report this to you — and yet how critical it is that Tehelka constitute an anti sexual harassment cell as per the Vishakha guidelines immediately, to investigate this matter. At the very least, I will need a written apology from Mr Tejpal and an acknowledgement of the same to be circulated through the organization. It cannot be considered acceptable for him to treat a female employee in this way.
On the night of 7th November 2013, the opening night of Tehelka’s Think festival, I had discharged my duties for the day as the chaperone for Mr Robert De Niro. As it was Mr De Niro and his daughter’s first night in Goa and at the festival, my editor in chief Mr Tarun Tejpal accompanied Mr De Niro, Drena De Niro (his daughter) and I to Mr De Niro’s suite to wish him goodnight. (As his chaperone, my work was to be available all day to Mr De Niro and Drena, take them sightseeing, make sure they were well looked after in Goa and at the Hyatt – until they retired to their suite at night. )
As we left the suite, Mr Tejpal and I were in conversation — I have known him since I was a child, he had worked closely with my father who was also a journalist, and after my father’s accident Mr Tejpal had always been a paternal figure to me. He was responsible for offering me my first job, and was always just a phone call away whenever I needed his advice on a story or life. His daughter, Tiya Tejpal and I are very close friends as well.
As we made our way out of the elevator of Block 7 at the Grand Hyatt, Mr Tejpal held my arm and pulled me back into the lift. He said – “Let’s go wake up Bob” (Mr De Niro) and I asked him why he wanted to do that. I then realized that Mr Tejpal was simply pressing buttons on the lift’s panel to make the elevator stay in circuit, preventing it from stopping anywhere, and for the doors to open.
At this point, he began to kiss me — from the first moment of his doing so, I asked him to stop, citing several reasons, including my friendship to Tiya, my closeness to his family, the fact that he had known me since I was a child, the fact that I worked for Tehelka and for Shoma Chaudhury – who is my managing editor and mentor. It was like talking to a deaf person. Mr Tejpal lifted my dress up, went down on his knees and pulled my underwear down. He attempted to perform oral sex on me as I continued to struggle and hysterically asked him to stop. At that moment he began to try and penetrate me with his fingers, I became scared and pushed him hard and asked him to stop the lift. He would not listen. The lift stopped on the ground floor as Mr Tejpal’s hands were on me and could not press the button for yet another floor to keep it in circuit. As soon as the doors opened, I picked up my underwear and began walking out of the elevator rapidly – he was still following me, asking me what the matter was.
I said “It’s all wrong. I work for you and Shoma.” He said first “It’s alright to be in love with more than one person,” and then he said, “Well, this is the easiest way for you to keep your job.” I was walking still faster, blinking back tears.
By this time, we had made our way from Block 7 to the main lawns of the Grand Hyatt, where I walked into the grassy dinner area full of people and Mr Tejpal walked off towards the performance area. Right as soon as he was out of sight, I took a taxi back to my hotel – the International Centre for Goa, where the Tehelka staff was staying, and went to the room where the Literary Editor Shougat Dasgupta and the Photo Editor Ishan Tankha were staying. I also called another friend and colleague – investigative reporter G Vishnu to the room and told them what had occurred. While the four of us were talking in the balcony, Mr Tejpal sent me a text message from his personal phone number at 1.17 am, which said “The fingertips”. This was the extent he had managed to penetrate me before I pushed him and ran out of the lift. I told the people with me on the balcony about this. Some of us considered resigning as soon as Think was over. I called my boyfriend Aman Sethi in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from Ishan Tankha’s iPhone and told him what had happened.
I was confused, hurt and really, really scared. At that point I did not want to lose my job. And so the next morning, I went about my work determined not to give Mr Tejpal or Tehelka a reason to fire me, as I was sure they would do once this story got out. At a few points of the day, I discussed the events of the previous night with Shougat Dasgupta, G Vishnu and Ishan Tankha, who were concerned about me after the state they had seen me in the previous night. In the afternoon, I accompanied Mr De Niro, his daughter, Sir VS Naipaul, Lady Naipaul and Mr Tejpal’s wife to the Governor’s bungalow for lunch.
Given the company we were in, I did not make any mention of what had occurred to Ms Geetan Batra, Mr Tejpal’s wife. Once I had escorted Mr De Niro back to his room post lunch, he expressed a desire to attend one of the sessions at the Main Hall. I brought him down to the Green Room, where Mr Tejpal found us, and asked me to bring Mr De Niro back down for Mr Amitabh Bachchan’s session as he wanted the two to meet. I took Mr De Niro and his daughter shopping to Panjim, and brought them back in time for Mr Bachchan’s session as instructed. Once the session was done, Mr Tejpal, Mr De Niro, Mr Bachchan and a few other members of the film industry, lawyers, politicians etc were supposed to meet at the Block 7 Grand Club for drinks.
I escorted Mr De Niro and Drena to this bar, told them I would return to my hotel, change, and be right back. While I was getting dressed at my hotel, Mr Tejpal called me from ThakurJi’s phone (Thakurji is the caretaker and manager of Tehelka’s Bombay office premises) and asked me where I was. I informed him I was just about to leave for the Grand Hyatt.
In the taxi I noticed he had already sent me two text messages on my phone which said “Where r u?” at 8:29and then “??” at 8:42. from his personal number.
I replied with the following messages: “On my way to the lounge” 8.42 pm, “Had to sort out a lost package for Drena and get a bit presentable. See you in 10” at 8.44 pm and “Call tee she needs you” at 8.47 pm as Tiya had messaged me asking to help her find Tarun. At this point I was trying to be as normal and professional as possible and somehow get through my duties. Five minutes later, as I was walking into the Grand Club at Block 7,
Mr Tejpal was coming out of the lounge. He pointed at me asking me to stop. I was already worried that I was late and that Mr De Niro had asked for me. Mr Tejpal came to me and said “Come up with me, we have to get something from Bob’s room”. I was frightened that this would lead to a repeat of the previous night and so I said, “What does he need? I’ll go get it.” I was scared of getting into the lift with him again, and more terrified that he was going to try and take me into a room this time. By this time he was holding me by the wrist and had taken me into the lift (which is barely a few steps away from the lobby of block 7 where he had asked me to wait). When the doors closed, he started to try and kiss me again. I said “Tarun, please, no, just stop,” he pulled away, smiled, patted my cheek and said “Why? Ok. I’ll stop.” I said again “This just isn’t right. Tiya is my best friend. I had lunch with Geetan today. “
He smiled again and just for a moment I thought I had appealed to his better sense. I turned away from him, desperately waiting for the door to open (there are only three floors in Block 7 (G, 1 and 2), we were between floors). Within seconds of my turning around, he started to lift up my dress. He lifted it all the way up and said “You’re unbelievable”. The door opened on the second floor, on Mr De Niro’s floor — and he said again – “The universe is telling us something” to which I said “I’m taking the stairs” and started to walk out. He pulled me back in, sensing that I was on the verge of hysteria — by this point, he was totally comfortable physically manhandling me, but sensing my sheer panic, he did not touch me until the lift reached the ground floor. Right as the doors were about to open, he patted my behind once more.
I walked out of the lift, went to the Grand Club and immediately informed Ishan Tankha that Mr Tejpal had tried to molest me again.
Such people have failed to realise that the common man has begun to assert himself, his thinking, ethics and principles and above all his aspirations are very different. Such people are no respecter of class or so-called stature. They respect the creativity in writing but expect same standards from the likes of Tejpal as any average person.
The closed circuit of so-called intellectuals failed to realise that alleged victim came from a middle class family in which her father, himself a respected journalist, has been a non-earner because of an accident, and she has the middle class morality ingrained in her while she suffers from the middle class sense of insecurity. But just as any young person now, she would not be suppressed by the halo of the likes of Tejpal. If she is subjected to forcible sexual assault she would not hide it out of shame but go public and demand justice for herself and punishment for her assaulter.
Tejpal must have been shocked that instead of keeping quiet alleged victim not only sent a complaint to Shoma Choudhary, Tehelka’s Managing Editor but told her three colleagues also in Goa. Once the letter was in public domain, the media was outraged. alleged victim was the daughter of a senior and much liked journalist whose bright future was tragically cut short by a serious accident. The media launched a full scale war, and Tejpal, unused to such ‘blasphemy’ was on his back-foot. It made him change his version of the incident four times. The Goa police took notice of the offence suo motto and began its investigation.
First Letter From Tarun Tejpal to Shoma Choudhary
First Letter From Tarun Tejpal to Shoma Choudhary Following is the full text of the email purported to have been written by Tejpal to Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhary. The email was not officially released by Tehelka.
My dear Shoma,
The last few days have been most testing, and I squarely take the blame for this. A bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident that rails against all we believe in and fight for. I have already unconditionally apologised for my misconduct to the concerned journalist, but I feel impelled to atone further.
Tehelka has been born and built, day on day, with my blood, toil, tears and sweat, and that of many others, against near-insurmountable odds. It has lived for and fought the big battles of our time, always on the side of the oppressed and the wronged, always on the side of equity and justice. Its voice has travelled the world and changed policy and perceptions. It has been a beacon for those who would do the right thing. Through bad, and worse, times I have protected Tehelka and its journalists from the inevitable demands of power and corporations. I have always allowed every journalist’s sense of the right to flower and express itself. No one has ever been asked to do what they don’t believe in.
I have always held that Tehelka the institution, and its work, have always been infinitely more important than any of us individuals. It is tragic, therefore, that in a lapse of judgment I have hurt our own high principles. Because it involves Tehelka, and a sterling shared legacy, I feel atonement cannot be just words. I must do the penance that lacerates me. I am therefore offering to recuse myself from the editorship of Tehelka, and from the Tehelka office, for the next six months. You have always been stellar, Shoma, and even as I apologise to you and all my other colleagues, for this unfortunate incident, I leave Tehelka in your more than capable and safe hands. In apology, Taru


The changing of version of the assault made people not only suspect that he was lying but that his first mail to Shoma in which he acknowledged his misjudgment and sought apology was possibly the correct one. Unused to defiance, he ostensibly wrote the first letter in a nervous state of mind in which while acknowledging the two incidents apologised to her. He must be ruing it now.
But used to riding the High Horse he decided his punishment which was in form of atonement—recusing editorship for six months. Just like a Supreme Court recusing from a case. But Tejpal might in his and his coterie of frenzied colleagues estimate be to be a judge but in real life he is being seen as a ravenous wolf. A member of the National Council of Women rightly remarked that he was no God to decide his punishment.
Tejpal’s Conflicting Versions
In a letter, Tejpal addressed to the victim and published by The Indian Express, the Tehelka editor admitted to what he termed as a “sexual liaison” despite the woman’s “clear reluctance”.
“It wrenches me beyond describing, therefore, to accept that I have violated that long-standing relationship of trust and respect between us and I apologise unconditionally for the shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions on 7 November and 8 November 2013, despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me,” Tejpal wrote.
However, Tejpal’s letter of unconditional apology to the victim differed in tone and text from the one he purportedly sent to his friends. Outlook published excerpts of the letter that said his “actions so far were out of an attempt to preserve the girl’s dignity and on Shoma’s adamantine feminist-principle insistence that I keep correct form by apologising”.
“The truth is it was a fleeting, totally consensual encounter of less than a minute in a lift (of a two-storey building!). Now that a committee has been announced the truth will come out. As will the CCTV footage. My life and work have been trashed on a total lie,” Tejpal said.
“There was no untoward incident in any elevator in Goa. What I wrote was a drunken banter with Shoma. There was no admittance of guilt or owning up for something I did. It was just for fun,” Tejpal claimed in his petition.
But she failed to understand that having existed in a surreal world of self-declared secular intellectuals, an elitist band of writers, editors, lyricists and oddities, who believed that they had Teflon Touch, Tejpal considered himself above law. Such laws are for common men and women and not for the likes of Tejpal. He believed he had done enough—the atonement and hibernation from the post of Editor.
This elitist group’s self-proclaimed secularism endeared them to those in power who also swear by secularism. The only unfortunate thing was that according to their interpretation of being secular was to be a sentinel of minorities.
His carefully built Tehelka Empire seems to be in imminent danger of collapsing with several of senior Tehelka staffers sending in their resignations. Only Shoma Choudhry stood by him, solidly, despite brickbats and the risk of herself being charged. But she too has deserted him finally and resigned.
The Tejpals are a worried lot. Not only they have failed to save him from further ignominy but are concerned about their own future. How would they with their cultivated charade of being thinkers and enlightened luminaries and secularists (some dub it as sarkari seculars) and thus sacrosanct withstand combined attacks by media, politicians and man on the street.
They were horrified to see the whole country up in arms against Tejpal. What stunned these people who consider themselves to be God’s chosen that India seemed to believe the accuser and Tejpal’s pleas of consensual sex or a political conspiracy to defame him, elicited only derision and more abuses being heaped on him. Tejpal was seen as a vicious predator.
A vibrant cultural space Prufrock, Tejpal, Late Pony Club
According to a report in The Indian Express, Tarun Tejpal with controversial liquor baron Ponty Chadha before he was killed last year was to start an exclusive private club for “select urban Indians”.
Called ‘Prufrock’, the club, in Tejpal’s own words, aims to be “a vibrant cultural space, where a highly accomplished, eclectic community of select urban Indians can meet and engage in an atmosphere of great intimacy with eminent people who make and shape the world”.
“All this over fine drinks and exquisite cuisines created by a celebrity chef,” Tejpal said in an email invitation to prospective members.
According to the report, Chadha decided to invest in Prufrock in early 2012, after Tejpal made a business presentation on the concept of an exclusive private club.
Chadha, it may be noted, was killed in a shootout in his farmhouse in Delhi in November 2012.
Prufrock is owned by Thriving Arts Pvt Ltd, which was set up in June, 2013. On July 10, the company issued shares to two stakeholders at Rs 10 per share — 72 per cent to Tejpal and 28 per cent to his sister Neena Tejpal.
On August 26, Chadha Hotel’s Pvt Ltd invested Rs 2 crore for 11,111 shares issued at Rs 1,800 per share.
Prufrock is to be located in the M-Block market of the upscale Greater Kailash-II area and the interior work of the club is in progress at present. It is a few buildings away from the Tehelka office. Annual rent for the space is estimated to be around Rs 6.5 crore, the report said.
Tejpal had explained the concept of the elite club in an email he sent in October to a select group. “Prufrock with a carefully curated, by-invitation-only membership, Prufrock, is located in the heart of South Delhi…in a space that spans three floors, each with a distinct mood, all built on a value for ideas,” he said, adding, “Prufrock will be scrupulously monitored, and will be very limited, the cost of membership has been kept extremely modest – the criterion of Prufrock being not means but attributes, not money, but a mindset”.
The annual membership fee is Rs 12,360. “Membership to the club would mean an invaluable opportunity to listen to those who sit in the country’s hot seats, wielding great power and influence, politicians and businessmen, social activists and spiritual leaders, and engage with the complex mechanics and politics of building India, through conversations held in an atmosphere of rare intimacy,” Tejpal had said in the email.
How mighty fall. Horrific, this experience was for his group members. The invitations to various Literary Festivals and symposium dried up. How much he would miss the company of his comrades and worse the adulation of the fawning high society. And then evenings of champagne and women in designer dresses, wearing imported perfumes, trying to catch eyes of such scholarly! They might not know the difference between sonnets and stanzas but keep nodding to utterances of wisdom from the likes of Tejpal.
Tejpal is in, it seems, for a long legal battle. The case is no longer in the hands of the complainant alleged victim but the police. And so far they have been going about collecting evidence against him in a very methodical way. They have to. A battery of reputed senior lawyers are battle ready on behalf of Tejpal. According to reports, he is fabulously wealthy and can hire the best. The other ‘intellectuals’, most being his friend can only watch in silence the unfolding of his future. They dare not come out and tweet or speak on TV channels in his favour. They have seen the treatment meted out to Javed Akhtar, Vinod Mehta and Soma Choudhry.
The high-floating cocoon of the Indian ‘scholarly’ has been penetrated. They stand bare as the next door neighbour with all his foibles. These self-declared intellectuals’ biggest claim to fame has been their veneer of secularism. Quite a few of them have been ripped off this veneer.
In future their poetry, their treatises and their books would be praised and cheered, but not their grandstanding or claims to exclusivity or of being sacrosanct.
This is one good turn Tarun Tejpal has done. He has taken off the mask of self-righteousness from his likes. The swagger and the pride-flushed faces of such high and mighty, walking with eyes averted from the jostling crowd of their admirers at Literary Festivals, as if they deserve their exclusivity and superiority, could vaporise, sooner or later. But it would!

By Vijay Dutt

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