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Who’s afraid of Karan Thapar?

When you have someone reviewing a book without reading it, the consequences can be bizarre. Madhu trehan elaborates.

india Updated: Mar 01, 2009 00:23 IST

You write a book. You get some good reviews and some bad. It’s part of the game. Then comes Karan Thapar’s ‘column’ (I’m terribly sorry, Madhu, Sunday Sentiments, Feb 15). A piece that was personal, obviously motivated, filled with epithets. So Thapar says that you shouldn’t read my book. Fair enough. But Thapar says he hasn’t read my book.

Could it then be that a friend of Thapar’s has read my book and told him that nobody should read it? It could be. What could it be that Thapar’s friend does not want anyone to read?

How did the story about the sex workers find its way into the press? Who does it serve to bury the statement of the then advocate general of Maharashtra Goolam Vahanvati’s that he refused to appear for the SEBI because it was against his conscience? Who gave me the phone number of Beni Chatterji, the Mumbai lawyer who was arguing cases against First Global?

Why should this person have it in the first place?

Why should readers trust an unreviewed book review written by a clone of ‘BBC Hard Talk’ who seems to believe that being nasty gives him an USP? But where are his favourites ‘Pertie’ and ‘Mummy’ that he bangs on about? Time to bring them out of the closet.

Here’s Pertie and KaTy playing ‘Prism Me a Lie: Tell Me a Truth.’ KaTy prisms Pertie a lie, Pertie bounces back with the truth.

Pertie: Remember that last Diwali party you went to? Didn’t you tell me you asked Madhu Trehan to promise to come on your show after she talked about her book?

KaTy: Yes and she looked pretty frightened.

Pertie: But why is the book in your column? You called it a dud. Why not just ignore it if it is so bad?

KaTy: [screaming] Because it’s been a No. 1 on the bestseller list for the last two weeks. Because Vir Sanghvi wrote, Madhu “…tried to use Tehelka to understand how the Indian media, and perhaps even Indian society, function”. Raja Menon in Outlook called it “blazingly honest and idealistic”. It must not be read, specially those chapters on you-know-who! So I honoured my commitment.

Pertie: To whom? Wasn’t your comm…

KaTy: Comb out? Yes, my comb out was done at the beauty salon yesterday.

Pertie: You keep interr…

KaTy: Internalise? Of course I have to internalise my motives.

Pertie: You never let me fin…

KaTy: Finagled? So what if I finagled Madhu?

Pertie: But you told her to flag portions for you to read for the interview because you have no time to read.

KaTy: How do you expect me to put a fix on what a dud the book is in an interview? It had to be done hit-and-run. No chance for her to respond.

Pertie: What are you going to do when you meet her?

KaTy: I will make a graceful exit like this…[KaTy exits with a swish and a grand jeté out of the room]

Mummy: He has left without his baba suit. How will anyone take him seriously if he doesn’t wear his checked suit, yellow
striped shirt and yellow polka dot tie?

To be dragged into sleaze has to be a low point in my nearly 40-year journalistic career. Thapar cut large portions of a paragraph and chose only what suited his assignment. He gives himself the opportunity to announce the allegation, that I did “blur criticism and paper-over Tehelka’s faults”. I had also written (which Thapar cut out): “This was a serious breach of fair journalism. Tehelka said they wanted the public to know about the corrupt system. The public was equally entitled to learn that there are honest officers.”

In Chapter 24 ‘Ethics and Journalism — Not So Fine a Balance’, I analyse in detail the state of journalism and, if anything, Tehelka and other journalists have reason to be upset with me. Those with an agenda find it easy to plant any kind of story. This cannot happen without the cooperation of taxi journalists who damage the credibility of the profession.

I am privileged that I have been given a chance to respond to Thapar. I got an email from Thapar after the newspaper had gone to print, warning me as he ostensibly claimed, “in all fairness” what was to appear the next day. He also ostentatiously added, “Once again, my most sincere apologies.”

If you demean the profession by misusing it to carry out someone else’s agenda, I guess he is right to be ashamed. Did Thapar have any idea that my publisher Pramod Kapoor, Kiran Bedi (who conducted a debate at my book launch) and I all received a ranting email, which is strikingly similar to his piece? Since I was out of the country and did not read Thapar’s ‘warning’ email, a friend sent me an sms that morning: “It is better to have a thousand enemies than have a friend like Karan Thapar.”

Wonderful to be liberated from that burden.

(Madhu Trehan is the author of Tehelka as Metaphor: Prism Me a Lie; Tell Me a Truth (Roli))